Op-Ed from Kenneth Corn: USDA- We Serve Rural Communities TooFri, 30 Sep 2022 14:57:02 CDT
Below is an op-ed by Kenneth Corn, USDA Rural Development - Oklahoma State Director
When people hear the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) they automatically get visions of farms, wheat, cattle and tractors. While it’s true that USDA serves the needs of the farm and ranch families across the country, its not our only mission. USDA-Rural Development serves the people and families that call rural cities and towns home in ways that many people are not aware.
It is important to remember that most of our vital resources and values come from rural America. We get our energy from rural areas. Our food supply is grown in rural communities. The water we need to survive often begins in rural areas that many of us never see. And it’s important to remember that it’s where some of America’s best ideas are born.
The mission of USDA-Rural Development is to not only help rural communities survive but prosper. We take our jobs seriously and look for ways to create opportunities to help rural cities and towns achieve progress by providing investments in both public and private sectors that improve the quality of life and economic stability.
When I was appointed by President Joe Biden to lead Rural Development in Oklahoma, I was reminded the President felt rural communities across America have been left behind. If you take a moment to reflect, you might realize that over the last few decades they have been. Populations are shrinking, job opportunities have been lost and infrastructure is crumbling. We in rural Oklahoma know this story all too well!
Under the Biden-Harris Administration, there has been a renewed effort to make real investments in rural communities. These include new opportunities for families in rural communities with substantial investments in housing, infrastructure, healthcare, and economic activities in ways that we have not seen since President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The President has also charged the men and women who serve these communities at Rural Development with achieving his priorities in creating an economy that rewards every person and every community regardless of their zip code or wealth.
In Oklahoma alone, we are making significant investments in rural communities throughout the state. I am proud of the efforts of our team in ensuring rural leaders and families are aware of the opportunities in their city or town that could become a reality through the USDA-Rural Development programs.
The President is focusing on healthcare to ensure access and affordability for all. Rural Development has invested millions of dollars in rural healthcare facilities in this past year. You can see some of those investments in places like McAlester where $375,100 was used to update and expand laboratory space to improve patient care and response time for pandemics like COVID-19. The James Dennis Medical Foundation in Wakita was awarded a $85,400 grant for a generator to serve a local nursing home facility. This ensures that essential and critical services can continue in power outages such as those caused by emergencies and disasters. Adair County Health Center will receive $499,100 for upgrades to meet the ever-evolving needs of their patients. And the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma was awarded $1 million to construct a healthcare facility to meet critical needs of their tribal members as well as the community.
This past year Rural Development helped communities with critical needs to better serve their communities. In the area of public safety, more than $500,000 will be used to purchase ambulances for communities such as Anadarko, Erick and Atoka County. Chickasha will use USDA-Rural Development funding to acquire much needed police vehicles to patrol neighborhoods and provide reliable response times.
Communities can also find USDA- Rural Development funding for other projects that improve the quality of life. There are opportunities for community centers like the one in Tamaha that will receive funding for renovations. In Muskogee County, a community facility grant will be used to improve the drainage system that will help protect both the health and life of the public as well as property. Schools like Tupelo Public Schools will receive funding for security equipment to help protect students and staff.
Let’s not forget about the serious need in rural America for real investment in improving aging water and wastewater infrastructure. Right here in Oklahoma, Rural Development has reinvested in our rural communities’ water needs through loans and grants, which total more than $61 million in water and wastewater projects this year alone. Some of these recipients include water districts located in the cities of Wewoka, Seminole, and Idabel, as well as Sequoyah, Pittsburgh and Wagoner Counties.
USDA-Rural Development is also investing millions of dollars in high-speed internet development across our state. This brings the real possibility of business expansions, educational opportunities and access to healthcare via telehealth to every corner of Oklahoma. An example of our investment in rural Oklahoma are the awards made to Pine Telephone in Broken Bow with a $13 million grant and the loan/grant combination to Southern Plains Cable Company totaling more than $16 million in funding.
USDA-Rural Development committed more than $163 million dollars in guaranteed loans to rural businesses that will create jobs and wealth in the communities in which they are located. Business and Industry Guaranteed loans were funded to a micro-hospital in Ardmore, sod farms in Spiro and Bixby, and oil and gas pressure fabrication operation located in Duncan. USDA-Rural Development is committed to help finance new and expanding businesses in rural communities so families can stay living and working in those communities.
USDA-Rural Development can also help rural Oklahomans achieve the American dream through home ownership. Opportunities for home loans for both low- and moderate-income households are available through direct and guaranteed loan programs. There is also a grant/loan program to help address health and safety issues with existing homeowners, especially those who are elderly and low income.
There is a world of opportunity available through USDA-Rural Development. Under President Biden’s leadership, rural communities and their needs are not being forgotten. The team at USDA-Rural Development stands ready to provide guidance and assistance in helping make life better in rural Oklahoma.
There is an old saying, “the last one out of Oklahoma, turn off the lights.” Oklahoma Rural Development wants to turn on the lights of opportunity, hope, and growth for rural families and communities. Give our team at USDA-Rural Development a chance to serve you and your community, so that we can make rural Oklahoma proposer.
And next time you hear someone say USDA, ask them if they know that we are more than just farms.
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