As the drought continues, USDA and other Federal agencies are doing all we can to help farmers, ranchers and communities. Unfortunately, USDA’s tools are limited today. Due to inaction by Congress, many programs authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill expired on October 1. Other aspects of the law will continue to expire in the coming months.
This brings tremendous uncertainty for rural families – particularly livestock producers who have lost access to disaster programs, and dairy producers who no longer have access to dairy support programs.
As we encourage Congress to pass a multi-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible, USDA continues our work to strengthen the rural economy. This includes continuing our record efforts to expand access to broadband internet in rural areas.
Since 2009, USDA has invested in critical infrastructure to deliver faster internet to nearly 7 million rural Americans – expanding opportunity and improving quality of life for rural residents. This includes bringing service to dozens of isolated, limited-income communities through USDA’s “Community Connect” initiative.
Our efforts have also extended broadband internet to more than 360,000 rural businesses. The fact is, today’s small businesses are competing in a fast-moving global economy and a great deal of business is conducted online. If a rural community or small town lacks access to modern, high-speed internet, rural businesses are faced with a significant disadvantage. USDA’s record investments in broadband infrastructure are ensuring that these businesses can compete, grow, and create more jobs.
USDA has complemented these efforts by providing more than 5,700 loans and grants for distance learning and telemedicine projects. Today, distance learning initiatives are helping deliver online education in rural areas, expanding opportunity for our young people. And for rural Americans who don’t have a doctor nearby or who need specialized advice, telemedicine projects are connecting physicians in our cities with patients in our small towns.
Ultimately, broadband internet is a critical factor in expanding opportunity and growing the rural economy. Folks who call rural America home should be able to enjoy the same opportunity as Americans in our cities. Faster internet isn’t just more convenient – it opens new doors for businesses, grows opportunity and improves quality of life. I’m proud of our work – and even in a time of uncertainty, we will continue doing all we can to strengthen rural communities.