Federal Stimulus Pumps Funding into USDA to Support Rural Economy

Through the $2.2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will receive funding across many of its most vital programs to support the agriculture industry sector and rural America. Overall, the bill will send roughly $48.9 Billion to the USDA, which does not include added funding for the Food and Drug Administration.

The USDA’s Rural Development programs will receive a total of $145.5 Million to fund programs designed to advance rural Americans access to lending and technology. A breakdown in USDA’s Rural Development funding includes:
⦁ $20.5 Million for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, adding $1 Billion in lending authority
⦁ $100 Million in grants for Rural Broadband Service, and
⦁ $25 Million for Distance Learning and Telemedicine Programs

Rural Business-Cooperative Service – $20.5 Million & $1 Billion Lending Authority
The Rural Business-Cooperative Service offers programs to help businesses grow and help people living in rural areas with access to job training. The Business-Cooperative Service functions are expansive and help with anything from providing capital to training, education and entrepreneurial skills to help those living in rural areas start and grow businesses or find jobs in the agricultural/bio-energy markets.
Business Programs – financing provided in partnership with private-sector lenders and
community-based organizations in the form of loan guarantees, direct loans, or grants to individuals, businesses, cooperatives, farmers and ranchers, public bodies, nonprofit corporations, Native American tribes and private companies.
Cooperative Programs – promote the use of cooperative forms of business for services such as shipping agricultural products and supplies and provide other services such as electricity, broadband connectivity, phone, internet, banking services, housing, food, hardware and building supplies.
Community Economic Development – programs and technical help for rural cities and areas to realize their strategic, long-term economic development goals.
Energy Programs – provide loans and grants to help finance the cost of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements for rural small businesses and agricultural producers. Grants cover up to 25% of eligible project costs and commercial loan guarantees of up to 85% are available.

Rural Broadband Service – $100 Million
According to the Federal Communications Commission and USDA, 80% of the 24 million American households that do not have reliable, affordable high-speed internet are located in rural areas. The USDA has been investing more than $700 Million a year for modern broadband e-Connectivity in rural communities and with stimulus funding will see another $100 Million in grant funding to support e-Connectivity through its programs.
e-Connectivity priorities of the USDA are aimed at increased productivity that fosters economic development, job growth, rural entrepreneurship and innovative technologies where every part of rural America, including the farm, is connected to the web; improved operations where connectivity helps farmers enhance real-time activity of operations in the fields, manages finances, and responds to real-time international market conditions; enhanced healthcare options to bring remote access to all forms of healthcare services, like proper prescription medication submissions, distance learning and training for addiction services and treatment counseling, and telehealth visits; educational opportunities so rural students have the same digital learning tools and WiFi hotspots as their peers; and competitive entrepreneurship that opens the global digital marketplace up for rural e-commerce products.

Rural Development Broadband ReConnect Loan and Grant Program – awards loans and grants to provide funds for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas that do not have access to at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.
⦁ 100% Grant – up to $25,000,000 max grant request
⦁ 50% Loan / 50% Grant – up to $25,000,000 loan and $25,000,000 grant request and loan/grant requests will always be equal
⦁ 100% Loan – up to $50,000,000 max loan request
⦁ Eligible Applicants – cooperatives, non-profits, or mutual associations; for-profit corporations or LLCs; state or local governments, or any agency, subdivision, instrumentality, or political subdivision thereof; territory or possession of the United States; or an Indian tribe

Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program – $25 Million
The Distance Learning and Telemedicine program helps rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density. Most state and local government entities, as well as federally-recognized Tribes, non-profits, for-profit businesses, and consortias of eligible entities may apply for grant funds so long as the applicants provide education or health care through telecommunications.

DLT 100% Grants require a minimum 15% match from the applicant.
⦁ Award range: $50,000 – $1,000,000
⦁ Eligible uses: acquisition of eligible capital assets (broadband transmission facilities; audio, video and interactive video equipment; terminal and data equipment; computer hardware, network components and software; inside wiring and similar infrastructure that further DLT services); acquisition of instructional programming for eligible equipment; acquisition of technical assistance and instruction for using eligible equipment

Finally, it is important to note the CARES Act recognized Agriculture as an industry in need of aid, as a result of fallout from COVID-19. The Commodity Credit Corporation will receive $14 Billion more in funding authority for crafting aid packages through the commodity and income support program, to farmers who have seen commodity prices crash since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. The Commodity Credit Corporation is a wholly-owned Government corporation with primary program authority for commodity and income support, natural resources conservation, export promotion, international food aid, disaster assistance, agricultural research, and bioenergy development. Farmers who sell directly to farmers markets, schools and restaurants would also be eligible for aid.

Please contact Jamie Beier Grant at jbgrant@montrosegroupllc.com at the Montrose Group if you need assistance with gaining funding from the USDA or other government programs.