WASHINGTON - The US Department of Agriculture announced the launch of two new private funds, known as Rural Business Investment Companies (RBICs), which make equity investments in rural businesses, helping them grow and create jobs. This announcement is part of USDA's ongoing efforts to help attract private sector capital to investment opportunities in rural America to help drive more economic growth in rural communities.

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ORLANDO, Fla., April 1, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA has awarded $31.5 million in funding to local, state, and national organizations to support programs that help participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increase their purchase of fruits and vegetables. Recognizing that all Americans fall well short of the servings of fruits and vegetables recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the grants will test incentive strategies to help SNAP participants better afford fruits and vegetables. These grants were made through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

The Secretary, who made the announcement at the Freshfields Farm market in Orlando, said, "Encouraging low income families to put more healthy food in their grocery baskets is part of USDA's ongoing commitment to improving the diet and health of all Americans." Vilsack continued, "These creative community partnerships also benefit regional food producers and local economies along with SNAP participants."

FINI is a joint effort between USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees SNAP and has responsibility for evaluating the effectiveness of the incentive projects. FINI brings together stakeholders from distinct parts of the food system and fosters understanding of how they might improve the nutrition and health status of SNAP households. The awards under FINI represent a variety of projects, including relatively small pilot projects, multi-year community-based projects, and larger-scale multi-year projects.

USDA is funding projects in 26 states for up to 4 years, using funds from FY2014 and FY2015. USDA will issue a separate request for applications in FY16, and in subsequent years. Fiscal year 2014 and 2015 awards are:

Pilot projects (up to $100,000, not to exceed 1 year):

  • Yolo County Department of Employment and Social Services, Woodland, Calif., $100,000
  • Heritage Ranch, Inc., Honaunau, Hawaii, $100,000
  • Backyard Harvest, Inc., Moscow, Idaho, $10,695
  • City of Aurora, Aurora, Ill., $30,000
  • Forsyth Farmers' Market, Inc., Savannah, Ga., $50,000
  • Blue Grass Community Foundation, Lexington, Ky., $47,250
  • Lower Phalen Creek Project, Saint Paul, Minn., $45,230
  • Vermont Farm-to-School, Inc., Newport, V.T., $93,750
  • New Mexico Farmers Marketing Association, Santa Fe, N.M., $99,999
  • Santa Fe Community Foundation, Santa Fe, N.M., $100,000
  • Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services, Greensboro, N.C., $99,987
  • Chester County Food Bank, Exton, Pa., $76,543
  • Nurture Nature Center, Easton, Pa., $56,918
  • Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pa., $46,442
  • Rhode Island Public Health Institute, Providence, R.I., $100,000
  • San Antonio Food Bank, San Antonio, Texas, $100,000

Multi-year community-based projects (up to $500,000, not to exceed 4 years):

  • Mandela Marketplace, Inc., Oakland, Calif., $422,500
  • Market Umbrella, New Orleans, La., $378,326
  • Maine Farmland Trust, Belfast, Maine, $249,816
  • Farmers Market Fund, Portland, Ore., $499,172
  • The Food Trust, Philadelphia, Pa., $500,000
  • Utahns Against Hunger, Salt Lake City, Utah, $247,038
  • Opportunity Council, Bellingham, Wash., $301,658

Multi-year large-scale projects ($500,000 or greater, not to exceed 4 years):

  • Ecology Center, Berkeley, Calif., $3,704,287
  • Wholesome Wave Foundation Charitable Ventures, Inc., Bridgeport, Conn., $3,775,700
  • AARP Foundation, Washington, D.C., $3,306,224
  • Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Gainesville, Fla., $1,937,179
  • Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, Boston, Mass., $3,401,384
  • Fair Food Network, Ann Arbor, Mich., $5,171,779
  • International Rescue Committee, Inc., New York, N.Y., $564,231
  • Washington State Department of Health, Tumwater, Wash., $5,859,307

The announcement featured Marty Mesh, Executive Director of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers (FOG). With FINI funding, FOG will expand its Fresh Access Bucks program, which allows SNAP participants to double their food dollars for fresh, Florida-grown fruits and vegetables at farmers markets around the state.

An evaluation of the funded projects will help policymakers determine how best to provide incentives to SNAP participants to increase healthy purchases. Priority was given to projects that develop innovative or improved benefit redemption systems that can be replicated, use direct-to-consumer marketing, show previous success implementing nutrition incentive programs that connect low-income consumers with agricultural producers, provide locally- or regionally-produced fruits and vegetables, and are located in underserved communities.

All FINI projects must (1) have the support of a state SNAP agency; (2) increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants by providing incentives at the point of purchase; (3) operate through authorized SNAP retailers; (4) agree to participate in the comprehensive FINI program evaluation; (5) ensure that the same terms and conditions apply to purchases made by both SNAP participants and non-participants; and (6) include effective and efficient technologies for benefit redemption systems that may be replicated in other states and communities.

The FINI program is authorized and funded by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit

SNAP — the nation's first line of defense against hunger — helps put food on the table for millions of families experiencing hardship. The program has never been more critical to the fight against hunger. Over 60 percent of SNAP participants are children, elderly, or individuals with disabilities, and 42 percent of participants live in households in which at least one adult is working but still cannot afford to put sufficient food on the table. SNAP benefits provided help to millions who lost their jobs during the Great Recession. For many, SNAP benefits provide temporary assistance, with the average new applicant remaining on the program 12 months.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. More information can be found on the NIFA website.

GDF represents a client building a public farm market in Shelbyville, Indiana.  News of this initiative will be forthcoming.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that rural agricultural producers and small business owners can now apply for resources to purchase and install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements. These efforts help farmers, ranchers and other small business owners save money on their energy bills, reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, support America's clean energy economy, and cut carbon pollution. These resources are made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill.

"Developing renewable energy presents an enormous economic opportunity for rural America," Vilsack said. "The funding we are making available will help farmers, ranchers, business owners, tribal organizations and other entities incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency technology into their operations. Doing so can help a business reduce energy use and costs while improving its bottom line. While saving producers money and creating jobs, these investments reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon pollution as well."

USDA is making more than $280 million available to eligible applicants through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Application deadlines vary by project type and the type of assistance requested.

USDA is offering grants for up to 25 percent of total project costs and loan guarantees for up to 75 percent of total project costs for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements. The REAP application window has been expanded. USDA will now accept and review loan and grant applications year-round.

Eligible renewable energy projects must incorporate commercially available technology. This includes renewable energy from wind, solar, ocean, small hydropower, hydrogen, geothermal and renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters). The maximum grant amount is $500,000, and the maximum loan amount is $25 million per applicant.

Energy efficiency improvement projects eligible for REAP funding include lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, fans, automated controls and insulation upgrades that reduce energy consumption. The maximum grant amount is $250,000, and the maximum loan amount is $25 million per applicant.

USDA is offering a second type of grant to support organizations that help farmers, ranchers and small businesses conduct energy audits and operate renewable energy projects. Eligible applicants include: units of state, tribal or local governments; colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning; rural electric cooperatives and public power entities, and conservation and development districts. The maximum grant is $100,000.

The REAP program was created in the 2002 Farm Bill. Because of the success of the program, Congress reauthorized it in the 2014 Farm Bill with guaranteed funding of no less than $50 million in annual funding for the duration of the 5 year bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.

Since 2009, USDA has awarded $545 million for more than 8,800 REAP projects nationwide. This includes $361 million in REAP grants and loans for more than 2,900 renewable energy systems. When fully operational, these systems are expected to generate more than 6 billion kilowatt hours annually – enough to power more than 5.5 million homes for a year.

In 2013, owners of the Ideal Dairy restaurant in Richfield, Utah, used REAP funding to install 80 solar modules and two 10-kilowatt inverters, which convert energy from solar panels to electricity. The owners have saved, on average, $400 per month. These savings have helped them preserve their restaurant and livelihood.

President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA's investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Small Business Administration 7(a) Loan Program reached a lending record in 2014, as announced today by SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet.  By the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30), SBA had approved 52,044 7(a) loans for $19.19 billion, an increase of 12 percent in number loans and 7.4 percent in dollar amount over fiscal year 2013.

The 7(a) program is designed to provide small businesses with the most comprehensive type of financial assistance to cover the vast majority of business expenses, such as short and long-term working capital, exports, and refinancing existing debt under certain conditions.

“As our economy continues to grow and recover, small businesses are the essential fuel to that continued growth,” said Contreras-Sweet. “Thanks to the hard work and outreach by our lending partners, SBA staff, and our resource partners, as well as the small business owners themselves, we have been able to put more capital into the hands of our nation’s entrepreneurs. We know that America’s small businesses pack the biggest punch, creating two out of every three net new private sector jobs in the U.S. These small businesses are the cornerstone of our communities, so their success and expansion is vital to the nation’s economic growth.”

SBA had been authorized $17.5 billion in the FY 2014 lending program.  It became clear that lending would exceed that amount; therefore the agency secured an increase for the 7(a) program in the Continuing Resolution that was approved in mid-September.

Other SBA loans that did well in fiscal 2014 were those $150,000 and under. Spurred by the fee relief implemented at the beginning of the fiscal year (fees were set to zero), these loans saw an increase of 23 percent in number of loans (30,675) and 29 percent in approved dollars ($1.86 billion) over fiscal year 2013 (24,923 and $1.44 billion respectively).

Fee relief was also instrumental in helping veteran small business owners through the Veteran Advantage initiative (zero fees on loans $150,000 to $350,000 to veterans.) Fee relief for veterans began January 1, 2014, and by the end of the fiscal year amounted to $610,000. Fee relief for both loans $150,000 and under, and for Veterans Advantage, was extended through fiscal year 2015.

Small businesses reflect the dynamic demographics of the United States. In FY 2014, the number of SBA loans to African Americans grew by roughly 36 percent over the previous year. For Hispanics and women, there was an increase of 14 percent for each group.

In our efforts to reach out and help small businesses across the nation, lenders play an important role as partners, as it is through them that SBA financial assistance is channeled and managed. In FY 2014, SBA added 308 new lenders that, collectively, made 684 loans for nearly $317 million.

As exports continue to play a pivotal role in strengthening the nation’s economy, SBA loans to exporters grew by 3.7 percent in number of loans and 12 percent in dollar amount over last year.

One of the ways in which SBA helps small businesses is through providing essential bid and performance bonds to small contractors, which allows these small businesses to be more competitive when bidding on contracts, be they with the government or the private sector. In fiscal year 2014, SBA Office of Surety Bond Program saw an increase of four percent in total contract value, from $6.168 billion in FY 2013 to $6.413 billion in FY 2014. Total bond contract amount also grew from $1.262 billion in FY 2013 to $1.358 in FY 2014, an increase of eight percent.

WASHINGTON, DC– Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is seeking applications for grants that will be awarded to organizations to provide critical financial and technical assistance to recipients to develop and strengthen their capacity to carry out housing, community facilities and community and economic development projects.

"Many rural nonprofits often need capital and technical assistance to carry out their missions," Vilsack said. "These grants will provide both of these components through local and regional organizations that are experts at delivering such services."

USDA is making nearly $6 million available to qualified organizations under the Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI).

Recipients must be non-profit organizations, low-income rural communities, or federally recognized tribes. Intermediary organizations are required to provide matching funds at least equal to the RCDI grant. The grants do not go directly to business recipients but rather through qualified intermediaries.

The deadline for submitting RCDI applications is November 12, 2014. Applications must be submitted to the USDA Rural Development state office where the applicant's headquarters are located. More information about the program and how to apply is available on page 47427 of the August 13, 2014 Federal Register.

Here is an example of how the RCDI program is helping rural communities. The Western Maine Community Action Program (WMCAP) has received several RCDI grants in recent years to help low-and very-low-income seniors maintain their independence and remain in their homes through the Keeping Seniors Home Program. Started in 2004, this program has served nearly 3,000 low-income senior homeowners in Maine. WMCAP is also working on a regional job creation plan to train energy auditors, private contractors, and other community partners to provide additional support services to Maine's elderly rural citizens.

President Obama's historic investments in rural America have made our rural communities stronger. Under his leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.