Roundup: Rural Development Nominee

USDA reaches out to the rural LGBT community • Vermont trying to consolidate rural schools • House votes to ease rural lending restrictions • Ag Secretary addresses climate change • Rural schools having hard time finding good teachers • Dog saves lost boy

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The leader of a nonprofit that focuses on creating financial security for the poor will be nominated to fill the vacant under secretary position in the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, according to a White House press release.

Lisa Mensah is founder and executive director of the Aspen Institute Initiative on Financial Security, a program that helps “bring about the public policy solutions and financial products that enable all Americans to save and build wealth for homeownership, small business, college education and retirement,” according to the organization’s website.

Before starting the Aspen Institute financial security program, Mensah worked at the Ford Foundation, where she led the organization’s work in microfinance and women’s economic development. Among other posts, she was deputy director of the foundation's rural poverty program from 1991 to 1996.

USDA Rural Development manages programs that provide loans and grants to support rural housing, business and community development, and electrical and telecommunications utilities.

Former Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager announced his departure from the position in March.

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The USDA is teaming up with the National Center for Lesbian Rights to create an outreach campaign for gay, bisexual and trans people living in rural areas. The first order of business is a listening tour, which will kick off in Greensboro, North Carolina, in early June.

“What we want to do is dismantle some of these myths that the LGBT community doesn’t live in rural areas, that they are wealthy, and then also talk about the policies that would impact these peoples’ lives,”  said Maya Rupert, policy director at NCLR. “As we experience an unprecedented number of LGBT equality victories across the country, many people living in rural communities have not seen the full impact of these victories simply because of where they live. We wanted to give people the opportunity to talk to the USDA officials and advocates and say, ‘These are the things we need.’”

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A dwindling pool of students and rising costs are factors in Vermont’s push to consolidate rural schools. The challenge will be to sell folks on the idea. “The fact of the matter is, in a state as small as Vermont, the schools are the heart of most communities and the notion of local control is close to a religion here,” said Shap Smith, the House Speaker, a Democrat who supports the bill.

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The House voted this week to allow more financial institutions to offer certain types of loans under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.

The measure would allow the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to create its own process for designating “rural” financial institutions. Currently, the CFPB uses the Urban Influence Code definition created by the Agriculture Department, reports The Hill.

The current system unnecessarily limits credit in some rural areas, proponents of the measure said.

The measure passed on a voice vote. But the Hill reports that the change is unlikely to get a vote in the Senate.

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During Tom Vilsack’s keynote address to Drake University Tuesday the U.S. Agriculture Secretary made a case that climate change, as laid-out by the most recent National Climate Assessment (warning, it’s a whopping 839-page document) hits farms and rural areas especially hard. This was the first such assessment to study the effects on rural America.

"The National Climate Assessment confirms that climate change is affecting every region of the country and critical sectors of the economy like agriculture. This assessment provides an unprecedented look at how the changing climate and extreme weather impact rural America," said Secretary Vilsack. "At USDA, we're working closely with our nation's farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to help them manage the negative impacts of climate change, reduce their energy costs, and grow the bioeconomy to create jobs in rural America."

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A study sponsored by the Spencer Foundation finds that top teachers are reluctant to take jobs in isolated schools. The team that produced the study would like to fund a second study to look at solutions.

Even though more Americans live in cities than in the country, "(it) doesn't mean that the challenges facing children from families that live in rural areas are unimportant or should be ignored," said on of the researchers. "If we want our system of public education to give every student an equal opportunity to succeed, that needs to include the over 12 million students in the United States that attend schools in rural areas."
 

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Cue the Lassie reference and prepare your cockles for warming. 

In a rare bit of sweet, cute, non-depressing news, the safety of a North Dakota 3-year-old was probably saved by his faithful sidekick, a mutt named Cooper. The kid’s parents called on a search crew to look for the child after discovering him missing. After seven hours, one of the crewmembers spotted Cooper, with the child hunched underneath the dog. They think the dog had been protecting the child from an intense thunderstorm. The boy was not injured. The parents knew they’d find the two together.

"You think of the worst, but then I knew Cooper was gone. If anyone was going to find him, they'd just have to find Cooper," Carson's mother, Courtney Urness, told WDAZ-TV.

– Shawn Poynter

 

 

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