Weekend Roundup: West’s Czech Stop

National Rural Housing Coalition fights USDA Development cuts • Commercial firm offers white-spaces broadband access • The Rural Tour is back on the map.

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Even though the blast from the West, Texas, fertilizer-plant explosion shook the Czech Stop bakery and gas station, the community institution stayed open to feed emergency workers and help care for victims.

Mother Jones describes the Czech Stop as a “hub of refuge” during the last few days, as the community of West has dealt with the explosion that killed and injured an unknown number of people. The article also describes the role of Czech-American culture in building local identity and civic capacity. 

Rural Development on the Chopping Block? The National Rural Housing Coalition says that the USDA is attempting to eliminate rural development funding and that programs that help low-income families obtain housing and clean water are falling far short of what’s needed.

The coalition released a press statement earlier this week in response to the president’s proposed budget, which cuts rural housing programs substantially. 

“USDA should acknowledge that Rural Development is a low priority for the Department,” said NRHC Executive Secretary Bob Rapoza in the press release. “And for that reason, it is obvious to me that these programs are the first on the chopping block and always available to offset increases for other programs and activities that are deemed more important.”

The press release states: 

“There is ample evidence that Rural Development programs rank low on USDA’s list of priorities. Between 2010 and 2013, Rural Development programs were cut by at least $750 million. This substantial and disproportionate cut represents 19 percent of all cuts made to USDA over the same period. The President’s Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) Budget piles on even further by proposing an additional $200 million in reductions, despite the fact that the budget includes more than $300 million in savings from USDA Loan programs.”

Also this week, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Appropriations subcommittee that USDA will likely have to hire other organizations to reduce the department’s workload because of budget cuts. USDA will have 5,000 fewer staff but has been asked to provide more services to rural communities, he said. 

The secretary said if there are furloughs of workers, those will come out of Rural Development and the Farm Service Agency, according to NRHC. 

New White Spaces Broadband. An Internet service provider in central and northeast California says it has deployed commercial broadband service to rural users via “white spaces,” a technology that uses higher powered wireless signals to reach remote customers.

ARS Technica reports that the company, “Cal.net, said in an announcement yesterday that ‘over 59,000 residents in our rural service area have had little or no quality Internet access.’ Many of those could be served with Cal.net’s new white spaces network, which uses empty TV channels to send long-range wireless signals. Cal.net built the service using RuralConnect, a set of base station antennas and white space broadband radios made by a manufacturer called Carlson. The latest version of RuralConnect unveiled last month promises speeds of up to 16Mbps, although Cal.net’s website promises wireless service of up to just 6Mbps.” The service is available in the Gold Country region in central and northeastern California. The company didn’t say how many customers it has or what the service costs.

Rural Tour and the EPA. Remember the Rural Tour? It was a plan back in 2009 to send Cabinet level officials out to rural locations to talk about issues, policies and programs affecting rural communities. It was supposed to include all the agencies that were relevant to rural America. Now emails that came out as part of a lawsuit show that the White House likely didn’t consider the Environmental Protection Agency relevant to that Rural Tour, even though rural America is where our water, energy and food come from.

The EPA’s top intergovernmental affairs liaison sent an email about the Rural Tour to then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in June 2009. “First I’m hearing of it,” the liaison wrote on the email, indicating that the EPA had not been included in discussions about the Rural Tour before that date.

Politico reports: “Issues planned for the tour included energy, carbon sequestration and green jobs – and while Secretaries Tom Vilsack and Stephen Chu [Energy] got to tag along, [the EPA’s] Jackson wasn’t on the list. EPA later faced a long run of issues in rural areas, resulting in Jackson making a rural tour of her own to refute rumors about EPA regulations.”

 

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