NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- A representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will host a meeting Thursday to help town government and nonprofit groups seek funding through various programs offered by the agency.
Jon-Michael Muise, director of the USDA for southern Vermont, said the department runs a host of programs aimed at helping rural areas. The Rural Development program provides funding for telecommunications, water and sewer systems and single-family housing, Muise said.
"The Department of Agriculture is a very large department with several missions and several agencies, which then spreads out to many programs," he said.
Muise said he will provide town officials and about a dozen representatives from local nonprofit groups with an overview of USDA programs. Specific information will be available about relevant programs for the town and groups present. There are about 40 different programs that benefit rural Americans, he said.
Several local groups, including the Green Mountain Community Network, Bennington Project Independence and the Bennington Rescue Squad have worked with USDA in the past and received funding. Additionally, the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center also received funds to help establish a composites training program.
Muise said Thursday’s meeting is already filled to capacity. But groups looking for information can contact him. Additional meetings may be held if there is enough interest, he said.
"I actually got quite a bit of interest in that location. We might have to look into another meeting," Muise said. "We’re pretty proactive with our programs. We have so many offerings to the rural communities that we periodically do this outreach. We make a concerted effort to get out to the region and let people know what we have to offer."
Michael Harrington, the town’s economic and community development director, said the Better Bennington Corp. and a representative from a proposed downtown food co-op will take part in the meeting.
Harrington said USDA grants are typically less rigid and provide a "wider range of possible uses for the money and programs." The town is hoping to identify areas where money might be available for improvements, he said.
"I think we’re always looking to see what other options are out there for us and USDA Rural Development is one that’s commonly used by municipalities," Harrington said.