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Building a vibrant and strong community isn’t easy. Recently, President Biden used his first State of the Union address to highlight both the undeniable strength of our economy — more jobs created over the past year than ever before — as well as the deep challenges we’ve faced over that same time: a crippling pandemic, supply chain disruptions and sharp social divisions. The people of rural America feel this pain as deeply as anyone.

But rural communities do not give up, and they often provide a hopeful light for the rest of the country when situations seem darkest.

When we invest in projects that strengthen rural communities and businesses, we build the foundation for sustained economic growth for generations to come. At U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, our mission is to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural America, and we do it best when we work alongside local champions and use multiple resources to tackle and solve complex issues.

Years ago, USDA RD invested in Green Mountain Express, the bus and transit system that serves fixed and flexible bus transportation for Bennington and beyond. Public transportation investments increase economic vitality by getting employees, shoppers and visitors from A to B and back, and improves public health by ensuring patients have access to their healthcare providers. Ride access also significantly reduces the need for personal vehicles and thus carbon emissions, and this double bottom line is crucially important today.

More recently, USDA RD supported United Children’s Services in Bennington with more than $115,000 in Community Facilities Disaster Relief funds and Economic Impact Initiative Grants. This project brought together the various resources of the Bennington Recreation Center, Berkshire YMCA and committed community stakeholders to purchase equipment, furniture and fixtures for a new Head Start learning space in the downtown. The facility offers full-time, high-quality childcare and afterschool programs serving more than 60 children and their families.

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USDA RD also helped Bennington Project Independence with a $208,000 Community Facilities loan-and-grant package to purchase 260 solar panels and mitigate electricity costs. This noble organization provides supportive, individually tailored adult daycare at its Pleasant Street facility for aging rural residents, including meals, art, socialization and music therapy. Once complete, the project will reduce energy costs by an estimated 24 percent, enabling the group to reinvest in its mission, directing more funding to the services that so significantly benefit its part-time residents and their family caregivers. And again, by reducing fossil fuel use, this project will solve for more than one problem.

By investing in water infrastructure, broadband and rural business opportunities, USDA RD is one of the best partners a community can have to build its own success. This funding grows the economy from the bottom up and middle out, like the President talked about, by creating jobs and opportunities in rural areas. It contributes to the local resources and wealth we can build, which can be plowed back into Vermont and New Hampshire families and communities.

This funding is just the beginning of what will be a massive revitalization for rural communities. In his State of the Union address, President Biden committed to building a national network of electric vehicle charging stations and providing affordable high-speed internet for every American, an investment we know will make a difference here at home.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s plan for the economy is to rebuild the vitality of rural America. By giving everyone a fair shot and providing equitable access to federal resources, our agency is giving rural communities the support they need to pursue the visions they’ve defined. That means making more things locally, strengthening our supply chains and lowering costs for working families. It means giving people opportunities to make a good living without having to leave their homes or the communities they know and love.

Sarah Waring is the State Director, USDA Rural Development for Vermont and New Hampshire.


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