The bipartisan Infrastructure Act is a transformative, historic investment in life and livelihoods across America. It represents a new opportunity for farmers, ranchers, small businesses and rural communities. It supports the US Department of Agriculture in providing high-speed internet for the 21st century for better access to markets, jobs, telemedicine and distance learning. It increases community resilience to climate change, drought and wildfires. It also offers innovative solutions to economic, environmental and social challenges across the country.
“Investment in infrastructure is critical to America’s competitiveness and ensures that hard-working Americans have the tools and opportunities to build a good life — especially for rural and underserved communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Since its signing, President Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Act has demonstrated how building America’s infrastructure increases competitiveness and improves climate resilience while building a stronger, more just and inclusive economy.”
The USDA continues to play a critical role in implementing this unique legislation. From improving the quality of roads and water to providing rural areas with affordable high-speed Internet access to combating climate change through historic investments in our shared landscapes, the USDA is transforming the lives of American people.
Thanks to this historic support, and under the leadership of the Biden-Harris administration, the USDA has acted quickly to provide critical funding and support to current programs that, despite success stories, have long suffered from chronic underfunding and backlogs. The USDA has also launched new programs that focus on responding directly to community needs and working hand-in-hand with local leaders, interested partners and voices that too often have gone unheard.
Connecting communities through high-speed internet
The USDA is using resources from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act to close rural America’s digital divide — and help farmers access the real-time information and new technologies they need to gain a competitive edge so small businesses can develop their markets and can better connect rural communities to jobs, telemedicine and distance learning.
With an investment of $2 billion through loans and grants under the ReConnect program, the bipartisan infrastructure bill will fund the construction, upgrade or acquisition of facilities and equipment necessary to provide high-speed Internet service in eligible rural areas . This funding comes in addition to the $1.15 billion in broadband loans, grants and loan/grant combinations through ReConnect that the USDA announced earlier this year.
The USDA announced $759 million for high-speed Internet infrastructure just last month, including $468 million made available under the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The USDA expects to earn more than $1 billion in awards in the spring of 2023.
Improving rural resilience
The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is investing $918 million to protect the health and environment of rural communities through the maintenance and upgrading of municipal water and sanitation systems. These projects — which focus on previously underserved communities — include the construction of new dams, flood control projects, repairs to existing watershed infrastructure, and more.
- Rural development started the Community initiative to close America’s wastewater access gap with the Environmental Protection Agency to bring reliable sanitation infrastructure to underserved communities.
- Provided $21 million to the WaterSMART initiative with the US Bureau of Reclamation to modernize water infrastructure and help participating organizations improve drought resilience.
- Invested nearly $798 million to restore watersheds through the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program and to rehabilitate aging dams through the Watershed Rehabilitation Program and the Emergency Watershed Program. Examples include:
- Improved water quality, fish habitat, and roads and trails with $65 million through Legacy Roads and Trails and Collaborative Aquatic Landscape Restoration programs.
Reducing Wildfire Risk and Supporting Rural America
The USDA is investing approximately $5.5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill into the common landscape, reducing wildfire risk, restoring healthy, productive forests, and improving environmental, recreational, and economic infrastructure.
Working with partners and the communities we serve, USDA is taking bold action to mitigate climate change, advance forestry, and nurture and support our wilderness firefighters.
Among the many efforts made possible by the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the USDA began work on a 10-year strategy (PDF, 32MB) to address the wildfire crisis, working closely with the Department of the Interior, increasing firefighter salaries and committing itself, a billion trees in the national forests and grasslands. The USDA also invested in expanding markets for forest health and forest fire treatment by-products that can be used in the wood products or wood energy industries to create jobs and support rural economies.
- Launched the Community Wildfire Defense Program with support from the National Association of State Foresters and the Intertribal Timber Council, providing $1 billion in grants over the next five years to serve private forest owners, tribal communities, state forest agencies and other vulnerable communities to help in planning to prevent and reduce the risk of forest fires.
- Released a new national reforestation strategy to guide how the Forest Service and its partners will address a four million acre reforestation backlog in the national forests over the next decade.
- Treated 3.2 million acres to reduce wildfire risk statewide, including $131 million from the bipartisan infrastructure bill to begin work on 10 high-risk landscapes on public and private land included in the 10-year strategy identified for forest fires.
- Introducing an easy-to-use, interactive story map that allows communities to track the progress of wildfire risk reduction efforts in these 10 landscapes in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
- Increased firefighter salaries by up to $20,000 per year, converted a record number of temporary firefighters to permanent positions, expanded mental health support, and increased rest periods for firefighters between deployments.
- USDA also announced efforts to establish a wildland firefighter career series that is tailored to the unique duties of wildland firefighters, provides a clear path to career advancement, and reflects the true nature of the job.
- Together with the Department of the Interior and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), established the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission charged with recommending strategies and policies to Congress to better prevent, suppress, and recover from wildfires.
- Invested $37 million to improve recreational infrastructure, historic sites and cabins in state forests, support the recreational economy and improve visitor experiences.
- Funded $32 million in community grants for wood and wood innovation to expand the use of wood products and strengthen wood markets that support long-term, sustainable forest management.
- Distributed $238 million to 742 counties under the Secure Rural Schools program, reauthorized through 2023 by the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, to fund schools, roads and other public services.
- Invested $10 million to expand innovative bio-based product development to create new revenue streams for America’s farmers using low-cost, low-carbon agricultural materials.
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