Oregon Rural Developments Newsletter (Fall 2021 Edition)

USDA Rural Development, Oregon Rural Developments Newsletter

Welcome to the quarterly newsletter of USDA Rural Development in Oregon. Here, you will find updates on funding opportunities and program activities through BusinessCooperativeEnergyElectricTelecommunicationsWater and EnvironmentalCommunity FacilitiesMulti-Family Housing, and Single Family Housing programs.

USDA Welcomes Under Secretary for Rural Development

Xochitl Torres Small

We are happy to announce the appointment of Xochitl Torres Small as the Under Secretary for Rural Development.

Before coming to Rural Development, Xochitl was a United States Representative for the fifth largest district in the country. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Xochitl kept a rural hospital from closing its doors, improved constituent access to healthcare over the phone, and helped secure tens of millions of dollars for broadband in New Mexico through USDA’s ReConnect Program. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Xochitl raised the alarm on broadband disparities, serving as an original cosponsor of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Xochitl helped champion the needs of dairy farmers and sponsored legislation to help local producers and rural communities invest in infrastructure to navigate new markets. Xochitl forged additional bipartisan solutions on the House Armed Services Committee and as chairwoman of the Oversight, Management, and Accountability subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee. 

The granddaughter of farmworkers, Xochitl Torres Small grew up in the borderlands of New Mexico. After college, she worked as a field organizer in colonias in southern New Mexico. She continued serving rural New Mexico as a field representative for Senator Tom Udall, where she collaborated with local grassroots leaders, business owners, elected officials, and regional and state economic development officials. Torres Small studied water law and worked closely with rural water utilities. Throughout her career, Xochitl has employed her experience working in vulnerable, rural communities to achieve lasting investments that combat persistent poverty. Xochitl has a law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and an international baccalaureate from Waterford Kamhlaba United World College. 

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Rural Development Welcomes Incoming Administrator for the Rural Housing Service

Joaquin Altoro

Joaquin Altoro has joined USDA Rural Development as the Administrator for the Rural Housing Service.

For nearly three decades, Altoro has been dedicated to understanding the heart and passion of minority communities and applying his experience and wisdom to provide financing opportunities that spark economic development. Recently, he served as CEO and Executive Director for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA). As CEO, Altoro strategically positioned WHEDA to adopt a holistic approach to leverage affordable housing to grow economic prosperity for historically marginalized communities. Under his guidance, WHEDA was able to enhance its 2021-2022 housing tax credit Qualified Action Plan, encouraging diversity among participating developers and providing greater consideration of the unique needs of rural communities. Prior to WHEDA, he served as Town Bank’s Vice President of Commercial Banking. Altoro is a graduate of Cardinal Stritch University where he received a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and is a graduate of the African American Leadership Program.

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Tribal Consultations on Water Infrastructure Programs

water system

USDA Seeks Feedback on Ways to Provide Better Access to Grants to Improve Water Infrastructure on Tribal Lands and in Colonias

USDA is hosting virtual Tribal consultations for elected leaders of federally recognized Tribes or their proxies. USDA is seeking recommendations to improve the Water and Waste Disposal Grants to Alleviate Health Risks on Tribal Lands and Colonias program. This program helps people who live in low-income communities and federally recognized Tribes access safe and reliable drinking water, waste disposal facilities and waste disposal services.

The Department is seeking input from Tribal leaders on: adjusting the program’s scoring criteria to address health risks experienced by federally-recognized Tribes due to a lack of access to safe drinking water and wastewater disposal services and facilities; and improving program delivery based on the experiences of federally-recognized Tribes who have applied for and used these grants. USDA is hosting two consultations. Both sessions will cover the same topics. Virtual consultations will be held:

USDA will issue additional information in the coming days to help Tribal leaders and their proxies prepare for the consultations.

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Application Period Opens for Rural Business Development Grants

merchant selling flowers

The Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) is a competitive grant designed to support targeted technical assistance, training, and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging private businesses in rural areas that have fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in gross revenues.

Rural public entities are eligible to apply, including but not limited to: towns/local government, state agencies, authorities, nonprofit corporations, institutions of higher education, federally-recognized Tribes, and rural cooperatives (if organized as a private nonprofit corporation). 
RBDG funds must be used for projects that benefit rural areas or towns outside the urbanized periphery of any city with a population of 50,000 or more.

Applications must be submitted to Rural Development by
February 28, 2022, 4:30 p.m. local time.

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Strategic Economic Community Development Applicant Webinar: December 14

aerial photo of rural region

Rural Development will be hosting an applicant webinar about Fiscal Year 2022 Strategic Economic Community Development (SECD) funding. SECD supports projects that promote and implement strategic community investment plans. These plans use the unique strengths of rural communities to advance prosperity by using community assets, identifying resources, convening partners and leveraging federal, state, local or private funding.  Priority may be given to applications submitted through the following covered  programs:  

Community Connect Grants
Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program
Community Facilities Guaranteed Loan Program 
Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program
Water and Waste Disposal Loan Guarantees
Rural Business Development Grants

Dec. 14, 2021 applicant webinar registration information is online. 

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$1.15 Billion Available for High-Speed Internet in Rural Communities

broadband infrastructure

Rural Development has begun accepting applications for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to help people in rural areas access high-speed internet through the ReConnect Program. Eligible applicants are state, local or territory governments; corporations; Native American Tribes; limited liability companies and cooperative organizations.

This funding is available for projects that serve rural areas where at least 90 percent of the households lack broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload). USDA will give funding priority to projects that will serve people in low-density rural areas and areas lacking internet access services at speeds of at least 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload).

Applications can be submitted through the on-line application portal until 11:59 a.m. Eastern on February 22, 2022.

Additional ReConnect funding will be made available through the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides another nearly $2 billion in additional funding. USDA anticipates issuing a new Notice of Funding Opportunity to make the additional funds available in 2022.

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Funding for Renewable and Efficient Energy Upgrades for Rural Businesses, Ag Producers

Solar panels on rangeland

The Rural Energy for American Program provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements. Agricultural producers may also apply for new energy efficient equipment and new system loans for agricultural production and processing.

Rural Development is accepting new applications for Fiscal Year 2022 through March 31, 2022.

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CDFIs and the OneRD Guaranteed Loan

On November 30, Rural Development national leadership will discuss how CDFIs can enhance their programs and impact in the rural space, particularly through loan guarantees and intermediary lending. This webinar will feature the Administrators or Acting Administrators for the Rural Business and Cooperative Service, Rural Housing Service, and Rural Utilities Service to share Agency priorities, explain updates on existing programs, discuss new opportunities and describe the new, streamlined OneRD Guarantee Loan Initiative. 

With the OneRD Guarantee, USDA has removed unnecessary regulations to increase private investment in rural businesses and economic development projects and to improve customer service within four flagship loan guarantee programs. The Agency implemented a standard set of requirements, processes and forms for these program. Only lenders are eligible to apply. 

We encourage our CDFI partners to participate by registering at: Connect+ Webinar on What’s Next for CDFIs at USDA Rural Development.

More information on the OneRD Guarantee is online. Also, available is the annual Federal Register Notice of Guarantee Fee Rates, Periodic Retention Fee Rates, Loan Guarantee Percentage and Fee.

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Grant Funds Available to Increase Access to Healthy Food

photo of a market

USDA is making the grants available under the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) Targeted Small Grants Program. Through this program, USDA is partnering with the Reinvestment Fund to administer the funding. Qualified grantees include grocery stores and food distributors that are working to improve access to healthy foods in underserved areas. HFFI provides capacity building and financial resources to eligible healthy food retail projects to overcome the higher costs and initial barriers to entry in underserved areas. At least $4 million is available for innovative food retail and food system enterprises that seek to improve access to healthy food in underserved areas. Grant awards will range from $20,000 to $200,000. 

To apply, applicants must submit a letter of interest by Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. If invited to apply, applicants must submit a full application. Additional information on how to apply is available at www.investinginfood.com.

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USDA Invests in the Applegate Valley

photo of the Applegate Valley

Photo courtesy of the Applegate Trails Association

Rural Development is awarding Greater Applegate Community Development Corporation (known as A Greater Applegate) $246,310 to create a plan enhance the livability and prosperity of communities across the Applegate Valley. Funds will be used to support a community action team to implement projects in Jackson and Josephine counties in Oregon and Siskiyou County, California. A Greater Applegate is one of just 13 organizations funded through the program nationwide in 2021. 

The Department is making the award under the Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge (RPIC). Placemaking is a collaborative planning and technical assistance process that helps leaders from rural communities create quality places where people will want to live, work, visit and learn. Technical assistance will be designed to improve the region's capacity to apply for and access government resources for projects that will attract jobs and people, rebuild the economy and pave the way for rural America to build back better. 

“Rural community resilience and growth is multifaceted,” said Jill Rees, Acting State Director for USDA Rural Development in Oregon. “This announcement with A Greater Applegate is an example of USDA investing in the future of rural Oregon and rural people through placemaking efforts. We look forward to the Applegate Valley benefitting from this investment and the resulting community-led actions for many years to come.”

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Grant to Provide Equitable Access to Home Repair Assistance in Rural Eastern Oregon

Rural Development has awarded a $172,894 Housing Preservation Grant to Communities in Action, a nonprofit community action agency based in Ontario, OR.  Funds will be used to repair and rehabilitate 40 homes in rural Harney and Malheur Counties, focusing on the critical health and safety conditions of each impacted home.

The Housing Preservation Grant Program provides grants to sponsoring organizations for the repair or rehabilitation of housing owned or occupied by low- and very-low-income rural citizens who may otherwise be ineligible for home repair assistance. State and local government entities, nonprofits, and Federally recognized Tribes are eligible to apply. Individual homeowners are not eligible to apply directly to USDA. Funds are awarded competitively on an annual basis. The fiscal year 2022 application cycle has not yet been announced. 

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Inside This Edition

Webinars & Open Application Windows

Nov. 30: Webinar on What’s Next for CDFIs at USDA Rural Development

Nov. 30: RUS WEP 306C Tribal Consultation

Dec. 1: RUS WEP 306C Tribal Consultation

Dec. 7: Healthy Food Financing Small Grants Letter of Interest Deadline

Dec. 7: FY22 SECD NOFA Internal Webinar

Dec. 8: ReConnect Program: Application Intake System Highlights

Dec. 14: FY22 SECD NOFA External Webinar

Dec. 15: ReConnect Program: Application Intake System Highlights

Feb. 22, 2022: ReConnect Application Deadline

Feb. 28, 2022: RBDG Program Application Deadline