By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer
The head of the Rural Utilities Service says rural America is falling behind the rest of the country.
At the Regions 1 & 4 meeting, RUS Administrator John Padalino outlines the need for rural economic development. (Photo By: Steven Johnson) At the Regions 1 & 4 meeting, RUS Administrator John Padalino outlines the need for rural economic development. (Photo By: Steven Johnson)
And that has to stop, RUS Administrator John Padalino told co-op leaders at the Regions 1 & 4 meeting.
“Rural America is becoming less and less relevant,” Padalino said during a Sept. 6 address. “It’s our responsibility to see that the cooperative business model is alive and well 75 years from today.”
The son of a customs agent, Padalino said he’s been aware of the challenges facing rural areas since he grew up in remote locations in Arizona, near the Mexican border.
He said he sees co-ops as important partners in reversing a trend that has seen one in four children in rural American slip below the poverty line.
This fall, the Agriculture Department will finalize an energy-efficiency loan conservation program that will use co-ops as agents to help needy households make efficiency improvement, Padalino said.
Under the program, RUS would lend money to co-ops, who would relend it to members as a way of offsetting the high upfront costs of heat pumps and other upgrades. Loans would be repaid through an add-on to monthly electric bills.
Similar provisions are part of pending farm legislation in the House and Senate, but RUS intends to implement the program within its own authority.
“We can take this on a big scale,” said Padalino, who was sworn in as administrator in June.
He also touted growth in crop exports, farmers markets, bio-based fuels and recreational opportunities as a way to revive rural America. USDA initiatives in those areas will help to keep more money in rural communities, Padalino said.
During Padalino’s appearance, USDA announced it is pumping nearly $208 million into infrastructure improvements for eight co-ops that serve about 10,000 rural residents.
The loan guarantees will finance about 2,000 miles of new lines and include more than $11 million in smart grid investments.
South Central Power Company, Lancaster, Ohio, is in line for $64 million to build 558 miles of distribution lines and 34 miles of transmission lines, USDA said.
Arrington-based Central Virginia Electric Cooperative will use its $22.1 million loan to construct 327 miles of line and invest more than $1.1 million in smart grid technologies across 14 counties, the department added.
A complete list of recipients can be found on the USDA website.
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