Initiative sends help to poor, rural counties

DROP USDA coming to Vance to showcase StrikeForce programs
Jun. 17, 2014 @ 06:42 PM

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is coming to Vance County next week.

With the help of the Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments, the USDA will offer an overview of its loan and grant programs at a StrikeForce Initiative Outreach meeting June 25.

The USDA established the StrikeForce Initiative in 2010 to provide intensive care for rural areas with persistent and concentrated poverty.

It started as a pilot program in certain regions of Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi — and, in 2011, expanded to Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.

In 2013, the initiative launched in North Carolina and nine other states.

The StrikeForce designation is given to counties with at least 20 percent of the population living at or below the federal poverty level, which depends on the number of people in the household. For a family of four, it’s $23,850.

In Vance County, 28.2 percent of the population was below the poverty level during 2008 to 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

There are 46 StrikeForce counties in the state, including Vance, Granville and Warren counties.

About 85 percent of persistent poverty counties are in rural America, according to the USDA.

Eva Clayton, former U.S. Representative, said there has been a market decline in the number of farmers all over the country.

“Farming is getting to be a larger enterprise, and small farmers are not in the business,” she said. “Individual farms are declining and are being taken over by larger farms. Farming is still a viable sector of our economy, but there needs to be a concerted effort to get young people involved.”

The outreach meeting at Vance-Granville Community College will explain loan and grant programs distributed by the Farm Service Agency, as well as housing loans and grants from the Rural Development Agency.

The Farm Service Agency granted more than 300 loans totaling $40.5 million to North Carolina StrikeForce counties in fiscal year 2013.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp program, will also be represented.

Jim Kearney, councilman and StrikeForce advisory board member, said the USDA is not presenting new programs but rather redoubling its efforts to educate residents in StrikeForce regions on programs it currently offers.

“Sometimes, no matter how many times you say what a program has, there is always someone becoming eligible,” he said.

Clayton said the event is a way to encourage people to take advantage of the funding.

“I think USDA made an intentional decision to reach out and give priority to these areas because it’s where they are needed most,” she said.

 

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.