COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding a program intended to reduce poverty and improve life in rural areas through better access to federal money.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said during a visit to South Carolina's Statehouse on Tuesday that the program is flexible to help communities where they need it most. He announced announced new efforts this year to bring StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity to North Carolina, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
Already operational in 10 states, the StrikeForce initiative is designed to help relieve persistent rural poverty by making it easier for people to get their hands on money that is available from the USDA but may be hard to access. The "StrikeForce" initiative started as a pilot project in 2010 in selected regions in three states: Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi.
The federal money helps farmers, food producers and other businesses fund projects such as community gardens and summer meals for low-income school children.
USDA identifies census tracts with over 20 percent poverty (according to American Community Survey data) to identify sub-county pockets of poverty. As areas of persistent poverty are identified, USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs, and help build program participation. Vilsack noted that often USDA conducts special outreach activities in an area, and that since 2010, USDA has partnered with over 400 local community based organizations to promote local or regional development projects.