U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced Friday a new federal anti-poverty initiative will be expanded to 11 counties in Ohio, including Fayette County.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative identifies regional and local challenges and aims to solve them by connecting local partners with federal resources to combat chronic poverty. According to the USDA, more than one-third of all rural Americans and one-in-four rural children live in poverty.
“The small towns and rural communities in Fayette County showcase our state’s diverse strengths and opportunities for growth,” Brown said. “But they face unique challenges – like aging infrastructure – and are often isolated from important resources that build wealth and encourage economic success. The StrikeForce initiative takes a tailored approach to address this vacuum by engaging with local partners who know the community and deploying targeted federal resources to solve regional and county-specific problems.”
Currently, 85 percent of the nation’s “persistent poverty” counties are in rural America, according to Brown. The USDA defines a county as being persistently poor if 20 percent or more of individuals were living in poverty over the last 30 years.
Children raised in families earning twice the poverty threshold are nearly three times as likely as other children to have poor health, more likely to complete two fewer years of school, and more likely to earn half as much money over the course of their adult lives, according to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
“Growing the economy by investing in rural communities, farmers, makers and innovators, and increasing opportunities for families are keys to our nation’s future,” said Vilsack. “StrikeForce has proven to be an effective, collaborative process that builds partnerships and enables USDA to bring economic opportunity directly to rural Americans where they live and helps rural communities leverage their assets.”
Brown also applauded an announcement Friday by the White House that Vilsack will lead a coordinated effort to combat heroin and opioid abuse.
USDA launched StrikeForce in 2010 to increase opportunity for rural Americans by partnering with businesses, foundations, universities, faith-based organizations and other community groups to provide technical assistance in order to help rural communities solve problems and exploit regional strengths. In 2015 alone, these partnerships have helped USDA support more than 188,000 projects, driving more than $23.8 billion in investments in high-poverty areas nationwide, officials said.
Brown has advocated for investing in and strengthening rural communities during his time on the Senate Agriculture Committee. During consideration of the 2014 Farm Bill, Brown said he successfully fought to secure strong rural development initiatives that empowered communities, encouraged small business development, invested in critical infrastructure, and promoted collaboration between local governments.
Increased coordination between USDA and these targeted counties will ensure that local priorities are best met, Brown said.