US Agriculture Secretary to Make 1st Official Visit to Puerto Rico Wednesday
SAN JUAN – On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will make his first official visit to Puerto Rico, where he will highlight the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s commitment to addressing food security and rural opportunity in the commonwealth. While on the island, Vilsack will meet with various officials; visit the El Yunque National Forest research station; engage local farmers and ranchers; convene a group of financial leaders focused on finding opportunities for rural investment; and make several announcements to address food security and rural development.
Vilsack will meet with staff from seven USDA agencies working in the commonwealth: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; Agricultural Research Service; Farm Service Agency; Food and Nutrition Service; U.S. Forest Service; Natural Resources Conservation Service; and USDA Rural Development. Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $20 billion in Puerto Rico across various programs, including nutrition, infrastructure, housing, farming and ranching, conservation and forestry, and research.
Ahead of his visit, Vilsack announced the USDA is accepting applications for grants to support rural economic development.
“These grants will bring jobs to our rural small towns and cities,” Vilsack said. “I encourage all eligible organizations to apply for this funding. I am also happy to announce that USDA is awarding more than $4 million to 23 organizations for rural development projects.”
José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico, indicated that the awards and request for applications are being provided through the Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) program. RCDI helps community based development organizations and other groups promote economic growth in low income, rural communities. Recipients must obtain matching funds. Which increase the value of the grants. USDA does not provide the grants directly to businesses or individuals. Instead, awards are provided to public or nonprofit intermediaries.
On Wednesday, Vilsack will meet with Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, Senate Majority Leader Eduardo Bhatia and House Speaker Jaime Perelló. Later that day, he will tour the U.S. Forest Service Sabana Field Research Station and El Yunque National Forest to highlight the USDA’s research initiatives in the Caribbean Climate Sub Hub. The USDA has established a network of seven regional Climate Hubs and three Sub Hubs to support applied research and provide information to farmers, ranchers, advisers and managers to inform climate-related decision making and region-specific adaptation strategies.
On Thursday, Vilsack will highlight Puerto Rico’s growth potential and announce a series of additional federal investments in Puerto Rico’s future. He will meet farmers, ranchers, producers and agriculture-related businesspeople to gauge the needs and opportunities of Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector. Vilsack will then convene a meeting with a dozen investors, financial leaders, economists and entrepreneurs to discuss rural economic opportunity and the potential to leverage public and private resources.
After those meetings, he will announce the new USDA investments in Puerto Rico at the U.S. Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry Headquarters.
Vilsack is the latest senior official from the administration of President Obama to travel to Puerto Rico, following visits from Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Health Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, Housing Secretary Julian Castro and Education Secretary John King earlier this year to urge action by Congress to provide Puerto Rico with tools to address its crisis, restructure its debt, support reform and enable growth, according to a USDA release.
For additional information on the Rural Community Development Initiative grants, contact Miguel Ramírez, public affairs coordinator, at 787-766-5708.