USDA’s $300M Investment to Improve Energy Efficiency includes $434K for Puerto Rico Businesses

SAN JUAN – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday that the USDA is investing more than $300 million to help hundreds of small businesses to save money on their energy costs by adopting renewable sources or implementing more efficient options.

“Cutting our energy waste is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to help families save money on their energy bills while reducing harmful carbon pollution,” Vilsack said in the news release. “Through efficiency upgrades and private sector partnerships, America has been able to cuts its carbon emissions, create jobs and save families hundreds of dollars at the pump and on their utility bills every year. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) alone has helped roughly 15,000 rural small businesses, farmers and ranchers improve their bottom lines by install renewable energy systems and energy efficiency solutions.”

USDA_logoJosé Otero-García, USDA Rural Development state director for Puerto Rico, indicated that seven businesses in Puerto Rico received $434,000 to purchase and install solar renewable energy systems. These are Barreto Dairy Inc., Gur-Meat Inc., HQJ Plumbing Supplies Inc., Mauna Caribe Inc., Mena Javier Barreto, Río Nuevo Farm Inc., and Tomas Rodríguez-Navarro.

According to the USDA, it has provided more than $380 million in grants and almost $688 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners since the start of the Obama administration.

For additional information, contact Danna Quiles, Business & Cooperative Program director at the Puerto Rico State Office at (787) 766-5355, 766-5363, 766-5379 or 766-5412 or visit www.rd.usda.gov/pr.




USDA Announces Grants to Create Jobs and Grow Economic Opportunity

SAN JUAN – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA is awarding $7.6 million in grants to support projects that will grow rural opportunity through job training and economic development. The grants will support communities in 24 states and Puerto Rico, with several projects spanning communities in multiple states.

“These awards will help bolster local and regional food systems, tap into the tourism potential that proximity to America’s beautiful natural resources provides, and help individuals learn new job skills. All these effort are part of USDA’s strategy for a strong rural economy and will help to sustain the recovery that we have begun to see in our smallest towns,” Vilsack said in a release Thursday.

USDA_logoThe funding is being awarded through the Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grants (SDGG) and Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) Programs.

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development state director for Puerto Rico, indicated that RCAP Solutions Inc. is receiving a $244,831 RCDI grant to help 14 recipient communities in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico to implement Geographic Information Systems mapping. In Puerto Rico, Barros ward in the municipality of Orocovis and Capitanejo ward of in the municipality of Juana Díaz respectively will receive this assistance.

The “Cooperativa de Agricultores del Suroeste” is receiving a $130,775 SDGG grant to provide technical assistance to a group of socially disadvantaged individual farmers and farmer cooperatives within the municipalities of Lajas and Las Marías.

The SDGG program provides technical assistance to cooperatives and other organizations that help socially disadvantaged groups in rural areas. Examples of technical assistance include leadership training, conducting feasibility studies, and developing business and strategic plans.

For additional information about the SDGG program, contact Danna Quiles, Business & Cooperative Program director at the Puerto Rico State Office at (787) 766-5355, 766-5363, 766-5379 or 766-5412. For the RCDI program, contact Nereida Rodríguez at (787) 766-5144 or visit www.rd.usda.gov/pr .




USDA to reopen offices closed after email threats

WASHINGTON - JULY 21: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks during a news conference at the Agriculture Department July 21, 2010 in Washington, DC. Vilsack personally apologized to Shirley Sherrod, an Agriculture Department employee who was forced to resign because of a controversial video showing her giving remarks at a NAACP function that were deemed at the time racially discriminatory. He then offered her a "unique" position to work on civil rights issues at the USDA. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – The Agriculture Department will reopen some offices Wednesday that were closed after an unspecified email threat.

USDA spokesman Matthew Herrick said offices in Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina and Kearneysville, West Virginia, will open Wednesday with additional security enhancements. USDA offices in Hamden, Connecticut, and Leetown, West Virginia, will remain closed while waiting for security improvements or notifications to union officials.

Herrick said earlier Tuesday that the department had received “several anonymous messages” late Monday that raised concerns about the safety of USDA personnel and facilities. Offices in six locations in five states were closed Tuesday morning “until further notice.”

Herrick said the threat was one email message sent to multiple employees at all the locations.

“Without getting into detail of the email message, USDA continues to work closely with federal and local law enforcement, including the FBI, to determine whether the threat is credible,” Herrick said.

Herrick said USDA is continuing to work with law enforcement but officials determined the offices could be re-opened with additional security.

The closed facilities include offices for eight USDA agencies, including the Forest Service and the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Among the sites affected was USDA’s sprawling agricultural research center and library in Beltsville, Maryland, where employees were informed of the threat Tuesday morning and sent home. In Fort Collins, Colorado, four buildings at the Natural Resources Research Center – a campus where over 1,000 people work – were closed.

In an email to employees, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA is closing the offices “due to the serious nature of these threats.” He did not characterize the threats, but asked employees to be aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity. He said employees could telework or take authorized leave.

White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said the Department of Homeland Security is working with USDA “to ensure the safety of their offices and the personnel that work there.”

The temporary closures may have affected some tourists. In Colorado, the Forest Service’s Canyon Lakes Ranger District tweeted that its information center was closed.




USDA Announces $3.1M in Funding for Training in Agricultural Sciences

SAN JUAN – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced Monday the availability of $3.1 million to “train the next generation of agricultural leaders.” This funding is available through the Food and Agricultural Sciences National Needs Graduate and Postgraduate Fellowship Grants Program (NNF).

“In the next few years, we expect to see a significant number of job openings for graduates with degrees in agricultural sciences,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “The fellowship program allows us to support the next generation of scientists and innovators, who will play an integral part in the future of our food and agricultural systems.”

USDA_logoThe NNF program is designated for graduate degree (masters and doctoral) programs and postgraduate training “of the next generation of policy makers, researchers, and educators in the food and agricultural sciences. The purpose of this program is to develop intellectual capital to ensure the preeminence of U.S. food and agricultural systems,” the USDA’s published announcement reads.

The funding is to invest in experiential learning, including international experiences. Applicants should propose training projects to support graduate fellowships in one of the eight targeted expertise shortage areas: animal production; plant production; forest resources; agricultural educators and communicators; agricultural management and economics; food science, human nutrition and human sciences; sciences for agricultural biosecurity; veterinary sciences; food and agriculture data analytics and tools; and integrative biosciences for sustainable food and agricultural systems.

Applications are due Sept. 22. See the request for applications for more information.




USDA Seek Applications for Funding Development of Biofuels, Biobased Products

SAN JUAN – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday that the USDA is accepting applications for funding to support the development of advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals and biobased products.

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development state director for Puerto Rico, explained that the funding is being provided through the Bio-refinery, Renewable Chemical and Bio-based Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. The program provides loan guarantees of up to $250 million to develop, construct and retrofit commercial scale bio-refineries and to develop renewable chemicals and bio-based product manufacturing facilities.

USDA_logoThe USDA is announcing two application cycles. Applications for the first funding cycle are due Oct. 3 and applications for the second cycle are due April 3, 2017. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov/pr.

Eligible borrowers include individuals; units of state or local government, including corporations, farm cooperatives, farmer cooperative organizations; associations of agricultural producers, national laboratories, institution of higher education; rural electric cooperatives, public power entities; or a consortium of any of these borrower types. Entities that receive program financing must provide at least 20% of the funding for eligible project costs.

“This funding will spur economic development, create new jobs and provide new markets for farm commodities in rural America,” Vilsack said. “This time is right for this type of investment in technologies and businesses of the future.”

USDA has provided $702.5million in loan commitments to seven businesses in the Bio refinery, Renewable Chemical and Bio based Product Manufacturing Assistance Program since the start of the Obama administration. Companies receiving these commitments are projected to produce 150.1 million gallons of advanced biofuels.

For additional information, contact Danna Quiles, Business & Cooperative Program director at the Puerto Rico State Office at (787) 766-5355, 766-5363, 766-5379 or 766-5412 or visit www.rd.usda.gov/pr.

 




Rural Businesses in Puerto Rico to Receive $245,500 from USDA

SAN JUAN – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday funding for 821 projects across the nation that will help rural small businesses and agricultural producers reduce energy usage and costs in their operations. The funding is available through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to make energy efficiency improvements and install renewable energy systems.

The USDA is providing $43.2 million in loan guarantees and $11.6 million in grants through REAP for projects in every state and Puerto Rico.

USDA_logoJosé Otero-García, USDA Rural Development state director for Puerto Rico, said that 11 projects were selected to receive a grant to either make energy efficiency improvements to lighting systems or to purchase and install a solar renewable energy system.

“Since 2009, the Rural Energy for America Program has helped roughly 15,000 small businesses and farm save enough energy to power about 730,000 homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than five million metric tons annually,” Vilsack said in the published announcement. “These investments in clean energy are good for the environment, are good for each business’s bottom line and they support the broader rural economy by encouraging the production of renewable energy sources.”

From 2009 to date the USDA has provided more than $373 million in grants and almost $481 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners.

For additional information, visit: www.rd.usda.gov/pr.

REAP loans and grants for Puerto Rico
State Recipient Grant Loan Project Description
PR Adler Group Inc.* $19,993 $0 To make energy efficiency improvements to the lighting system.
PR Alfredo Jose Toledo* $16,320 $0 To purchase and install a solar renewable energy system.
PR Computer Integration of Quality Assurance* $17,150 $0 To make energy efficiency improvements to the lighting system.
PR Giovanni Ferrante* $16,250 $0 To purchase and install a solar renewable energy system.
PR Hidroponicos Del Pais Inc.* $20,000 $0 To make energy efficiency improvements to the lighting system.
PR Imprenta Quality Offset* $10,850 $0 To make energy efficiency improvements to the lighting system.
PR Ivan E. Martinez Cordero* $0 $87,500 To make energy efficiency improvements to the lighting system.
PR Laboratorio Clinico Delgado Amador PSC* $16,997 $0 To purchase and install a solar renewable energy system.
PR Laboratorio Clinico Ling Inc.* $19,880 $0 To make energy efficiency improvements to the lighting system.
PR Laboratorio Clinico Ling Inc.* $6,596 $0 To make energy efficiency improvements to the lighting system.
PR Laboratorio Clinico Sangermeno Principal* $11,175 $0 To make energy efficiency improvements to the lighting system.
PR Alex Cruz Velez* $3,789 $0 To purchase and install a solar renewable energy system.
TOTAL $159,000 $87,500
* projects in StrikeForce areas
& projects in areas of persistent poverty
^ projects in Promise Zones
# projects with Farm Bill Section 6025/Regional Development Priority points

 




Lulac Recognizes Service to Latino Community

SAN JUAN –  At its 87th Annual National Convention, the League of United Latin American Citizens (Lulac) recognized its partners for their role in furthering the volunteer-based organization’s mission to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, health and civil rights of the Latino community.

Walmart was bestowed with the 2016 Lulac National Corporation of the Year award. The retailer has provided support with health resources for thousands through the Latinos Living Healthy initiative, as well as support to thousands of new immigrants through the Hispanic Immigrant Integration Project.

“We are committed to having a diverse workforce, which includes the 200,000 Latino associates who work for our company and to help strengthen the communities where we live and work. We are proud to work alongside Lulac and look forward to continue to make a difference in the lives of Latino families,” said Walmart Senior Vice President Lance de la Rosa, who leads Operations Transformation for Sam’s Club.

LulacThe Lulac Corporate Champion of the Year Award was awarded to Luis Rosero, director of the Hispanic Business Strategy Group for Toyota North America. Over the past year, he was instrumental in bringing health resources to thousands of residents in Brownsville, Texas, as part of Lulac’s Latinos Living Healthy: Feria de Salud.

“My personal and professional goal is to continue to support our community as best as I can. As a parent, I want to contribute my share to help the next generation have better opportunities for success,” Rosero said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture received an award for diversifying its workforce and improving the health and nutrition of the Latino community, Lulac said. Its efforts have included forming partnerships to promote healthy nutrition in the community and “raising awareness about important rural development programs for communities located in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Through its partnership with Lulac’s Federal Training Institute, the USDA is investing in diversity and sharing critical information for achieving successful government careers at the youth symposium,” according to Lulac’s news release.

“From San Juan to San Diego, we’ve worked hard to expand economic opportunity by boosting tourism to create jobs and expanding homeownership in the Colonias communities along the U.S./Mexico border. We’ve invested in Hispanic-Serving Institutions to make sure our nation’s most talented scholars have a chance to thrive, and we look forward to the contributions they will make to the future of our nation’s food security. This award demonstrates just how far we’ve come since 2009, and I am thankful for the support of our partners at Lulac,” Agriculture  Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release.

Lulac has more than 1,000 councils around the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Its programs, services and advocacy address the important issues for Latinos.




USDA Seeks Applications for Grants to Help Socially Disadvantaged Rural Businesses

SAN JUAN – USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Administrator Sam Rikkers has announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking applications for grants to provide assistance to socially disadvantaged business groups in rural areas.

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico, explained that the funding is being provided through the Socially Disadvantaged Group Grant (SDGG) Program. The USDA provides grants to local cooperatives and other organizations that provide technical assistance to socially disadvantaged groups in rural areas. Examples of technical assistance include providing leadership training, conducting feasibility studies and developing business and strategic plans.

USDA_logoRecipients eligible for these grants include groups of cooperatives, individual cooperatives or development centers that serve socially disadvantaged groups. The cooperatives or development centers can be based in any area, but the groups that receive technical assistance must be located in an eligible rural area. The USDA is encouraging applications for projects in census tracts with poverty rates of 20% or higher.

The USDA is making $3 million in grants available. The maximum award a recipient may receive is $175,000. All grants are awarded through a national competition.

“Rural America is an incredibly diverse place with many types of businesses and business owners participating in the economy,” USDA’s Rikkers said. “This funding will give small, rural businesses the technical assistance they need to compete in the global marketplace.”

For additional information, contact Danna Quiles at (787) 766-5355,

766-5363, 766-5379, 766-5412 or visit www.rd.usda.gov/pr.




USDA Celebrates National Homeownership Month

SAN JUAN – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off National Homeownership Month Monday by highlighting the USDA’s role in helping people buy homes in rural areas.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 12:  U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack participates in a discussion on "The Opioid Epidemic" on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. Secretary Vilsack joined the discussion at the Summit on Mental Health and Addiction, hosted by The Atlantic.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“Owning a home helps promote stable communities and is one of the best ways American families can build wealth,” Vilsack said. “During the Obama Administration, USDA has helped more than 1 million rural families and individuals realize their dream of homeownership. This year, our celebration of National Homeownership Month will focus on some of the many organizations that have worked with us to make this achievement possible.”

José Otero-García, USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico indicated that the agency has invested some $2.62 billion since 2009 to support rural homeownership. In 2015 alone, the department invested about $277.2 million to help 2,464 rural families buy or make repairs and safety upgrades to their homes.

The agency recently announced a series of changes that will make faster and cheaper for rural homeowners with USDA backed mortgages to refinance their loans and save money with a lower interest rate. The changes take effect June 2. Interested homeowners with USDA loan guarantees should contact their lender about refinance procedures. Homeowners with mortgages through USDA’s Direct Loan program should contact a USDA housing specialist.

In addition to mortgage financing, USDA provides grants and loans to help rural homeowners make improvements or repairs, such as removing health and safety hazards or making accessibility modification for people with disabilities.

According to the USDA, since 2009 its Rural Development program has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes, funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 180,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses.

For additional information, contact Miguel Ramírez, public affairs coordinator, at 787-766-5708 or visit www.usda.gov/pr.




Puerto Rico Eastern Region Designated New Promise Zone

SAN JUAN — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced several measures to strengthen rural opportunity in Puerto Rico, including that the Eastern Region of Puerto Rico has been selected as a federal Promise Zone. Vilsack made the announcement at the conclusion of his three-day trip to the island.

Through the Promise Zone initiative, the USDA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and 10 other federal agencies provide assistance to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, increase access to housing and improve public safety.

“Rural areas like Eastern Puerto Rico face unique challenges, and we are committed to matching those challenges with creative solutions to help strengthen communities,” Vilsack said in the published announcement. “The Promise Zones initiative has produced proven results by encouraging collaboration between the federal government, community organizations, the private sector and state and local governments. Through these partnerships, we are supporting jobs and economic opportunities that enable rural areas to thrive.”

According to the USDA, the Eastern Puerto Rico Promise Zone (EPRPZ) is expected to create jobs by boosting tourism and development, attracting film and TV production to Puerto Rico, establish an environmentally and technologically advanced ship recycling facility as well as constructing marinas, and establishing a logistics and distribution hub for surrounding islands; improve educational opportunities; reduce violent crimes by refurbishing the prison facilities and improving prisoner re-entry programs; promote health by developing a food hub and a commercial scale hydroponic farm with teaching kitchens and a food business incubator; and construct safe and affordable housing.

U.S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets Gov. Alejandro García Padilla

U.S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets Gov. Alejandro García Padilla

Vilsack also announced Thursday two nutrition-related measures the USDA will take in Puerto Rico. At the request of the commonwealth, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has approved a 17 percent increase in school meal reimbursement rates for Puerto Rico. The rate adjustment will take effect beginning July 1 for school year 2016-17 and will result in approximately $25 million annually in additional federal outlays.

“This increase is based on data indicating that the cost of producing school lunches, breakfasts, and snacks are higher than those in the continental US, as well as other factors impacting Puerto Rico’s school meals program. Approval of the increase can help ensure the continuing stability of school nutrition programs for Puerto Rico’s children during a time when the Commonwealth is experiencing financial challenges in other government areas that prevent them from providing additional state funds to the school meals programs,” an agency release reads.

Additionally, the USDA is making permanent a program called the Family Market pilot program, which promotes local agriculture economy and the consumption of locally grown fresh food by allowing Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) participants to use their electronic benefits transfer cards to purchase food at participating farmers markets. NAP participants redeem a set portion of their benefits for local agriculture products at the 44 NAP Family Markets. The participating farmers use battery-operated mobile point of sale devices to process the EBT transactions.

While in Puerto Rico, Vilsack convened a financial roundtable with local investors, financial leaders, economists and entrepreneurs to stimulate a conversation surrounding economic opportunities in rural Puerto Rico and how to leverage federal and private resources. During this administration, USDA invested nearly $2.5 billion to support affordable housing, create jobs and promote economic opportunity for those who live, work and raise their families in rural Puerto Rico as well as $209 million in infrastructure development, including broadband and telecommunications, water and wastewater, and construction of community facilities like fire stations and libraries.

Vilsack also met with members of the Puerto Rican agricultural production sector, including farmers, ranchers, livestock producers and specialty crop producers, as well as with Puerto Rico Agriculture Secretary Dr. Myrna Comas and Pablo Jiménez, president of the College of Agronomist for Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has some 637,000 acres of agriculture land, with a total of about 13,000 farmers. During the last few years, agriculture has become one of the most effective economic development industries in the commonwealth. Great challenges exist in the sector, including high energy costs, vulnerability to climate change, and market development. The meeting served as an opportunity to discuss partnerships, particularly in conservation and marketing, to help Puerto Rican producers seize on the productivity of their natural resources as well as adaptation and mitigation of climate change in the Caribbean.

In April 2015, the USDA announced that Puerto Rico would join the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative. More than $331 million in Puerto Rico in 2015 was invested to create jobs, build homes, feed kids, assist farmers and conserve natural resources.