Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the publication of new proposed rules that will significantly increase access to USDA's utilities programs and funding opportunities for American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders located in Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA).
"I invite tribal leaders, tribal members, interested citizens and stakeholders to provide their comments and views on this important rule." said Vilsack. "This rule will provide those located in Trust Areas with better access to infrastructure funding to serve tribal communities seeking to build modern utility infrastructure."
To develop the propose rule, USDA Rural Development conducted numerous in-person consultations with tribal leaders and native communities throughout the United States as well as in trust areas in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. USDA Rural Development also hosted Internet and teleconference-based webinars to solicit further implementation recommendations for the SUTA initiative. Additionally USDA convened several meetings with Federal agencies -- the Departments of Interior, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the Office of Management and Budget -- to determine how best to implement the SUTA provision.
The deadline to make comments on the SUTA proposed rule is on or before December 13, 2011. For more information, please see the October 14, 2011 issue of the Federal Register.
Under the proposed SUTA rule, the Secretary of Agriculture (with delegation to the Administrator for Rural Utilities Service) would be granted the discretionary authority to:
* Make loans and issue loan guarantees with interest rates as low as two percent and with extended repayment terms;
* Waive non-duplication restrictions, matching fund requirements, or credit support requirements from any loan or grant program to facilitate construction, acquisition or improvements of infrastructure
* Give highest priority to designated projects on a Substantially Underserved Trust Area
Under the SUTA initiative a trust area is legislatively defined as any land that: (1) is held in trust by the United States for Native Americans; (2) is subject to restrictions on alienation imposed by the United States on Indian lands (including native Hawaiian homelands); (3) is owned by a Regional Corporation or a Village Corporation, as such terms are defined in section 3(g) and 3(j) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, respectively (43 U.S.C. 1602(g), (j)); or (4) is on any island in the Pacific Ocean if such land is, by cultural tradition communally-owned land.
The SUTA initiative is authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill. It identifies the need and improves the availability of RUS programs to finance projects in trust areas that have been determined by the Secretary of Agriculture to be substantially underserved. In addition to its discretionary authority to implement the SUTA provisions, RUS must make annual reports to Congress on the progress of the initiative and recommendations for any regulatory or legislative changes appropriate to improve services to Substantially Underserved Trust Areas.
On September 8, President Obama presented the American Jobs Act in an address to Congress. The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans. The American Jobs Act is specific. It will put people back to work right now, and it will not add to the deficit. Through a combination of direct spending, such as infrastructure investments, and tax relief, such as an extension of the payroll tax cuts, it will lead to new American jobs.
Since taking office, President Obama's Administration has taken significant steps to improve the lives of rural Americans and has provided broad support for rural communities. The Obama Administration has set goals of modernizing infrastructure by providing broadband access to 10 million Americans, expanding educational opportunities for students in rural areas, and providing affordable health care. In the long term, these unparalleled rural investments will help ensure that America's rural communities are repopulating, self-sustaining and thriving economically.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, administers and manages housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of state and local offices. Rural Development has an existing portfolio of more than $155 billion in loans and loan guarantees. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. More information about USDA Rural Development can be found at www.rurdev.usda.gov.