Fifty years ago, President Johnson declared the beginning of "an unconditional war on poverty in America," challenging us to bring to bear all of our available tools and resources to address poverty and income inequality across America.
Born poor in the small town of Stonewall, Texas, President Johnson knew well that poverty is not just an urban problem--it spans both rural and urban areas across the United States. In fact, today over 85 percent of persistent--poverty counties are in rural areas, often places that are hard to reach, off the beaten track, or otherwise underserved.
President Johnson pushed us to think creatively and develop innovative efforts to better serve those living in poverty. Here at USDA, our StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity is investing in projects and strengthening community partnerships that help to address the unique challenges facing poverty-stricken rural areas.
Without the work we have done as a nation over the past five decades, millions more Americans would be living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet.
Yet poverty continues to be a challenge across America and we are not letting up. Today, President Obama reaffirmed that commitment with the announcement of the first five of twenty "Promise Zones" that will target federal resources to cities, rural areas and Tribal communities suffering the worst poverty.
StrikeForce employs a similar model, combining our resources with the expertise of leading community base organizations to directly address the unique challenges of rural poverty. StrikeForce operates in the most impoverished areas of 16 states across Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, the High Plains and the Southwest.
In South Carolina, our StrikeForce Team, including staff from USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and Food and Nutrition Service, held a community meeting to help over 100 farmers and ranchers understand what USDA services were available to them to bring new opportunities to their communities. Our team in Texas helped smaller ranchers in remote areas create conservation plans and build the on-farm infrastructure they needed to prosper. In South Dakota, the StrikeForce Team was able to finance a new administration building for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe, which will house 28 public service, Tribal, and other agencies.
From increasing healthy food access; to closing farm loans; to building housing, hospital and clinics; to expanding agricultural production, StrikeForce field staff are targeting their work in impoverished counties, parishes and boroughs to make sure USDA programs are easily accessible and working effectively.
We'll keep working hard to expand opportunity for all Americans -- and as always, USDA will continue to push for Congressional passage of a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. Many of our efforts to combat poverty and create opportunity in rural America rely on the passage of a new Farm Bill, and Congress should take action as soon as possible to continue these important efforts and provide tools that grow the economy and create jobs.