The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a transformative, historic investment in lives and livelihoods across America. It represents a new opportunity for farmers, ranchers, small businesses and rural communities. It is helping the US Department of Agriculture deliver 21st century, high-speed internet for better access to markets, jobs, telemedicine and distance learning. It is increasing community resilience to climate change, drought and wildfire risks. It’s also providing innovative solutions to economic, environmental and social challenges across the nation.
“Investing in infrastructure is essential to American competitiveness and ensuring hard working Americans have the tools and opportunities to build a good life—especially for rural and underserved communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Since being signed into law, President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is demonstrating how building up American infrastructure enhances competitiveness and improves climate resilience while building a stronger, more equitable and inclusive economy.”
The USDA continues to be a critical part of seeing this once-in-a-generation legislation put into action. From improving roads and water quality, to bringing affordable, high speed internet access to rural areas and combating climate change through historic investments in our shared landscapes, USDA is making a difference in the lives of the American people.
Thanks to this historic support, and with leadership from the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA has taken quick action to deliver critical funding and support to current programs that, despite histories of success, have long suffered from chronic underfunding and work backlogs. USDA has also stood up new programs, with a focus on responding directly to community needs, working hand-in-hand with local leaders, interested partners and voices that have too often gone unheard.
Connecting Communities through High Speed Internet
USDA is putting resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to work in closing the digital divide in rural America – helping farmers access the real-time information and new technologies they need to maintain a competitive edge, for small businesses to develop their markets, and to better connect rural communities to jobs, telemedicine and distance learning.
With a $2 billion investment through and grants as part of the ReConnect Program, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law loans are funding the construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide high speed internet service in eligible rural areas. This funding comes on top of the $1.15 billion in broadband loans, grants and loan/grant combinations through ReConnect that USDA announced earlier this year.
USDA also announced $759 million for high speed internet infrastructure just last month, including $468 million in funding made available under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. USDA expects to make more than $1 billion in awards in Spring 2023.
Improving Rural Resilience
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is investing $918 million to safeguard health and the environment in rural communities by maintaining and upgrading community drinking and wastewater systems. These projects – which focus on previously underserved communities – include new dam construction, flood prevention projects, repairs to existing watershed infrastructure and more.
- Rural Development launched the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative with the Environmental Protection Agency, to bring reliable wastewater infrastructure to underserved communities.
- Made $21 million available for the WaterSMART Initiative with the US Bureau of Reclamation to modernize water infrastructure and help participating organizations improve drought resilience.
- Invested nearly $798 Million to restore watersheds through the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program and rehabilitate aging dams through the Watershed Rehabilitation Program and the Emergency Watershed Program. Examples include:
- Improved water quality, fish habitat and roads and trails with $65 million through the Legacy Roads and Trails and the Collaborative Aquatic Landscape Restoration programs.
Reducing Wildfire Risk and Supporting Rural America
USDA is investing around $5.5 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law across the shared landscape, reducing wildfire risk, restoring healthy, productive forests, and improving environmental, recreation and economic infrastructure.
Working alongside partners and the communities we serve, USDA is taking bold action to curb climate change, grow forest economies, and care for and support our wildland firefighting workforce.
Among the many efforts made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, USDA started work on a 10-year strategy (PDF, 32 MB) to address the wildfire crisis in close partnership with the Department of the Interior, increased firefighter pay and committed to planting a billion trees across national forests and grasslands. USDA also invested in expanding markets for byproducts of forest health and wildfire reduction treatments, which can be used in the wood products or wood energy industries, creating jobs and supporting rural economies.
- Launched the Community Wildfire Defense Program with support from the National Association of State Foresters and the Intertribal Timber Council, committing $1 billion in grants over the next five years to help private forest owners, Tribal communities, state forestry agencies and other at-risk communities plans for and reduce wildfire risk.
- Released a new National Reforestation Strategy to guide how the Forest Service and partners will address a reforestation backlog of four million acres on national forests over the next ten years.
- Treated 3.2 million acres to reduce wildfire risk nationwide, including $131 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to start work on 10 high-risk landscapes on public and private lands identified in the 10-year wildfire strategy.
- Launched an easy-to-use, interactive story maps where communities can see the progress of efforts to reduce wildfire risk across these 10 landscapes in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
- Increased firefighter pay by as much as $20,000 a year, converted a record number of temporary firefighters to permanent positions, expanded mental health support and increased rest periods for firefighters between assignments.
- USDA also announced efforts to establish a Wildland Firefighter Occupational Series tailored to the unique duties of wildland firefighters, providing a clear path to career advancement and reflecting the true nature of the work.
- Stood up the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission alongside the Department of the Interior and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), tasked with recommending strategies and policies to Congress to better prevent, suppress and recover from wildfires.
- Invested $37 million to improve recreation infrastructure, historic sites and cabins on national forests, supporting recreation economies and improving experiences for visitors.
- Funded $32 million in community wood and wood innovation grants to expand wood product use and strengthen wood markets that support long-term, sustainable forest management.
- Issued $238 million to 742 counties through the Secure Rural Schools program, reauthorized through 2023 by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to fund schools, roads and other public services.
- Invested $10 million to scale-up innovative bio-based product development to create new sources of revenue for America’s farmers using low-cost agricultural materials with low carbon footprints.
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