- Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack comments on 2010: Food safety, nutrition, civil rights and ag dividends.
As we begin a new year, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on USDA’s accomplishments in 2010. Last year, millions of families, communities and businesses across the nation benefitted from USDA’s programs. Even during these tough economic times, working with the rest of the Obama Administration, USDA has produced real results for Americans.
Since I came to USDA, we have taken steps to put Americans back to work while rebuilding a strong foundation for sustainable future economic growth – especially in our rural communities. We provided over $1 billion in financing to help thousands of small and emerging rural businesses expand, grow and innovate, creating or saving nearly 200,000 jobs. We supported the construction and renovation of 1,400 critical community facilities projects for millions of rural residents including 312 education facilities, 196 libraries, 179 health care facilities, and 563 fire, rescue, and public safety facilities. The Recovery Act gave us a real boost in these efforts. Described in our Working for Rural Communities Report, these investments continue to create jobs and stimulate economic activity in rural communities so that unemployment rates are dropping around rural America.
Our work to support the American agricultural economy also paid dividends in 2010. We have taken a new approach to promoting agricultural trade which helped lead to a near-record $108 billion in agricultural exports in Fiscal Year 2010, supporting 850,000 jobs. And agriculture as a whole is helping to lead the nation’s recovery, with an impressive rebound in farm sector earning – net cash income is expected to rise nearly 34 percent from 2009 – and farm family incomes expected rise almost 8 percent.
We are also very proud of the work we did in 2010 to make sure that all Americans – and especially children – have access to healthy meals. With funding from the Recovery Act, USDA increased SNAP benefits which, last year, reached nearly 43 million Americans, helping low-income families put food on the table, and creating or saving nearly 100,000 jobs. And this past December, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a historic piece of legislation that allows USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, the chance to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs that serve over 30 million American kids each day. By improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children, we are working to set youngsters on the right path to a healthy lifestyle into adulthood.
In addition, we partnered with more schools to promote healthy eating and exercise through both the HealthierUS School Challenge, and Chefs Move to Schools. These programs function as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, in the effort to solve childhood obesity within a generation. We have also helped to increase the number of farmers markets nationwide by 30%, and our USDA National Farmers Market Directory, posted on Data.gov, opened up a world of possibilities for app designers and researchers to develop even more sophisticated uses of the Farmers Market Directory.
2010 was also a historic year for civil rights at USDA. We have consistently worked to ensure that every farmer and rancher is treated equally and fairly. And last year, we resolved large-scale class action lawsuits involving allegations of past discrimination by black and Native American farmers and ranchers. We are writing a new story for civil rights at USDA, working on a plan to resolve claims made by women and Hispanic farmers, and to ensure that we build a new era with USDA as a premier service provider.
I am very proud of our work last year. USDA’s programs have touched the lives of millions of people across America, bringing help to those who were hungry, relief to rural communities, and helping preserve our natural resources. But we have more work to do. When I look back on 2010’s wide range of accomplishments, I am motivated to push even harder toward another year of successes in 2011.