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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

$1 million in USDA grants available for communities declared disasters

U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico Maximiliano J. Trujillo Ortega (LinkedIn)

By The Star Staff

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico Maximiliano J. Trujillo Ortega announced Tuesday that $1 million in grants are now available to assist Puerto Rico communities impacted by presidentially declared disasters.

Trujillo Ortega made the announcement from the White House, where the Rural Partners Network (RPN) convened community leaders and representatives of organizations working on behalf of their communities to create opportunities and improve people’s quality of life. The event aimed to highlight the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic investment and impacts in rural communities throughout the United States and its territories with the legislation of the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act, according to a statement.

During the event Trujillo Ortega said the USDA is committed to supporting rural communities, improving access to resources to create economic opportunities, and improving infrastructure and community development. The RPN Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program aims to support rural communities within the Puerto Rico RPN in accessing federal funding to address community and economic challenges in areas where a presidential declaration of a major disaster was issued.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack authorized $1 million under the Disaster Assistance Fund to be utilized for assisting qualified intermediary organizations located in Puerto Rico in carrying out financial and technical assistance to improve housing, community facilities, and economic development projects in the RPN’s designated areas. The RCDG requires an intermediary organization to provide financial or technical assistance to recipients, and in turn recipients provide support to their communities.

“It’s impossible to measure the devastating impact hurricanes have had on people and communities across Puerto Rico,” Vilsack said. “For as long as it takes, the Biden-Harris Administration will make every resource available so they can continue to recover and build a brighter future. By working together and identifying flexible funding opportunities, USDA and our partners will support opportunities to help people rebuild their home, businesses, and lives, and be better prepared for the next storm. Today’s announcement is just one way USDA has been partnering with Puerto Rico’s community leaders and organizations to support the long-term recovery of impacted communities.”

Trujillo Ortega noted that “through this opportunity USDA Rural Development Puerto Rico is awarding a maximum grant of $250,000 per intermediary, with the goal of supporting the 15 municipalities that conform to the RPN footprint in Puerto Rico by providing capacity-building assistance to improve housing, community facilities, and community and economic development projects.”

The three RPN Community Networks in Puerto Rico are the Southwest Community Network, the Central Mountain Community Network, and the East Community Network. The 15 qualifying municipalities are Mayagüez, Maricao, Guánica, Utuado, Jayuya, Orocovis, Ciales, Villalba, Ponce, Adjuntas, Barranquitas, Coamo, Fajardo, Ceiba and Naguabo, along with El Yunque National Rainforest.

Community networks receive support from full-time USDA staff who live and work locally. The staff members provide technical assistance based on each community’s needs, helping them navigate federal programs, build relationships, and apply for funding. In addition to USDA staff, there are staff at 24 other federal agencies supporting RPN and making resources across the government easier to access for people in rural communities.

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