The White House and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosted a briefing for Kentucky stakeholders on the Rural Partners Network on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The Rural Partners Network is an alliance of federal agencies and commissions working directly with rural communities to expand rural property through job creation, infrastructure development, and community improvement.
Mr. Will McIntee, senior advisor in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement, moderated the briefing. Ms. Xochitl Torres-Small, USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development, and Mr. Kevin Couch, administrator for the City of Pineville Community Health Center, spoke about the work being done in Kentucky and the current status of the projects and ongoing needs.
Twenty federal agencies are currently working on the Rural Partners Network initiative. It has grown to more than 800 partners since it began in April 2022.
Two projects in the Commonwealth of Kentucky focus on housing issues. The first is in Fulton County, and the housing issues involve construction and economic and workforce development. The second project is in Kentucky Highlands, where housing issues involve reconstructing homes destroyed by the eastern Kentucky flooding and a strategy for sustainability beyond rebuilding.
Couch addressed sustainability concerns for services the Pineville Community Health Center provides and the need for money to get projects going and sustainable. He spoke about the nursing home in Pineville that does not have the capital to open its doors. He added that the medical center applied for an opioid abatement grant from the state to help combat that issue as it ties into the housing issue in the area.
At the end of the briefing, a question was asked about how the federal level works with people on the ground, such as the Rural Partners Network. Undersecretary Torres-Small highlighted the Section 504 Home Repair Program, which caps grants at $10,000. In eastern Kentucky, people needed more money than that to repair flood-damaged homes. Workers on the ground heard those needs and sent the information to the federal level. The grant limit cap was increased to $36,000 during a presidentially declared emergency disaster.
Undersecretary Torres-Small and Couch hope this initiative continues beyond the current administration because it has been so successful in looking at place-based strategies with technical support on the ground and home-grown knowledge.