WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified on the Recovery Act before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Budget. The following are excerpts from his testimony:
"The achievements of the legislation show the Recovery Act is transitioning America from bad times to better times and getting the work accomplished around the Nation that Americans want to see completed. The investments we are making are not only creating jobs and economic stability, but also funding the technology and infrastructure that will lay the groundwork for future economic growth.
"In less than 150 days, the Recovery Act has worked to stabilize economic conditions and helped those harmed by the economic crisis. The problems that led the Nation to the brink were created over several years and cannot be instantly solved. While the Nation may not be in full-scale recovery yet, we have created the stability needed to get us there and made strides in helping those negatively affected by the downturn.
USDA Recovery Act Achievements
"USDA's goal is to quickly respond to current economic conditions by preserving and creating high quality jobs, spurring rural economic activity, and contributing to the Nation's overall financial health. USDA will be open and transparent and responsive and accountable to the American people as we deliver Recovery Act funding.
"In less than 150 days, USDA has announced the availability of $27.4 billion of the $28 billion of funds provided through the Recovery Act. In terms of obligations, USDA has obligated approximately $4.1 billion of the $28 billion in budget authority provided to our Department. In considering this, it is important to remember that USDA's ARRA funds include almost $20 billion in enhanced SNAP benefits to be distributed over a five year window. We have provided more than 45,636 loans to Americans who were deeply impacted by the economic crisis and begun implementation of more than 1,000 Recovery Act projects.
"Under the Recovery Act, we have taken the opportunity provided to reach those Americans who have been underserved and need assistance most. USDA has distributed 2,636 Farm Operating Direct Loans to assist eligible family farmers and ranchers in building and sustaining successful farm operations. Of these 2,636 recipients, 1,081 are beginning farmers and 600 are socially disadvantaged farmers.
"USDA has provided additional resources through five major nutrition assistance programs, as a result of Recovery Act funding. Over 33 million Americans received a 13.6 percent increase in benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly named Food Stamps). For most families of four, this is an extra eighty dollars per month at the grocery store. Not only does this assistance allow families to provide more nutritious and abundant meals for families, it also a direct form of stimulus to our economy and goes to people who are already certified as being in need.
"Some of our other Recovery Act accomplishments within the first 150 days include:
Future Economic Growth
"We are proud of the work we have accomplished so far, but realize there is a lot more work to be done. Through our work in the Recovery Act, we have taken action that is long overdue and are funding essential programs that benefit all of America. Clearly, these programs and services are doing more than providing dollars into rural communities. These projects represent the hopes and needs of people across the Nation. In many cases, local communities have been waiting for decades for these projects to be accomplished and the services to be made available. The Recovery Act has created the opportunity and provided the resources to get the job done.
Recovery Act Implementation - Not Just Business as Usual
"Government-wide, Recovery Act projects are coming in as much as 10 to 30 percent under budget, which means the ability to fund even more projects across the Nation. We have been pleased at USDA to see that individual projects have not exceeded projected costs to date and program implementation has been effective.
"Our Web-based geospatial tool and mapping program has provided a transparent means for the public to track the location, purpose, and funding provided for all of our Recovery Act projects and provide feedback. Thus far, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has partnered to include its data on the site, and many additional federal agencies will be coming online soon. The Web-based tool provides an easy way to identify and connect common projects and achieve the kinds of synergy and efficiency that we are seeking.
Looking to the Future
"Our efforts are contributing to stabilizing the economy and we are beginning to see signs of progress.
"It is important we stay focused on the mission at hand and we continue our commitment to implement the Recovery Act approach that has been established. The economic challenges we are working to overcome were the result of years of deferred problems and accumulated negative effects. Reversing this course is going to take a strong commitment. It is going to take time. The law was designed for two years of action and it is critically important we see the plan through."