Federal officials from the USDA visited Vale Tuesday, April 26, to listen to concerns from area residents and to remind people their agency offers many loan and grant programs. (The Enterprise/FILE)

VALE – Representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development told a group of more than 25 people last week that special grant and loan programs are available to help small communities like Vale.

Margaret Hoffmann, the Oregon director of Rural Development, associate director Jill Rees and public information officer Max Sprague gathered input at an April 26 luncheon sponsored by the Vale Community Coalition.

The nonprofit coalition is focused on projects to enhance the city. The meeting was designed to establish links among local officials, residents, elected leaders and the federal agency regarding loan and grant programs.

“We are coming out to get a better sense of the community,” said Sprague.

The USDA, said Sprague, can “make meaningful contributions to rural communities.”

“We want to make sure we fully understand the needs of the community,” said Sprague.

Zach Knapp, Vale Community Coalition president, said the visit by the federal officials was a great first step.

“They were there, more than anything, to figure out what our needs were and to help connect the dots to programs they have available,” said Knapp.

The USDA visit was part of a wider, ongoing state outreach program by the agency.

“We want to hear from you – where this community can go. We want to get a real sense of where you are then work with you,” said Rees.

The federal officials listened for more than an hour and half as members of the group voiced concerns ranging from the necessity to modify Oregon’s land use regulations to the need for an adequate park system in Vale.

The federal rural effort ties directly into President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law recently passed by Congress, said Hoffmann.

“Our goal has always been to partner with rural communities to support locally-driven solutions. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law offers a once-in-a-generation chance to revitalize rural America, and we want to make sure communities like Vale or Nyssa are able to fully capitalize on it,” said Hoffmann.

Rural Development provides loans and grants for businesses, low-income homeowners, and to kickstart water and sewer projects. The agency also offers telecommunication infrastructure loans and loans and grants for infrastructure improvements – called essential community facilities – like the construction of hospitals, town halls, airport hangars and street improvements.

The programs for infrastructure caught Knapp’s attention.

“A huge takeaway for me was a multi-use facility – not just build an airport hangar or a gym but what other functions that a hangar or a gym can serve in the bigger scheme of things and thereby qualify for more funding,” said Knapp.

While no decisions or guarantees were made, Hoffmann said her agency is keenly focused on helping rural areas.

“My top priority is to meet rural communities where they are so that we can fully understand their unique challenges and their vision for the future,” she said.

Knapp said the visit was important because it opens up channels of communication that did not exist.

“I thought it was awesome and I am pretty excited about some of the conversations that went on,” said Knapp.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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