August 2015 Featured Article
Spreading the Word about USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Loans
The importance of ensuring resilience of New Jersey’s critical infrastructure from future weather-related events is as important as keeping every municipality competitive both nationally and globally. In addition to the Christie Administration’s recent establishment of the New Jersey Energy Resilience Bank (ERB), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also offers low-interest loans to municipalities to assure maintenance and upgrades for community facilities.
Referred to as the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), USDA’s guidelines define critical services as those that include water and waste treatment, electric power and telecommunications services. Funding opportunities are intended to create competitive advantages for rural municipalities to compete in the global economy while also enhancing the overall quality of life for area residents.
According to the USDA, the RUS programs enable municipalities to strengthen their local economy in the following ways: Increasing access to broadband and current telecommunication services; funding sustainable renewable energy development and conservation; financing reliable and affordable electric systems; working to integrate electric smart grid technologies; and developing reliable and affordable rural water and wastewater systems. There are currently three types of RUS programs available for local governments and non-profits:
- The Water and Environmental Program (WEB) was established for financing drinking water, sanitary sewer, solid waste and storm drainage facilities construction and upgrades. Cities, boroughs and townships are as eligible as rural municipalities as long as their populations are 10,000 or less.
- Electric Programs offer capital and leadership in the construction or improvement of electric distribution, transmission and generation facilities. In addition, these programs may also fund demand-side management, energy efficiency and conservation programs, as well as on and off-grid renewable energy systems. Cooperatives, corporations, states, territories, subdivisions, municipalities, utility districts and non-profit organizations are all eligible.
- Telecommunication Programs provide capital for the deployment of rural telecommunications infrastructure. The intent of this service is to help local governments acquire access to affordable, reliable, advanced telecommunications services that are comparable with the rest of the nation. The intent of this program is to improve education, health care, safety and security as well as employment opportunities for all.
Although the greatest challenge in strengthening local infrastructure is often identifying adequate funding sources, municipalities are increasingly becoming more creative as they leverage public sector loans to bridge gaps in these critical investments. And in many cases these sources are provided by agencies that many overlook.
Published August 2015.