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Obama Administration Announces New Rural Poverty Initiatives

Rural children living in poverty will receive more attention under several new initiatives announced by the Obama administration during a Tuesday meeting of the White House Rural Council.

The programs will encourage communities to prioritize rural child poverty, offer loans to community development projects in rural areas, and provide funding for a "two-generation" approach to rural poverty.

A 2015 report from the USDA found that, overall, rural child poverty rates are rising, although they vary greatly across rural counties. More than 1 in 4 rural children lived in poverty in 2013, a 7 percentage point increase from 1999. The report found that 20 percent of rural counties had at least a third of children in poverty, while another 20 percent of rural counties had poverty rates less than 16 percent. Child poverty rates have especially increased in manufacturing counties where job opportunities have declined, in single-parent families, and in counties with high minority populations.

The initiatives announced Tuesday target several factors that impact child poverty, such as the availability of jobs for rural adults. A USDA loan program awarded $3.5 million in loans on Tuesday to organizations that will then re-lend money to rural businesses or community development projects in rural areas. Several of these programs are expected to create jobs in rural communities.

The administration also announced the Rural Impact County Challenge, which encourages lawmakers to prioritize rural child poverty and develop a plan to improve child poverty. Some counties have already taken steps toward this by using technology to expand access to federal nutrition programs or collaborating with other counties to provide more services to rural families, according to a White House Rural Council blog.

The initiatives come on the heels of several proposals from President Obama's 2017 budget that could impact rural children. The budget provides $20 million for the USDA to roll out projects that target a "two-generation" approach to child poverty by providing high-quality early-childhood education as well as workforce development for parents. Last year, 10 rural and tribal communities received federal funding to launch such programs. The budget also provides $12 billion over 10 years to improve access to summer food programs, which are particularly scarce in rural areas, and $20 million for a rural home visiting program that would work in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program.

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