Anchorage, AK, Dec 20, 2013 -- USDA Deputy Under Secretary Patrice Kunesh and Alaska State Director Jim Nordlund today proposed regulations to simplify a program that finances water and wastewater systems in rural Alaskan Native communities.
“Improving rural water and wastewater systems reduces health risks and eliminates the dire sanitary conditions that exist in many rural Alaskan Native villages,” Kunesh said. “The changes we are proposing will allow USDA to meet the needs of Tribal residents more rapidly and efficiently.”
The simplified regulations would apply to the Rural Alaska Village Grant program. USDA Rural Development, which administers the program, seeks to:
Simplify the application process to require less paperwork and a speedier review for communities that seek only grants instead of a combination of grants and loans;
Allow the state to bundle applications from multiple villages into a single application;
Establish a lead agency responsible for ensuring that all environmental and historic preservation requirements are met; and
Improve reporting and tracking measures to ensure that projects are completed in a timely fashion and that funds are spent properly.
These changes would formally implement procedures resulting from a June 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between USDA, the Indian Health Service, the State of Alaska and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. They will speed loan and grant approval times and ensure that dire sanitary conditions in Alaskan villages are addressed more quickly.
“Streamlining the Rural Alaska Village Grant program is an excellent example of how federal and state agencies can work together to reduce unnecessary paperwork and ensure taxpayer funds are used efficiently,” Nordlund said. “We can make a real difference in the lives of Alaskan Native people living in substandard conditions by improving water and wastewater systems.”
Since the start of the Obama Administration, USDA has provided 63 construction grants and 76 planning grants through the program, helping more than 18,000 rural Alaskan Natives. For example, in FY 2010, Rural Development awarded the community of Pitkas Point $9.1 million in grants to construct core sanitation facilities and a piped water and wastewater system. The project became fully operational on September 8, 2011. Funding for this critical infrastructure project made it possible for the rural community to meet basic water and waste needs for its residents.
Comments on the proposed changes are due by February 18, 2014. For additional details, view page 77009 of the December 20 Federal Register http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-12-20/pdf/2013-30189.pdf
For more information about the Rural Alaska Village Grant program or other programs to assist rural Alaskan Natives, contact the USDA Rural Development Alaska State Office at (907) 761-7707, or visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/ak.
Kunesh said that today’s announcement is another reminder of the importance of USDA programs for rural America. A comprehensive new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would further expand the rural economy, she added, saying that’s just one reason why Congress must get a comprehensive Bill done as soon as possible.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.
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