Federal aid bucks rural Nevada’s reputation

Rural Nevada is in big trouble. I mean really big.

Forget about drought and an eventual drop in mineral prices. They’re nothing compared to this.

Why, if this gets out it could ruin everything and change the lean, mean anti-federal government image of rural Nevada forever.

The United States Department of Agriculture recently released its annual review of the many good works of its Rural Development agency in Nevada during the past fiscal year. It’s a federal program charged with helping citizens in small towns and out in the country. And Nevada has plenty of each.

The USDA RD in the past fiscal year invested more than $161 million into rural communities to support housing, businesses and public facilities. Over the past five years, the agency has put nearly $1 billion into Nevada’s rural communities.

From home repairs to small-business startups and vastly improved water and sewer systems, the money has flowed from the federal agency into communities in need. USDA has also helped provide equipment for emergency first responders in towns that rely on volunteer firefighters and EMTs.

By its count, USDA has assisted 4,555 families to purchase and repair homes in some of the state’s out-of-the-way places where banks are slow to lend. Through what’s called the Guaranteed Single Family Housing Program, USDA infused more than $125 million in loans to 750 families and, according to its news release, was associated with 45 mortgage lenders throughout the state “to provide 100 percent financing to credit-worthy low- and moderate-income families.” In addition, nearly $300,000 was loaned to assist poor and elderly homeowners for essential residential repairs.

Between guaranteed and direct loans, families in every county in Nevada benefited from USDA’s homeownership assistance.

Boulder City Hospital is an example of what can be accomplished when a rural health care facility partners with USDA RD. The hospital’s renovation and expansion has been substantially underwritten by $16.3 million in direct and guaranteed federal loans. This enables the hospital to continue to serve not only Boulder City residents, but also some of the legions of tourists who visit the town and nearby Lake Mead each year.

Tribal communities are also eligible for USDA RD assistance. They received more than $284,000 to improve their businesses and community facilities in the past year.

In my book, USDA RD State Director Sarah Adler ranks as one Nevada’s most energetic and optimistic public servants. When it comes to pressing into rural communities and helping make residents aware of the assistance available to them, she has few peers.

“As we all know, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Adler said in a recent press missive. “We seek to increase the vitality of whole communities by bringing together not only our diverse RD programs but also those of our federal and state partners to respond to community-identified priorities. We already are seeing results and we are eager for this work to continue and magnify in the benefits it reaps.”

That all sounds great, but doesn’t it run contrary to rural Nevada’s reputation as a libertarian land of rock-ribbed conservatism and don’t-tread-on-me political rhetoric?

Isn’t it sort of against the rules in the rurals to accept federal help?

I love Nevada’s rural mystique more than most, but at some point the cow county buckaroos ought to tip their hat and acknowledge that they benefit plenty from the USDA in their community.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.