USDA funding supports additional wildfire-mitigation and infrastructure programs.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

February 22, 2024

3 Min Read
Biden boarding helicopter
Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla/Staff

Biden administration officials are hitting the road, making the case for the president’s policies and priorities. It’s the fourth installment of what he has dubbed the “Investing in America Tour.” The cross-country blitz includes public events headlined by the president, first lady and various senior-level cabinet officials.

On Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi announced the administration is allotting $500 million to wildfire risk-mitigation efforts. Approximately $400 million of that will address 21 high-risk areas identified by the U.S. Forest Service several years ago. Those areas include around 250 key firesheds, primarily in western states. Funding will be used to reduce hazardous fuels in those areas, as well as to perform prescribed burns and perform other treatment efforts.

The remaining $100 million will support the Collaborative Wildfire Resk Reduction Program recently established by the Forest Service to expand fire prevention efforts into areas known as the “wildfire urban interface.” So far, 24 states have identified communities that fall into this category. New funding will be used to help local officials reduce the risk of fire in their areas.

“All told, the investments that we’ve made to date are proving greater security for 550 communities that interface with these forest areas,” Vilsack says. Eighteen-hundred watersheds and 2,500 miles of power line are better profited and will be better protected as a result of the investments that we’ve made and will continue to make.”

The Secretary cautioned that continued federal budget delays could hinder the ongoing wildfire prevention efforts. In order to address concerns over low firefighter pay, President Biden pushed to include more pay for them in the Bipartisan Infrastructure law. However, those additional funds were only authorized for two years. Biden hopes to make those increases permanent through the budget appropriations process.

According to Vilsack, the uncertainty surrounding pay has already motivated some California firefighters to seek other opportunities. Losing more of them would put a significant stain on the system.

“Our hope is to avoid that,” Vilsack says. “And the way to about that is for Congress to do its job, and to do it as quickly as they can.

More money for infrastructure

Vilsack and White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden traveled to Edgecombe Community College in Tarboro, North Carolina on Wednesday to announce more than $770 in rural infrastructure investments. The Biden administration will provide $644.4 million to help 158 rural cooperatives and utilities improve drinking water and sanitary wastewater systems. The investments are expected to benefit 578,000 people.

The administration will allocate $76.6 million through the Rural Partners Network to 32 projects in historically underserved communities. Those projects are intended to expand access to business opportunities, jobs, healthcare, clean water and renewable energy.

Vilsack announced USDA is also investing $51.7 million to expand rural high-speed internet access through the Broadband Technical Assistance Program. The agency also announced it be accepting applications through March 22 for another round of Reconnect Program funding. That program provides loans and grants to construct or improve broadband service infrastructure in rural areas.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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