USDA Rural Development’s investments in 2020 are building prosperity and strengthening rural businesses and communities in Illinois.

USDA invested more than $648 million in rural Illinois communities in 2020. This assistance is bridging the gap between rural communities and urban centers by investing in economic opportunities and improving the quality of life for rural residents across Illinois.

Our staff will continue to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, work diligently and provide the best possible customer solutions to proactive tasks in 2021. I have every confidence that the people who make up Illinois USDA Rural Development will continue to be a significant part of improving rural Illinois.

In connecting rural Illinois to high-speed broadband, Rural Development invested $105 million to support rural broadband expansion through the ReConnect Pilot Program, with 74% provided through the High-Speed Broadband in Telecom Infrastructure and Community Connect programs. In total, these investments are connecting rural households, farms and businesses to high-speed internet.

To improve rural infrastructure, Rural Development invested $72 million to expand access to safe drinking water and improve wastewater management systems. These investments will improve the reliability of local water supplies for rural Illinois residents. Our agency also invested $324,000 through the Community Facilities Programs in rural infrastructure projects, such as roads. Plus, another $7 million in loans and grants through the Community Facilities Programs funded construction or modernization of essential community facilities, including rural hospitals, educational institutions and public safety facilities.

Rural Development is also bolstering rural economic development. Through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program, Rural Development invested $5 million to increase the availability of renewable fuels derived from agricultural products. These investments will help increase biofuels sales by a projected 19.6 million gallons annually.

Through the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program, 13 rural businesses received $62 million. That total included $8.5 million provided through the CARES Act. Together, these investments created or saved nearly 628 jobs.

Another $1.1 million in 85 loans and grants came to Illinois through the Rural Energy for America Program for energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy systems and energy development assistance in rural businesses.

Rural Development is also working to improve the quality of rural life. The agency invested $4.1 million through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program in six distance learning and telemedicine projects. To address housing needs, Rural Development invested more than $300 million in direct and guaranteed loans through the Single Family Housing Programs to help low- and moderate-income families buy homes.

Rural Development took immediate actions to help rural residents, businesses and communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, USDA launched a Federal Rural Resource Guide, provided loan forbearances, stopped evictions and made additional funds available through existing programs. And we streamlined regulations to ease customer access to CARES Act programs, infrastructure improvements, business development, housing, community facilities and high-speed internet access in rural areas.

Douglas Wilson serves as Illinois state director of Rural Development.