Guest blog post by Matt Erskine , Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development
A look at the recent national weather map underlines the reason for the Obama administration’s comprehensive response and action plan: large sections of the country are experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades—with levels ranging from “severe” to “extreme” and “exceptional.”
The consequences of drought don’t just affect farmers and their crops and livestock, but have ripple effects throughout the regional economies that depend on them. It is with this in mind that President Obama convened a recent meeting of the White House Rural Council  to coordinate an administration-wide response to the drought and focus agency activities to partner and support Americans impacted by it.
The U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration  (EDA), with its decades of experience helping communities stricken by natural disasters, will play an important role to help rural communities with economic recovery. Along with the Small Business Administration (SBA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other federal partners, it will leverage its resources, economic tool box , and expertise to help implement initiatives to alert drought-stricken communities to the federal resources that are already available to them.
These include public community forums in affected communities to provide detailed information on the federal resources that are available to assist small businesses, farmers, and others affected by the drought. These events will also be webcast to ensure that audiences in other drought-impacted communities can participate virtually. In addition to the community outreach events, EDA, SBA, and USDA will jointly conduct outreach at previously scheduled state and county fairs.
The Obama administration will also conduct extensive stakeholder outreach to affected regions, through webinars, conference calls, and other online platforms. These will further raise awareness of the assistance that is available and will provide an opportunity to gather details on the impact of the drought on communities over time. This is especially important since the drought’s full impact may take months to be fully realized by small businesses and communities.
Additionally, EDA is looking closely at projects in affected communities that could be eligible for assistance under its existing economic development programs. These include:
- Grant programs that provide funding for strategic planning, technical assistance, and infrastructure construction to communities experiencing economic distress.
- EDA-funded revolving loan funds (RLFs), which are already available in several drought areas. These may have available capital for making competitive market-rate loans to fund business recovery and expansion. These loans are administered through EDA grantees and are subject to the lending requirements of the loan fund.
For more information about the grant programs and the RLFs operating in your community, contact EDA’s six regional offices  across the country.
Given the challenges posed by the severe drought, helping the farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and communities impacted will be a priority, long-term effort. The charge is clear: connect communities to focus on the immediate consequences; support affected businesses; and help develop and implement long-term solutions. As President Obama said this week, “when there’s a disaster like this, everybody needs to pull together.”