JVSG Companion Programs: USDA Programs that Support Veterans in Rural Areas

State Workforce Agency personnel serving under the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (DOL VETS) Jobs for Veterans State Grant (JVSG) program may support veterans living in rural areas, and therefore will need to identify services that are available to this special population. Challenges for rural veterans include travel distances to access services, lack of transportation and housing options, internet availability, and scarcity of employment and business opportunities. In this ninth article of the JVSG Companion Program Series, we will examine the many U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and services available to veterans, with a focus on those who live in rural communities.

Employment and Food Security

The USDA’s Veterans Employment Program Office can help veterans interested in working at USDA with matching skills and qualifications to federal careers, reviewing and providing feedback on resumes, and explaining the federal hiring process. USDA also assists veterans by ensuring they and their families have access to nutritious meals. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service will connect them to information on resources and benefits.

Farming and Conservation

Veterans utilizing USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs will receive preference and higher payment rates for certain NRCS conservation programs offered in the 2018 Farm Bill. These voluntary conservation programs benefit both agricultural producers and the environment and include financial and technical assistance as well as easements. Preference will be given to eligible veteran farmers or ranchers applying for several types of conservation financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

  • EQIP provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits — including improved water and air quality, conserved surface and ground water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, and improved or created wildlife habitat. Veterans are eligible to receive a higher payment rate and “advance payment,” or getting some funds up front, for projects funded through EQIP.
  • CSP helps agricultural producers maintain and improve their existing conservation systems and adopt additional conservation activities to address priority resource concerns. Participants earn CSP payments for conservation performance — the higher the performance, the higher the payment.
  • The Single-Family Housing Direct Home Loans program finances homes for low- and moderate-income rural Americans through direct loans and loan guarantees and provides loans and grants to repair or improve existing homes — including accessibility modifications for veterans with disabilities.
  • The Section 502 Guaranteed Loan Program assists approved lenders in providing low- and moderate-income households the opportunity to own adequate, modest, decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings as their primary residence in eligible rural areas. Eligible applicants may purchase, build, rehabilitate, improve, or relocate a dwelling in an eligible rural area with 100% financing. 
  • Applicable to older veterans, the Single Family Housing Repair Loans & Grants program, also known as the Section 504 Home Repair program, provides loans to very-low-income homeowners to repair, improve, or modernize their homes or grants to elderly very-low-income homeowners to remove health and safety hazards.
  • The Multi-Family Housing programs finance apartment-style rental housing complexes for very-low-, low-, and moderate-income veterans and their families; elderly veterans; and veterans with disabilities.
  • The Mutual Self-Help Housing Technical Assistance Grants program provides grants to qualified organizations, such as non-profits and Native American tribes, to assist in carrying out local self-help housing construction projects. Grant recipients supervise groups of very-low- and low-income individuals and families as they construct their own homes in rural areas. The group members provide most of the construction labor on each other’s homes, with technical assistance from the organization overseeing the project.
  • Section 515 loans, also known as Rural Rental Housing Loans, are made by the USDA’s Rural Development Housing and Community Facilities Programs Office, acting as a lender. These are direct, competitive mortgage loans made to provide affordable multifamily rental housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income families; elderly persons; and persons with disabilities. While this is primarily a direct housing mortgage program, its funds may also be used to buy and improve land and to provide necessary facilities such as water and waste disposal systems.
  • The Section 521 programor Rural Rental Assistance, is available in some properties financed by the Section 515 Rural Rental or Section 514/516 Farm Labor Housing programs. The Section 521 program provides rental assistance to cover the difference between 30% of a tenant’s income and the monthly rental rate of the tenant’s residence.

Entrepreneurship and Community Development

Through its Programs and Services for Business, USDA’s Rural Development provides loans and grants for new, existing, and expanding rural business. Funding can be used for projects that provide jobs and job training for veterans.

Veterans in rural areas are also leaders in the revival and redevelopment of their communities. Rural Development Community Facilities Programs provide direct loans, grants, and loan guarantees for essential community facilities in rural areas. Typical projects include hospitals, health clinics, schools, fire houses, and broadband service free of charge to essential community facilities for up to two years.

Home Ownership, Repair, and Rental Assistance

USDA’s Rural Housing programs can help veterans become homeowners, repair or improve their existing homes, and offset the costs of rent.

USDA’s Rural Development (RD) main site is located at https://www.rd.usda.gov/ and provides resources linked to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. A complete listing of RD programs and others can be found at https://www.rd.usda.gov/page/all-programs. If you are looking for more information on USDA programs that benefit veterans in your service area, contact the nearest RD local office at https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=us&agency=rd.

USDA Cooperative Extension Services at the Local Level

Funded by the USDA’s RD, Cooperative Extension Service offices are conveniently located in rural community courthouses, post offices, or other local government buildings to improve the quality of people’s lives by providing research-based knowledge to strengthen the social, economic, and environmental well-being of families, communities, and agriculture enterprises. Extension experts focus on, among other subjects, food safety and quality, plight of young children, revitalizing rural America, sustainable agriculture, and waste management. Veterans considering work in the agricultural field will benefit from these local services, sponsored by the federal government, but typically housed with related state and local agencies. To locate your nearest Cooperative Extension Serve office, visit https://nifa.usda.gov/extension.