USDA official discusses agency

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

Ryan Gleason is the New Mexico director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. He was appointed by President Bush in May 2006.
He oversees a staff of 59 employees located in 11 offices throughout the state.

A fifth-generation New Mexican, Gleason, 32, was born in Portales.
Gleason spoke with Freedom Newspapers about some of the ways his agency can help in rural areas.

Q: What is the mission of USDA Rural Development?
A: To improve the quality of life for rural Americans.

Q: How long has it been operating in the state, and what are some of the well-known entities that have benefited?
A: In various forms, Rural Development has been operating in the state for more than 70 years. When Congress reorganized the USDA in the mid-1990s, they combined the old Rural Electrification Administration, the old Farmers Home Administration and others into a new entity that is now known as Rural Development.
Through our home loan program we have assisted thousands of New Mexicans (with buying) a home. We’ve also financed most of the electric and telephone cooperatives in the state. (Rural Development) has also assisted Sunland Peanuts and provided several hundred thousand dollars to upgrade the transmission capabilities of the PBS station in Portales.

Q: What are some of the many programs offered that might be of particular interest in Portales and surrounding areas?
A: Because we combined a large number of programs to create (Rural Development), we have different definitions of rural. For example, rural for the purpose of our home loan program is communities with less than 10,000 people. Therefore, Portales wouldn’t be eligible, but most other communities in this area would be. For our business programs, however, rural is defined as less than 50,000 people. Our primary program in this area is known as the Business & Industry Guarantee Loan Program. Through this program we guarantee loans made by commercial lenders to businesses. We also have a grant program where we provide funds primarily to nonprofits for the support of business development (Rural Business Opportunity Grant and Rural Business Enterprise Grant).

Q: What specific programs might be of assistance to tornado victims?
A: For those communities of less than 10,000 people, we have a loan and grant program through which we lend up to $20,000 at 1 percent, repayable over 20 years, for use in repairing and rehabilitating a home. The borrower must be low income and own the home. It’s not limited to disaster relief, but it could certainly be useful in that situation.

Information:
www.rurdev.usda.gov or call the New Mexico U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office in Albuquerque: 761-4950.

Forms are available on the USDA Rural Development Web site in Spanish.

—Compiled by Freedom Newspapers staff writer Sharna Johnson and edited for style, clarity and space