|WASHINGTON, May 26, 2016 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will make his first official visit to Puerto Rico where he will highlight the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ongoing commitment to addressing food security and rural opportunity in the Commonwealth. While in Puerto Rico, Secretary Vilsack will meet with various officials from the Commonwealth; visit a National Forest research station; engage local farmers and ranchers; convene a group of financial leaders focused on finding opportunities for rural investment; and make several important announcements to address food security and rural development.
Secretary Vilsack is the latest senior Obama Administration official to travel to Puerto Rico, following visits from Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Secretary of Education John King earlier this year to urge action by Congress to provide Puerto Rico with the tools it needs to address the crisis, restructure its debt, support reform and enable growth.
While in Puerto Rico, Secretary Vilsack will meet with staff from seven USDA agencies working in the Commonwealth: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); Agricultural Research Service (ARS); Farm Service Agency (FSA); Food and Nutrition Service (FNS); U.S. Forest Service; Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); and USDA Rural Development. Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $20 billion in Puerto Rico across various programs, including nutrition, infrastructure, housing, farming and ranching, conservation and forestry, and research.
On Wednesday, Secretary Vilsack will meet with Governor Alejandro García Padilla, Senate Majority Leader Eduardo Bhatia, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Jaime R. Perelló Borrás. Later that day he will tour the U.S. Forest Service Sabana Field Research Station and El Yunque National Forest to highlight USDA’s key research initiatives in the Caribbean Climate Sub Hub. USDA has established a network of seven regional Climate Hubs and three Sub Hubs to support applied research and provide information to farmers, ranchers, advisors, and managers to inform climate-related decision making and region-specific adaptation strategies.
On Thursday, Secretary Vilsack will highlight Puerto Rico’s amazing growth potential and announce a series of additional federal investments in Puerto Rico’s future. The day will begin with a meeting of farmers, ranchers, producers and agriculture-related businesspeople to gauge the needs and opportunities of Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector. Secretary Vilsack will then convene a meeting with a dozen investors, financial leaders, economists and entrepreneurs to discuss rural economic opportunity and the potential to leverage public and private resources in a more integrated and coordinated way in the Commonwealth to create a brighter future for its residents.
Since 2006, Puerto Rico and the 3.5 million American citizens who call the Commonwealth home have endured a decade-long recession and are facing a serious crisis that requires immediate congressional action. Fiscal conditions have contributed to record numbers of citizens leaving Puerto Rico for the mainland. The Obama Administration has worked extensively with Puerto Rican officials to find solutions to the Commonwealth’s fiscal crisis. However, only Congress has the authority to provide Puerto Rico with the necessary tools to address the crisis and to lay the foundation for the Commonwealth’s recovery, and Congress must act now.