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A federal program that works

If rhetoric these days in North Dakota is fashionably anti-federal spending, the reality is quite different.

A "progress report" issued last week by USDA Rural Development in North Dakota lists 43 projects that received a total of $969 million last year in direct loans, guaranteed loans and grants. The source of most of the dollars was UDSA appropriations, but about $200 million came from that much-maligned American Recovery and Investment Act, commonly known as the stimulus. As far as we can tell, none of the anti-government types involved in securing the funding for North Dakota investments refused or turned back the stimulus money.

The federal dollars have been put to good use in the state. The investments range from an impressive new regional medical center at Jamestown ($31 million) to expanded rural broadband Internet services in several rural communities (more than $77 million). Rural Development programs -- loans and grants -- also funded businesses and industries, water and waste disposal projects, community facilities, and single-family housing.

Most of the projects -- by some assessments all of them -- would not have been possible without the USDA/stimulus support. A perusal of the list finds dozens of worthwhile endeavors that will enhance rural life in all corners of the state -- 44 counties. Rural Development's focus has been to select projects for funding that will have lasting positive impacts on the people who live and work in rural communities. The catalog of funded projects confirms that the agency's emphasis has generated widespread success.

State Director Jasper Schneider, a former Fargo legislator, said in a meeting last week with The Forum's Editorial Board that his agency is "one of the best-kept secrets in North Dakota." That might have been true in the past, but Jasper and his statewide staff have done an excellent job, not only in accomplishing the agency's mandate, but also in letting North Dakotans know about USDA Development's good work.