EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, hosted a press conference Friday morning, July 7, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt, to discuss USDA’s role in supporting a sustainable, equitable and resilient food system.
The press conference, which took place at the Texas A&M AgriLife (TAMU) Research Center, highlighted that TAMU has been selected to establish the Rio Grande Colonias Regional Food Business Center.
On May 3, USDA announced the finalists selected to establish Regional Food Business Centers that will provide national coordination, technical assistance and capacity building to help farmers, ranchers and other food businesses access new markets and navigate federal, state and local resources.
“Under Secretary Moffitt’s visit today, again, underscores the Biden Administration’s commitment to investing in our communities where we need it most,” Escobar said. “As Congress begins considering the Farm Bill reauthorization, I’m proud to reiterate the need to increase federal funding and representation for families in El Paso’s colonias, strengthen food supply chains, and support and bolster our local farms.”
“It was great to be here in El Paso and be able to meet the organizations that are uniting to design the work of the Rio Grande Colonias Regional Food Business Center,” Moffitt said. “Communities need, and deserve, a strong local food system – one that brings more of the food dollar back to farmers and ranchers, builds resilient and diversified markets, creates local jobs, and provides nutrition security for all. I believe very strongly in locally led solutions, that we achieve more when people who are established and trusted in the region are empowered. And today, with the partners I met with, I see a recipe for success. Partnerships, locally-led initiatives, innovative producers, and communities working to build a shorter food value chain, this is a recipe for success.”
“The County of El Paso is thrilled to join our local Texas A&M AgriLIFE Research Center in the establishment of the Regional Food Business Center that will empower small and mid-size farm and food producers in our region,” Samaniego said. “Our Economic Development, Heritage Tourism Division will be working closely with entrepreneurs and producers to support the increase in production and distribution to address the public health issues related to food insecurity while showcasing our culturally rich, nutritious foods and landscapes available in our beautiful Chihuahuan Desert. This amazing opportunity will enable small businesses and growers’ access to the equipment and infrastructure needed to successfully produce and distribute their products, strengthening the regional, binational food system. We are excited for this new and exciting collaboration.”
In May 2021, Escobar introduced H.R. 3238, the Colonia Infrastructure Improvement Act, which invests $1.5 billion in drinking water, wastewater and surface infrastructure while creating good-paying jobs, according to a press release sent by Escobar’s office.
Several of these provisions were also included in the INVEST in America Act.
Financial support for colonias was included in the House FY23 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Escobar, which reauthorized the dormant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wastewater grant program at $100 million a year over 5 years and reduced the local cost share to 20%.
In addition, Escobar also secured $70 million for drinking and wastewater USDA loans/grants for colonias and Native American communities in the FY22 appropriations omnibus bill, which was $2 million more than the previous year.
Escobar also recently introduced H.R. 2740, her legislation to establish an Office of Colonia Affairs within the Department of Agriculture.