The new state leader for rural development spent four days in the Rio Grande Valley this week to better understand the region and its role.
Lillian Salerno, state director of the Agriculture Department’s rural development office, visited settlements in Hidalgo and Starr counties.
“The South Texas area is so important to all of Texas and the country, and it has all of its nuances and its special character of this part of Texas because of its proximity to the border,” Salerno said in an interview Thursday. .
Salerno, a Texas native, comes from a rural farming community so small that only 18 people graduated from her high school class. She draws on her background to better understand her role.
“I know the rural part of Texas very well and all the great things about it, and also those things that hold you back,” Salerno said.
Salerno pursued an undergraduate degree in Latin American studies from the University of Texas at Austin, earned his master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of North Texas, and earned a law degree from Southern Methodist University. As a bilingual attorney, she often worked as a court-appointed attorney for vulnerable Spanish-speaking Texans.
The new director is no stranger to the USDA rural development office. She previously worked with the Obama-Biden administration for six years as rural affairs administrator and later as deputy assistant secretary for rural development.
She was also a member of the White House Rural Council, where she voiced concern for rural Americans and worked to improve economic development, innovation, entrepreneurship, and access to capital for rural Americans. farmers.
Those concerns resurfaced during his visits to residents of the valley this week.
“They have a lot of challenges because of the drought, making sure their water sources are in good shape and having answers for fires and ambulances,” Salerno said. “That’s why they’re asking for help.”
Colonia residents and others mentioned the drought in nearly every conversation, the manager said, but they were also concerned about the economy.
And that’s where the USDA comes in. The six USDA offices in the valley attempt to connect rural areas to the opportunities the department offers.
“We have loans and grants for community facilities where the federal government, under the USDA, just for rural communities…provides low-interest loans or grants so they can purchase ambulances, fire stations, city halls — things small towns can’t afford without a little federal help,” Salerno said.
The department’s programs also extend to individual families.
“We also have a whole housing portfolio where we give loans for single-family homes and also to fix people’s roofs, insulation and that sort of thing,” she said, adding that she had noticed many needs in Starr County.
During her tour of South Texas and beyond, she strives to meet with community leaders who might be able to spread the word of the help that exists for those battling the pandemic, the inflation and now recession.
“Part of my goal is that the people who lead these communities – whether they be mayors, city councils, fire chiefs, police officers, school board members, community members – (know) what we do,” Salerno said. “I want to make sure the Texans get their fair share.”[email protected]