Rural Utilities Service

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) is a series of programs that help utilities providers in rural areas expand and keep their facilities current. The RUS programs assist electric providers, water suppliers, telecommunications companies, and distance learning and telemedicine providers. In FY 2008, it received $655 million in budgetary authority and had $9.753 billion in loan authority. In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (stimulus bill), in large measure because of President Obama's push for rural broadband development, its FY 2010 budget was $2.538 billion - nearly four times its budget two years before - and its loan authority also went up by 70 percent, to over $17 billion.

The main component of the RUS is loans made to rural utility providers, many of which are cooperatives in order for the providers to build new and improve existing infrastructure. Certain RUS programs, including the electric services program, also make insured loans to nonprofits and cooperative associations. In addition to expanding the provider's service area, the RUS loan funds also help lower the cost of providing service to rural and small community residents.

The funding that rural utilities receive through the RUS enables those utilities to create more jobs, especially in the construction field. Through the infrastructure improvements made possible by the RUS, rural communities are able to participate in technological advances such as e-commerce and distance learning, which can improve rural residents' skill sets and lead to wealth creation. A cooperative or other community wealth building group operating in a rural area or a small community may be able to work with local utility providers to help secure RUS funding for necessary and/or beneficial infrastructure improvements - or secure loans on their own for certain projects.