USDA officials give St. Helena residents overview of available assistance _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Stephanie Warren -- St. Helena Parish residents received helpful information at a USDA strikeforce meeting Jan. 27 at the Fifth Ward Recreational Multi-purpose Center in Amite.

Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center hosted a USDA StrikeForce meeting, with a visit from U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, Jan. 27 at the 5th Ward Recreational Multipurpose Center in Amite.

USDA representatives provided information during the meeting on the assistance available to help the rural community to prosper.

St. Helena Parish faces many unique challenges every day, Parish Administrator Virginia Bell said. “USDA’s representatives worked to address those unique set of challenges faced in this parish,” Bell said.

Through StrikeForce, the USDA leverages resources and collaborates with partners and stakeholders to improve economic opportunity and quality of life in areas such as St. Helena.

St. Helena Parish resident and cattle farmer Charles Berry said he attends every USDA meeting he can.

“Their programs and services are very helpful to our parish, and I always make sure to tell other people about them so they can get assistance, too,” Berry said.

Residents attending the meeting received information that provided the technical assistance and explanations needed on USDA programs available in the area.

Two of the programs mentioned were the single-family housing programs and the multifamily housing programs.

The single-family program provides homeownership opportunities to low- to moderate-income residents through loan, grant and loan guarantee programs. The programs also make funding available to residents to finance vital improvements necessary to make their homes decent, safe and sanitary, the representatives said.

The multifamily housing programs offer rural rental housing loans to provide affordable multifamily rental housing for very low-, low- and moderate-income families; the elderly; and persons with disabilities. In addition, deep- subsidy rental assistance is available to eligible families.

There are three multifamily rental housing facilities in St. Helena Parish.

The community facilities program provides loans, grants and loan guarantees for projects to develop community facilities for public use in rural areas. This may include hospitals, fire protection, public safety, libraries, schools and day care centers and many other community-based initiatives.

USDA programs demonstrate how every rural community can achieve self-sufficiency through innovative and comprehensive strategic plans developed and implemented at a grass-roots level, Southern University agricultural specialist Eual Hall said.

USDA Rural Development Area Office service agent Patrick Babineaux advised attendees to take advantage of the free livestock indemnity program if any of their livestock died.

“Let’s say, for instance, you have livestock that got struck by lighting. You should immediately notify the farm service agency in your area. If you are in St. Helena Parish or Tangipahoa Parish you would notify me,” Babineaux said. “We are here to help with any assistance that we can. Come by the office and see me, or call me, I will do whatever I can to assist those inquiring about the services provided.”

To contact the local USDA Rural Development Area Office, 703 West Oak St., Amite, call (985) 748-9034. To see a complete list of programs, visit the USDA website at