Uplift America: A Public-Private Partnership Tackling Rural Poverty

Over 11% of all counties in the United States are persistently poor, meaning that 20% or more of the population has lived in poverty for the past three decades. Most of these counties are in rural America, which struggles to attract investment despite the valuable assets it has to offer. In particular, rural communities often have substandard community facilities, limiting residents’ access to quality health care, education and other essential services. 

To counter this challenge, a public-private partnership called Uplift America launched in 2016. Uplift leverages federal resources, bank financing and private grants to direct capital to areas with high and persistent poverty. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Relending Program makes funds available to community lenders, particularly community development financial institutions (CDFIs), which re-lend the money to finance projects like hospitals, schools and child care centers in rural areas. A pool of grant funds, managed by the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, along with guarantees from Bank of America help CDFIs take on these loans and strengthen their capacity. 

Now that the first year of the program has ended, Prosperity Now and Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation are pleased to release a 2017 Progress Report, which highlights Uplift America’s impact on rural communities. Prosperity Now, one of the partners in Uplift, conducted research to inform the program’s design and collects data on the projects being funded. Here are some of the report’s highlights for 2017: 

  • Over $400 million in long-term, low-cost financing made available to community development institutions through the Community Facilities Relending Program 

  • $22 million in private grants pooled by seven philanthropic institutions 

  • 20 community development institutions across the country received USDA loans and private grants 

  • 93 community facilities projects, representing $217 million in loans, in the pipeline 

Uplift is making a difference in economically distressed communities across the country. For example, with the help of a $7 million loan from HOPE, a CDFI dedicated to strengthening communities, building assets and improving lives in the Delta, Mississippi’s Toughest Kids Foundation plans to open the only fully accessible camp in Mississippi for people with serious illnesses and disabilities. In another exciting project, two community lenders in South Dakota, Dakota Resources and Rural Electric Economic Development, Inc., are teaming up to finance the reconstruction and renovation of school buildings in the small community of Lake Andes, which is 43% Native American. 

The 2017 Progress Report also emphasizes the importance of CDFIs in the Uplift America partnership. These mission-focused institutions are located in the communities they serve, so they can build relationships and tailor their services to local needs. Coupled with their ability to provide technical assistance and counseling to borrowers, this makes CDFIs a crucial partner in community-based development. Additionally, Uplift builds CDFIs’ capacity, with the goal of making them enduring resources for their communities. 

Uplift America demonstrates the commitment of the public and private sectors to reducing persistent poverty and creates opportunity in rural communities. Read our report for more details on what Uplift has accomplished in its first year. 

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