Closer Look: Finding the Funding

The following is re-published with permission from the National AgrAbility Project…

AgrAbility logoFinance-related questions are among the most common received by the National AgrAbility Project. Inquiries range from funding for assistive technology (AT) needs, like prostheses and hearing aids, to start-up money needed by beginning farmers to purchase land.

Some assume that AgrAbility directly provides funding and/or equipment, but this is prohibited from USDA AgrAbility grant funds. However, some AgrAbility projects are able to provide limited financial help for AT from alternate sources, such as the funding Ohio AgrAbility received from its state attorney general to provide AT to clients. [Learn more about Maine AgrAbility]

There are multiple sources of financial aid available in every state, both for disability and agricultural needs. We’ll start with the disability side.

Disability-Related Funding from Government Sources

Justin HoslerBy far, state vocational rehabilitation systems (VR) are the most significant providers of assistive technology, home modifications, and related services for AgrAbility clients.

See Maine BRS: Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Charged with the mission of assisting people with disabilities in gaining or maintaining employment, VR has significant latitude in the services it can provide, though policies vary between states. Since being injured in 1997, Indiana farmer Justin Hosler has received, through VR, lifts to reach multiple pieces of farm equipment, hand controls for a grain hauling semi-truck, a heavy-duty tracked standup wheelchair, ramps for accessing his grain handling facilities, and even a tower-type grain drier that he can control remotely.

VR also has the capability of funding self-employment, small business start-ups. Again, states vary in their policies, but some provide up to $30,000 in capital for small businesses.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides two main programs to help provide income to people with disabilities. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides benefits from workers’ contributions to the Social Security trust fund. Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) provides income to people with disabilities who have limited financial resources. Special work incentives, like trial work periods, impairment-related work expense deductions, and Plan to Achieving Self Support (PASS) programs, can make it possible for people with disabilities to work and continue to receive SSDI and/or SSI payments. A recent AgrAbility webinar covered SSA programs in depth.

Some agricultural workers are covered by Worker’s Compensation Programs administered through the U.S. Department of Labor, which can provide wage replacement, vocational rehabilitation, and other benefits.

The VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) maintains its own vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) program for veterans with disabilities, which is separate from state-run VR programs. It is possible that veterans may be able to participate in both. [See the VA services section on Maine CITE’s Paying for AT web resource]

Each state also has an Assistive Technology Act Program funded under the Assistive Technology Act (AT Act) and administered by various nonprofit disability-related organizations. In addition to demonstrating and loaning AT products [see Equipment Demonstration and Equipment Loan programs in Maine], some  programs have competitive loan initiatives for purchasing AT [in Maine, see mPowerLoans.org] and also connect no-longer-needed AT with recipients who need such (equipment recycling).

Disability-Related Funding from Nonprofit Groups

Disability-specific organizations, such as Easter Seals, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and United Cerebral Palsy often maintain funds to assist with acquiring AT. Some centers for independent living also maintain special funds to help purchase AT. Similarly, nonprofit organizations that don’t have disability as their central focus, like Kiwanis, Lions, and United Way, can sometimes provide assistance.

Numerous philanthropic foundations make grants to organizations and individuals, usually through a competitive application process. Sites like foundationcenter.org are good places to start researching such. In addition, many areas of the country are covered by a community foundation, which is a grantmaking public charity created by and for a community of people. The Council on Foundations website, cof.org, has a comprehensive listing. Other foundations, like the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, have provided funding to AgrAbility projects to supply AT to clients.

Agricultural Funding from Government Sources

There are multitudes of potential funding needs in agricultural operations; likewise, there are many sources of information about funding. USDA is the government’s main agricultural funder, and a good summary of its programs can be found at USDA Grants and Loans website. In addition, the clearinghouse for USDA’s beginning farmer and rancher project information, including “toolboxes” on topics like farmland access and financial management, is available at farmanswers.org. Another extensive list of funding sources for beginning farmers can be found through beginningfarmers.org.

For those needing loans, their first stop should be USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). Loan categories include farm ownership, operational expenses, conservation practices, and emergencies caused by natural disasters. Microloans are also available for small farmers and niche producers. Targeted loan programs focus on women, minorities, veterans, beginning farmers, and other underserved populations.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can also provide financial assistance for producers that want to improve conservation through enhanced water management, water quality improvement, and erosion control.

For those interested in agricultural sustainability research, demonstration, and education, the USDA Sustainable Agriculture, Research, and Extension (SARE) Program makes grants from $7,500 for individuals to $22,500 for groups.

Dusty FranklinDusty Franklin of Colorado is an example of an AgrAbility client who has benefitted from USDA’s services. He is working with the NRCS Environmental Incentives Program (EQIP) to improve the irrigation of his farm and is applying to FSA for a microloan to help purchase a new tractor to better accommodate his disabilities.

Other government agencies provide loans to small businesses, including agriculture related enterprises. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loans money for starting, acquiring, and expanding a small business, including microloans, disaster assistance loans, and economic injury loans, the latter being especially helpful to agricultural businesses that suffer from natural disasters. SBA also makes grants, but these cannot fund small businesses.

Agricultural Funding-Related Assistance from Nonprofit Organizations

Sometimes, just finding land is a major obstacle. A variety of land-matching programs can connect new farmers and ranchers with retiring landowners. The Center for Rural Affairs maintains a listing of such programs under its New Farmers section.

There are also incubator farms for those that may need some extra instruction and mentoring before taking the plunge into full-time production. Such programs provide temporary access to land and, often, instruction to help participants gain the expertise they need to succeed in agricultural enterprises.

Veterans can benefit from programs like Farmer Veteran Coalition Fellowship Fund. Since starting in 2011, the fund has provided more than $1 million to 150 fellows in the form of such assistance as tractors and equipment for livestock handling and specialty crop production. Companies like Kubota and Grasshopper have also worked with FVC to provide veterans with tractors and mowers.

Conclusion

If you’re involved with agriculture, you already know that you haven’t picked an easy road, especially if you have a disability. However, when financial obstacles seen insurmountable, know that help is available. For specific guidance, work with your AgrAbility project staff (in Maine, visit Maine AgrAbility), if you have such in your state, or visit with your local Extension educators.

Reprinted from AgrAbility Harvest, Vol. 8, Number 1, 2017. Copyright © National AgrAbility Project, Purdue University.