Cabinet Members Promote Rural Improvement in Alaska

(AP Photo/Al Grillo)
Four members of President Obama's cabinet headed to Alaska today as a part of the administration's "Rural Tour."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan (at left in the photo), Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu stopped in Bethel and Hooper Bay in the western part of Alaska in effort to improve rural communities and states. A statement released by the White House noted that the four secretaries make up the largest Cabinet-level delegation to visit Alaska.

Donovan announced $132 million in grants to Native American and Native Alaska communities across the country today, the Anchorage Daily Newsreports. This includes $32 million in stimulus funds to tribal and native organizations in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington.

"We are already beginning to address some of the unique housing challenges. I am thrilled to announce that we've made available $132 million to communities in Alaska and across the country the final installment of funding for the Native American Housing Block Grant Program under the Recovery Act, $5 million of which is going to Bethel," Donovan said, according to a White House statement.

Anchorage schools will also be getting funds. Duncan announced Tuesday that Anchorage would be getting a $1.2 million grant to keep Alaska Native students in school.

"We need to help schools get dramatically better. We need to increase high school graduation rates and reduce dropout rates in Alaska and across this nation," Duncan said, according to the White House release. "We must educate our way to a better economy."

Concerning Alaska's energy concerns, Chu said that he is in the state "to listen to Alaska's needs so that the federal government can be a partner in helping find solutions."

Vilsack reiterated Chu's emphasis that the government must listen to the people of Alaska.

"It is critically important to hear the thoughts, concerns and stories about Alaska's vision for its future and to collect ideas about how USDA can better serve these communities," Vilsack said.

The secretaries are expected to stay in Alaska until Friday. The administration's so-called "Rural Tour" started in June and continues through the end of September.