Biden to nominate Torres Small as USDA rural development undersecretary
President Biden announced Friday, June 18, he intends to nominate former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small as agriculture undersecretary for rural development.
In the announcement, the White House noted that Torres Small was elected in 2018 as the first woman and first person of color to represent New Mexico’s second congressional district. She was defeated in 2020 by Republican Yvette Harrell, whom she had defeated in a narrow race in 2018.
The agriculture undersecretary for rural development oversees a vast array of USDA programs that are not directly related to agriculture including rural electricity, rural telephones and the attempts to bring high speed internet service to rural America.
The Rural Development mission area also includes programs to help rural communities with facilities such as hospitals and community buildings and also the provision of water and sewer facilities in some of the poorest rural communities in the country. In recent years, Rural Development has also attempted to increase the use of ethanol even while the renewable fuels industry has been engaged in battles with the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Advocates for nonagricultural rural development say the mission area can and should be of more assistance to low income rural Americans than any other USDA division but it does not have the industries and lobbies that fight so hard for money for other divisions of the department.
In its announcement, the White House emphasized Torres Small’s roots and efforts to help low-income New Mexicans, but did not mention her education.
The White House said, “The granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, Xochitl Torres Small grew up in the borderlands of New Mexico. In 2008, she came home from college to work as a field organizer, working in colonias in southern New Mexico.
“She continued serving rural New Mexico as a field representative for Sen. Tom Udall [D-N.M.], where she collaborated with local grassroots leaders, business owners, elected officials, and regional and state economic development officials to help communities access American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Inspired by Sen. Udall’s work on water in the West, Torres Small studied water law and worked closely with rural water utilities.”
The White House continued, “In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Rep. Torres Small kept a rural hospital from closing its doors, improved constituent access to healthcare over the phone, and helped secure tens of millions of dollars for broadband in New Mexico through USDA’s ReConnect Program.
“Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Torres Small raised the alarm on broadband disparities, serving on Majority Whip James Clyburn’s [D-S.C] Rural Broadband Taskforce and as an original cosponsor of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act.
“As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Torres Small helped build the case for dairy farmers harmed by Canada’s violation of the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, and drafted legislation to help local farmers and rural communities invest in infrastructure to navigate new markets. Torres Small also partnered with Sen. Udall to introduce the Western Water Security Act, and helped secure key provisions of the legislation in the FY 2021 Appropriations Omnibus.
“In addition, Torres Small worked closely with the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to secure New Mexico water priorities in the Water Resources Development Act, including Rio Grande ecosystem restoration from Sandia Pueblo to Isleta Pueblo and increased authorization for the Tribal Partnership Program within the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
“Throughout her career, Torres Small has employed her experience organizing in vulnerable, rural communities to achieve lasting investments that combat persistent poverty.”
The White House left out many details of Torres Small’s biography. According to a Wikipedia entry, she was born on Nov. 15, 1984, in Portland, Ore., to Marcos and Cynthia “Cynta” Torres. Her parents were educators, Marcos with child care providers, parents and fathers, Cynta as a public school special education teacher. Marcos also worked as a social worker in child protective services and as a union leader.
She was raised in Las Cruces, N.Mex.
After graduating from Mayfield High School in absentia while she earned an international baccalaureate diploma from Waterford Kamhlaba United World College in Mbabane, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), she earned a bachelor of science in foreign service degree from Georgetown University and a law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law.
She was also a water attorney with Kemp Smith, a Texas law firm with offices in Las Cruces, and sat on the boards of the Mountain View Market Co+op and La Semilla Food Center.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement, “Rep. Xochitl Torres Small’s nomination to serve as undersecretary for rural development reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to advancing rural prosperity. Her nomination is responsive to rural stakeholders and Congress; both have emphasized the importance of having a dedicated advocate for rural communities among the department’s subcabinet.”
“As the daughter of migrant farm workers and a native of rural New Mexico, Torres Small represents the heart and soul of rural communities. Rep. Torres Small began her work in southern New Mexico, serving as a field organizer in colonias, and continued her work in rural New Mexico as a field representative for Sen. Tom Udall, where she collaborated with local leaders and elected officials.
“She went on to the University of New Mexico School of Law and in 2018 became the first woman and first person of color to represent New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, the largest district that isn’t its own state.
“Throughout her career, Rep. Torres Small has put her experience to use in the name of making lasting investments in the people, institutions and infrastructure essential for tribal nations and communities throughout the rural U.S. to thrive. Her expertise will further USDA’s mission to advance equity and opportunity in and for rural America. I am fully confident in Rep. Torres Small’s ability to excel in this essential role at the department.”
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who will preside over Torres-Small’s confirmation hearing, said in a statement, “I am very pleased to see President Biden nominate Xochitl Torres Small for this important post.”
“She was a champion for rural development, particularly expanding high-speed internet, during her time in Congress, and I look forward to her nomination. I’m also thrilled President Biden has moved quickly to nominate someone to this critical position, which the Trump administration had eliminated. I led the fight to reestablish the position in the 2018 farm bill.
“But even then the Trump administration failed to nominate anyone for it. Rural Development plays an essential role in so many programs that help small towns and rural areas thrive. It deserves to be championed at the highest levels.”
Farm Credit Council President and CEO Todd Van Hoose said in a statement, “Farm Credit congratulates former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small on her nomination as undersecretary for rural development.”
“This is an important position within USDA. Rural communities and agriculture need strong advocates, and she has a demonstrated track record of understanding and supporting efforts to strengthen rural America.
“We look forward to working with Ms. Torres Small again and encourage the Senate to move quickly to approve her nomination.”
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