Former Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico has been selected to serve as undersecretary of rural development at USDA. In 2018, Torres Small became the first woman and first person of color to represent New Mexico’s second congressional district, the largest district that isn’t its own state.
If confirmed, Torres Small would be in charge of a mission area with wide-ranging responsibilities, including rural electric cooperative loans, broadband expansion, community development and infrastructure funding, value-added producer grants, and funding for renewable energy and biofuel projects. The rural development undersecretary position was previously eliminated under a restructuring of USDA when establishing the trade undersecretary but re-established under authority in the 2018 Farm Bill.
The granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, 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, 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.
“Throughout her career, Representative 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,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Her expertise will further USDA’s mission to advance equity and opportunity in and for rural America. I am fully confident in Representative Torres Small’s ability to excel in this essential role at the Department.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, 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 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.
Inspired by Udall’s work on water in the West, Torres Small studied water law and worked closely with rural water utilities. Torres Small partnered with 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.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., was pleased to see Torres Small for the 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,” says Stabenow.
Stabenow adds she’s thrilled President Joe 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.”