USDA

DEFINITION of 'USDA'

A department of the United States government that manages various programs related to food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development and nutrition. The United States Department of Agriculture tries to expand economic opportunity in rural areas, make sure Americans are properly fed and conserve natural resources. President Lincoln founded the USDA in 1862, at a time when about 50% of Americans lived on farms.

BREAKING DOWN 'USDA'

The head of the USDA is the Secretary of Agriculture. Second in charge is the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, who oversees the department’s daily operations and budget. Seven undersecretaries oversee the divisions for rural development, food safety and other areas.

The USDA’s programs help provide the following services, among others: broadband access in rural areas; disaster assistance to farmers, ranchers and rural residents; soil, water and other natural resource conservation to landowners; wildfire prevention; and agricultural research and statistics. The USDA is also responsible for school meal nutrition; nutrition education; organic food standards; food assistance for women, infants and children (WIC); and the food stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).

The USDA also provides financial assistance for purchasing and refinancing rural homes. It provides direct loans to very-low-income borrowers who want to purchase a rural home, guaranteed loans to moderate-income homebuyers, and loans and grants for rural home improvements and repairs.