Over the last four years, the American Indian Credit Outreach Initiative
has doubled the number of Montana American Indians who have accessed Farm
Service Agency (FSA) loans, and cut delinquency rates by more than half.
In 2001, Indians secured 87 FSA loans worth $6.3 million in Montana, and
the delinquency rate was 11 percent, compared with 44 FSA loans in 1997
that totaled $2.8 million, with a 35 percent delinquency rate.
The program makes it easier for American Indians to secure loans
by connecting tribal members with a liaison officer, often a member
of their own tribe, who can make the application process less intimidating.
So successful is the program, which came out of Stone Child Tribal
College in Box Elder, that Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman plans
to replicate it nationally over the next seven years.
In February, a program was held in Billings to train 13 liaison
officers for the first phase of expansion across Montana and nine
other Rocky Mountain states.