Public libraries have not been immune to local and county government budget cuts.

On the state level, Gov. Chris Christie’s fiscal year 2011 budget proposes reducing state funding to libraries by 74 percent, from $14 million this year to $3.7 million.

If the state fails to put in enough money for certain library programs in the 2011 budget, matching federal funding in subsequent years could be in jeopardy, said Patricia Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association in Trenton.

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But there is money in the form of loans and grants that could help make it easier on libraries facing a budget crunch, and it is coming from an unlikely source: the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Using stimulus money, the USDA Rural Development program has earmarked $100 million out of the Community Facilities fund to help public libraries cover certain costs, said Howard Henderson, rural development manager for the USDA in New Jersey. For the Garden State, that amounts to $1.7 million in loan money and $500,000 in grants.

The money is about double what the state regularly gets allocated, Henderson said. Here’s how the program works:

Q: Who is eligible to apply?

A: The library must be located in a rural community, meaning a municipality, county or district with a population of 20,000 or less.

Q: What can the loan and grant be used for?

A: Libraries can pay for the expansion of their facilities, renovations needed to comply with building code requirements or the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to buy materials, including computers, books, bookmobiles, shelving and audio-visual equipment. But the funds can’t be used to cover regular operating expenses, Henderson said, such as salaries and administrative costs.

So while a loan or grant may not work for every library, those under a budget squeeze could use the extra money for purchasing books or building upgrades while diverting existing monies to regular operating costs, Henderson said.

Q: What are the terms of the loan?

A: The life of the loan varies depending on how the money is being used. For instance, building improvements can go on for as long as 30 years, Henderson said, while computers and book loans could be five to seven years, or theoretically for the life of the item being purchased.

The interest is about 4.5 percent and the loan comes directly from the USDA and not through another lender. “It’s a competitive rate, and our terms are a bit better than going to the bond market,” Henderson added.

Q: Can you apply for a loan and grant separately?

A: Libraries must simply ask for how much they need, then the USDA will determine how much can be provided as a loan and how much as a grant. The program’s aim is to provide as much funding to as many qualifying libraries as possible.

Q: When does the program end?

A: Since the money is tied to federal stimulus funding, the program ends when the fiscal year concludes Sept. 30 or whenever the money is fully allocated. As of last week, none of the $2.2 million had been awarded in New Jersey, Henderson said.

Q: How do I get more information?

A: The USDA in New Jersey will host an information session May 13 at its state office in Mount Laurel Township, Burlington County. Libraries can contact the USDA offices at 856-787-7700.

Contact Erik Ortiz:


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