- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

NEWPORT, Vt. (AP) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture says a pilot program intended to help create jobs in rural areas like Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom has been extended in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Officials say homeowners, businesses, nonprofits and communities in the Northeast Kingdom have received more than $68 million in grant and loan funding since the creation of the Northeast Kingdom Rural Economic Area Partnership Zone in 2000.

There are three other REAP zones in the U.S., including one in North Dakota and two in New York.

Sen. Patrick Leahy says extending the program will ensure that businesses and communities in the Northeast Kingdom get priority consideration for competitive federal funds.

Officials and beneficiaries of the program celebrated its success on Tuesday in Newport.