Press Release

As NYS Rebuilds From Storms & Flooding, Gillibrand Announces Agenda To Strengthen New York’s Rural Economy For Long-Term

Sep 13, 2011

Washington, D.C. – As New York continues to dig out from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spent time in communities across the state, touring damaged farms, business districts and communities, hearing from everyday families and business leaders, and is fighting everyday to secure every federal resource New York needs to aid in the recovery. 

Now, Senator Gillibrand is announcing an agenda to put New York’s rural communities on a path to a strong economic future. Senator Gillibrand’s plan directs more capital to rural small businesses, makes targeted investments to upgrade rural infrastructure, and increases access to broadband to connect more families and businesses to new markets and better opportunities to thrive.

“New York’s rural communities were among those hardest hit by these storms, causing massive damage to homes and businesses, and miles of farmland,” Senator Gillibrand said. “When our rural communities suffer, our whole state suffers, and we need to bring all federal resources to bear to get these families and businesses back on their feet today. But we also need to look farther ahead in our future. From our manufacturers to our family farms, New York’s rural communities are home to some of our hardest workers, the innovative ideas and vast natural resources for our economy to thrive for generations to come. It’s time to get serious with a real plan that unlocks all of our state’s potential.”

Approximately one-quarter of New York State is made up of farmland. New York’s agriculture sector contributes nearly $4.5 billion to the state’s economy each year. But even before the devastation that Irene and Lee caused to New York’s farmland, the economic downturn has been particularly difficult on New York’s farms and rural businesses.

Click here for county-by-county estimates of how many New Yorkers live in rural areas. 

  • In Western New York, more than 300,000 people live in rural areas.
  • In the Rochester/Finger Lakes Region, more than 333,000 people live in rural areas.
  • In Central New York, more than 400,000 people live in rural areas.
  • In the Southern Tier, nearly 265,000 people live in rural areas.
  • In the Capital Region, more than 355,000 people live in rural areas.
  • In the North Country, more than 290,000 people live in rural areas.
  • In the Hudson Valley, nearly 380,000 people live in rural areas.
  • On Long Island, nearly 50,000 people live in rural areas.

Over the last several weeks, Senator Gillibrand worked with Senator Charles E. Schumer to urge U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack to issue an agricultural disaster declaration to expedite federal aid to help our farmers recover. Senator Gillibrand joined Secretary Vilsack and Governor Andrew Cuomo on a tour of damaged farmland across the Capital Region, in addition to touring damage in Schoharie County, Greene County, Rensselaer County, Westchester County, Long Island and the Southern Tier.

Senators Gillibrand and Schumer also worked hard to expedite FEMA’s emergency and major disaster declarations for New York State, and fought for the release of federal disaster assistance for families and businesses in need right now.

To put New York’s rural economy on strong footing to grow and prosper for the long term, and create new good-paying jobs, Senator Gillibrand has outlined her rural economic agenda:

Expand Access to Credit and Capital for Rural Small Businesses
The economic downturn froze credit for small businesses and stifled entrepreneurship, particularly in rural areas. As a result, rural small businesses struggle to grow, and have fewer resources to turn to for credit – increasing demand on federal lending programs, such as the USDA’s Business & Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loan Program.

The B&I program finances business and industry acquisition, construction, conversion, expansion, and repair in rural areas. Loan funds can be used to finance the purchase and development of land, supplies and materials, and pay start-up costs of rural businesses – helping rural small businesses endure the economic downturn so they can continue to grow and create jobs.

To enhance the B&I program with the resources and flexibility it needs to support more rural small businesses, Senator Gillibrand is co-sponsoring the Rural Access to Credit Act, legislation that would:

  • Help community banks expand their lending capability in rural areas by making the B&I loan requirements more similar to commercial lending standards.
  • Expand loan options for rural small businesses by allowing loans to be used for refinancing and lines of credit.
  • Make the USDA B&I Guaranteed Loan Program more responsive to small business needs by reducing red tape for loans less than $1 million and expediting approvals.
  • Raise the loan guarantee level to 90 percent for loans up to $10 million
  • Align USDA’s calculation of loan delinquency rates with the Small Business Administration’s

For 2010 and 2011, New York is set to receive over $141 million in funding through the B&I Program. This investment is expected to support 76 rural small businesses, create over 530 new jobs and save another 2,250 jobs at rural businesses.

Nationally, the USDA estimates that the B&I program assisted more than 1,300 small businesses and created or saved over 55,000 jobs in 2010 alone.

Increasing Access to Rural Broadband
Less than one-third of rural Americans have access to broadband, including large portions of upstate New York. Approximately 300,000 New Yorkers lack access to wireline broadband, and 60,000 lack access to wireless broadband.

To increase access to broadband in rural areas, Senator Gillibrand will introduce the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act (B-CROP Act) – legislation that would create a new competitive rural broadband grant program to provide adequate resources to private sector providers as well as state and local governments, institutions of higher education, and nonprofit economic development organizations to expand broadband access to underserved rural areas. To make broadband funding programs more accessible and user-friendly, this bill creates a one-stop-shop in the federal government to acquire funding and resources to deliver high-speed Internet to businesses and families currently cut off from such service.

The B-CROP Act would also require the Department of Agriculture to streamline and improve the broadband grant and loan programs to expedite application processing times and eliminate any duplicative or unnecessary application or audit requirements.

Increasing broadband access by just 7 percent nationally would create 2.4 million new jobs across America, according to a study by Connected Nation. Broadband access is also the first step to implementing health care IT, technology that can cut medical costs, reduce medical errors and save lives.

Upgrade Rural Infrastructure
New York State currently faces a backlog of over $150 million worth of water and sewer infrastructure projects that are critical to the health and economic development of rural communities. Nationally, nearly $1 trillion in drinking water and wastewater investments will be required over the next two decades, according to the American Society of Civil engineers.

Failure to meet immediate and long-term needs in water and sewer infrastructure jeopardizes public health, environmental protection, and economic growth for rural communities that are struggling during this difficult economic time.

To provide New York’s rural communities with the resources we need for proper water and wastewater infrastructure in rural communities, Senator Gillibrand is urging Senate leaders to continue funding these projects at FY2010 levels of $2.1 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and $1.387 billion for the Drinking Water Revolving Fund.

These state revolving fund programs are critical to construction, repair, expansion, or other modification of rural water and wastewater infrastructure. Additionally, these investments can help create jobs and help hold the line on property taxes. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, every $1 million invested in water and wastewater infrastructure directly creates 8.7 jobs, in addition to nearly 4 new jobs across the economy.

Senator Gillibrand’s full letter:

Dear Chairman Reed and Ranking Member Murkowski,

As you consider the FY2012 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, I respectfully request that you include at least FY2010 level funding of $2.1 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and $1.387 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving, both of which are critical to improving the water and sewer infrastructure of our rural communities.

The state revolving fund programs are critical to investing in short- and long-term improvements in states and communities across the nation, including the construction, repair, expansion, or other modification of rural water and wastewater infrastructure. Not only are updated and effective water and sewer facilities necessary for providing safe drinking water, treating sewage to meet wastewater standards, and reducing related health risks, but such infrastructure is also central to the economic development of rural communities. Investment in water and sewer infrastructure directly and indirectly creates jobs. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, every $1 million invested in water and wastewater infrastructure directly creates 8.7 jobs, and each of these jobs leads to an additional 3.68 jobs elsewhere in the economy. Additionally, many rural communities rely on this program to help make proper investments in water and sewer facilities to facilitate the expansion of existing businesses as well as attract new ones, all of which can save and/or create jobs, spur private investment, and reduce local property taxes. Of particular concern is that firm location decisions by businesses strongly consider the adequacy of water and sewer facilities operating at the site, indicating the importance of such infrastructure to attracting businesses and stimulating economic growth.

The House Interior Appropriations Bill passed in July cut funding for the Clean Water Revolving Fund by over $1.4 billion from FY2010 level and the Drinking Water Revolving Fund by over $550 million from FY2010 levels, as well as by about $1 billion in total from the FY2011 budget that had already slashed funds. These devastating cuts come at a time of significant need. According to a 2009 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, nearly $1 trillion in critical drinking water and wastewater investments will be needed over the next two decades. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates $187.9 billion in wastewater needs and $334.8 billion in drinking water needs over the next 20 years.  Not meeting the immediate and long-term investment needs of our water and sewer infrastructure jeopardizes public health, environmental protection, and most importantly, economic opportunity for our rural communities hit hardest during this recession.

This is not the time to be cutting programs that are necessary for ensuring the health of our rural citizens and rural America’s economic competitiveness. I urge you to fund this invaluable national program at the FY2010 level, which will ensure adequate funding to help meet the nation’s needs. 

Thank you for your consideration.