U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Representative Antonio Delgado today announced their Rebuild Rural America Act, which would deliver federal resources directly to rural communities as they respond to, and recover from, the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. Traditionally, rural communities must compete against each other for limited grant funding while larger communities are guaranteed assistance through funding entitlements. Now, the pandemic has exacerbated the financial challenges already confronting rural communities as they have been forced to operate with diminished sales tax returns, an abandoned tourism industry, and closures across nearly all retail sectors.
“Due to the pandemic, rural communities are grappling with unprecedented financial and public health challenges. These communities will face a serious downturn unless they receive federal assistance,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Rebuild Rural America Act will provide a lifeline for rural communities to access the federal resources needed to address the complex issues they face. Investing in rural America is smart policy and is key to helping our state recover from this crisis.”
“The Rebuild Rural America Act transforms the Federal government from being complicated, siloed, and top-down into a more responsive, effective partner for rural communities,” said Rep. Antonio Delgado. “Now more than ever, our counties, towns, and villages need this legislation to rebuild their local economies and thrive after the coronavirus crisis.”
“Now more than ever, as the farms and food businesses in our region have been so impacted by the pandemic, the Rebuild Rural America Act would assure year after year funding for economic and community development programs as our communities begin to recover. The federal funding would give our rural communities the resources they need to invest in comprehensive, strategic long-term development projects,” said Todd Erling, Executive Director of the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation. “With the creation of Rural Councils, partnerships in the region will be solidified, thought-leaders from various institutions united, and strategies will be cultivated that will ensure flexibility, stability and consistency in addressing the challenges in our rural areas.”
“Senator Gillibrand has long understood that some of the nation’s best concepts and strategies for economic development come out of regions like the North Country,” says Garry Douglas, President of the North Country Chamber of Commerce. “Yet most federal development programs favor metro areas, meaning that rural needs and economic development initiatives are under-supported. The Rebuild Rural America Act, developed with input from upstate’s rural leaders, would finally level the playing field and help not only regions like ours but the entire country by maximizing the rich potential rural America possesses. From infrastructure to workforce training, we and other rural regions have long been wanting a more robust and supportive partnership with the federal government. This would provide that.”
“America will not recover from the shocks of the recent pandemic if rural economies are left behind,” says Kate Fish, executive director of the Adirondack North Country Association. “Rural businesses drive economic growth, a diverse workforce and innovative solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges, including climate change. The Rebuild Rural America Act addresses the barriers rural communities face in accessing federal funding for crucial projects and amplifies the local leaders who are driving solutions. By leveling the playing field with more populated areas and creating opportunities for regional collaboration, this legislation will increase rural resilience for generations.”
Rural America has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic — many Americans in these communities are facing food insecurity, high unemployment, unreliable broadband, and are lacking affordable housing and access to health care. The Rebuild Rural America Act would establish a dedicated stream of federal funding for rural communities and provide guaranteed, multi-year, flexible block grants to support regional economic growth and recovery. This would provide the flexible funding needed to ensure rural residents have access to vital public safety, emergency management, and temporary assistance throughout the pandemic. Gillibrand and Delgado are urging Congress to include the Rebuild Rural America framework in the upcoming coronavirus response package in order to deliver at least $50 billion over five years in direct relief to small towns and rural communities.
Specifically, the Rebuild Rural America Act would do the following:
- Create a new $50 billion grant program, the Rural Future Partnership Fund, to provide non-competitive, five-year, renewable block grants to certified rural regions to implement locally-developed regional revitalization plans.
- Funding will be allocated proportionally based on the population of each region, with an increased allocation for regions that include areas that have a poverty rate greater than 20 percent.
- Eligible regions include those with a central community of 10,000 to 50,000 people, collections of rural census tracts or counties outside of regions with a central community of 10,000 to 50,000 people, and Indian reservations. States, in coordination with USDA, will certify the regions’ participation in the program.
- Encourage rural regions to develop comprehensive, collaborative, and locally-driven community and economic development plans that revitalize infrastructure, provide support for public services and job training, and foster local entrepreneurship.
- Require interested rural regions to form a Regional Rural Partnership Council that brings together local leaders, elected officials, economic development organizations, cooperatives, higher education institutions, foundations, and other entities important to regional development.
- Empower rural community leaders by creating national capacity and training programs that will help connect the expertise and resources of the USDA and national and regional technical assistance providers with rural regions.
- Establish a State-by-State Rural Innovation and Partnership Administration to oversee this new program and offer hands-on help to local leaders.
- Launch a Rural Future Corps in coordination with AmeriCorps to assist rural communities with implementing Rural Partnership Plans and expanding critical services including childcare, health services, nutrition assistance, education, and job training.
A summary of the legislation can be found here.
Full text of the Rebuild Rural America Act can be found here.