Canton, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today spoke at St. Lawrence University’s 17th Annual North Country Symposium and announced her legislation that would prioritize federal investment for rural communities and small towns across New York State. The conference brought community members, businesses, and civic leaders together to discuss economic development initiatives in the region. The theme for this year’s conference was “Movement in the North Country” with a focus on rural migration patterns and how community development can help attract businesses and residents to the North Country. Gillibrand’s legislation, the Rebuild Rural America Act, would improve the way that the federal government supports development projects in small towns and rural communities in order to better fit their specific needs.
“Rural communities are at the very heart of New York, and their development is key to helping our state, and our nation, succeed. These communities face complex challenges that demand comprehensive solutions and long-term planning, but the current federal grant system is too narrow and inflexible to truly address their specific needs,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We have to reimagine how the federal government partners with and invests in rural communities, which is why I am proud to unveil the Rebuild Rural America Act. My bill would encourage rural communities to come together as a region and rebuild their economies with the support and flexibility of a consistent federal funding source. I’m proud to lead the effort to deliver our rural communities the support they actually need, and this bill is a good place to start.”
“Senator Gillibrand has been a leader in her support of providing access to funding for rural communities like the North Country,” said William L. Fox, President, St. Lawrence University. “Her demonstrated leadership on rural issues at the federal level is a tremendous asset and advantage to St. Lawrence University students, faculty, and staff.”
“The Rebuild Rural America Act proposes an important new policy that offers real solutions to the unique challenges facing rural places,” said Tom Vilsack, former Secretary of Agriculture in the Obama Administration. “Unique to this proposal is the element of partnership in every aspect of a comprehensive vision for a powerful rural economy and an improved quality of community life for rural regions across the country. This bill places a premium on rural communities leading the effort with government assistance and carves out an expanded role for cooperatives to play in rebuilding the rural economy, all of which are essential to the success and prosperity of rural America.”
Federal grant funding is often inaccessible to rural communities and too inflexible to fully meet local development needs. This makes it difficult for rural communities and small towns to plan and implement the comprehensive, long-term development projects required to address the complex challenges they face. 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. This would help rural communities better plan for and encourage economic growth across regions.
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 proportionately 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.
The Rebuild Rural America Act has been endorsed by the Center on Rural Innovation, Fahe, Family Farm Action, Farm Credit Council, Housing Assistance Council (HAC), Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), National Association of Counties, National Association of Development Organizations, National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA, National Farmers Union, Neighboring Food Co-op Association, New England Farmers Union, People’s Action, Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), and United Action for Idaho.
More details of the legislation may be found here.