Rural America is the backbone of our country. We depend on the food, fiber and fuel produced in rural communities every day. And the success of rural America, home to these vital economic sectors, depends upon quality infrastructure.
Unfortunately, rural infrastructure has deteriorated, jeopardizing the stability of rural communities and the health of rural residents. The ability to keep people in rural America to produce the resources that keep our country moving is a critical factor in America’s international competitiveness. Losing that integrated network will threaten our leadership position in global trade and negatively impact the quality of life for rural Americans.
This is why more than 250 organizations nationwide have joined together to form the Rebuild Rural Coalition. These institutions are focused on improving our country’s rural infrastructure to benefit rural families, rural communities, rural businesses and cooperatives and agricultural producers. They understand that the infrastructure improvements required in rural America are fundamentally different from those required in urban areas. They are also intimately aware that past infrastructure spending largely has benefitted urban areas. It’s time to invest and rebuild rural infrastructure.
The needs are many and the urgency high. To help Congress understand the breadth and depth of the need, the Rebuild Rural Coalition outlines rural America’s needs in the following subject areas:
America’s land-grant universities and other agricultural research institutes provide essential education, research and public outreach that informs the production of U.S. food, fiber and renewable fuel. However, these facilities require modernization to ensure that first-class scientists have the resources necessary to conduct cutting-edge research.
Broadband is vital to economic development, education, agriculture and healthcare. Yet, millions of rural Americans lack access to the basic broadband speeds taken for granted by urbanites. Rural communities need the same robust, affordable and reliable broadband services in order to have access to resources and participate meaningfully in the national economy.
Much has changed since the nation electrified in the early 1900s, but the same fundamental challenge endures – how to affordably connect customers in low-density, high-cost, rural areas. The Rural Unities Service (RUS) loan program has helped modernize the grid, combat cyber threats and integrate renewable energy into rural communities. RUS must continue to respond to borrowers’ needs and Congress must continue to fund USDA energy loan programs.
Federal funding for rural projects is vital but often limited, and rural infrastructure projects are frequently too small to attract funds from major financial institutions. Private sector partners are crucial to guaranteeing that rural infrastructure projects have access to affordable, long-term financing.
Rural residents are older, poorer and sicker on average than those who live in urban centers. However, since 2010 more than one third of rural healthcare facilities have either closed or been marked vulnerable. Technologies such as telehealth, combined with access to broadband, aid early diagnosis and treatment, leading to a better quality of life with healthier residents and lower healthcare costs.
Rural residents require quality and affordable housing. Low income rural Americans depend on multifamily housing loans through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and farms would likely be unable to attract the employees they need without USDA Farm Labor Housing Direct Loans and Grants. Additionally, with a higher proportion of individuals over 50 years old, rural communities need more senior care facilities.
As the primary source of food, energy and fiber, rural America depends upon resilient infrastructure to distribute products to the urban centers that house the majority of the population. Surface transportation systems, including railways, roads and bridges, and waterways must be improved to ensure that resources are transported efficiently to the areas of highest demand.
Most of America’s water utilities are small and their maintenance costs high. Counties with few tax-paying residents often lack the necessary resources to access commercial credit. A combination of federal direct loans, loan guarantees and grants, as well as private financing, is vital.
As the cost of complacency increases, rural America demands the nation’s attention to address these myriad of infrastructure-related challenges. While federal investment plays a crucial role in repairing and expanding infrastructure, it cannot fully meet the vast diversity of needs. The Rebuild Rural Coalition believes that the best long term solution for rural communities will be comprised of a public-private partnership.
The needs specific to rural America will not simply disappear, and as Congress considers infrastructure legislation both large and small, rural American deserves a seat at the table. It is time to improve the nation’s rural infrastructure and, in so doing, empower rural communities and strengthen the economy.