Monday, August 19, 2019

Rural issues get more attention from presidential candidates this time, indicating that rural advocates are being heard

Though the 2020 presidential election is unlikely to hinge on rural policy positions, rural America is getting a lot more attention from Democratic presidential candidates than in recent elections. Bryce Oates writes for The Daily Yonder: "Last week I spent a lot of time reading and comparing statements and policy positions among the diverse field of Democratic candidates. Unlike any time I’ve seen in 20 years of rural advocacy and economic development work, many of the candidates are developing serious and innovative rural policy ideas that deserve more attention."

Many Democratic campaigns are championing rural infrastructure and telecommunications with specific budget and policy proposals. And many are "calling for aggressive changes in the health-care sector to address a crisis in rural health care facilities and availability. Most of them support agricultural reforms and conservation programs that would decrease greenhouse gas emissions," Oates writes.

Eight of the Democratic candidates have released comprehensive rural policy plans, as noted in the Yonder's running policy tracker. A few proposals stick out from the pack for "innovation and scope," Oates writes:
  • ARPA-Ag, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's proposed research and development initiative to encourage more environmentally friendly agriculture practices and share results of innovation. 
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren's plan to increase rural broadband by allowing public-sector internet providers such as local governments, Native American tribes, rural electric cooperatives and rural telephone cooperatives to compete with private companies.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's Rural Future Partnership Fund, $50 billion in public financing for multi-year, flexible block grants to local communities for rural revitalization projects. 
  • Sen. Cory Booker's proposed expansion of the Renewable Energy for America Program, which provides grants and loans to farmers and small rural business owners for installing and operating renewable energy systems.
Though many if not most rural policy proposals will face formidable challenges in actually being passed and implemented, Oates looks on the bright side: "While partisan and electoral politics are an ever-present barrier, rural people and organizations should take note that their consistent calls for more funding, resources and attention are working. Huge investments in rural broadband have been embraced by all of the Democrats in the race . . . Nearly all the candidates have called for aggressive antitrust action to curtail the market power of corporate agribusiness, a clear rejection of the hands-off approach during the Obama administration. The rural hospital closure crisis is being mentioned on the nationally televised debate stage. The climate crisis is being treated as a serious issue, with a 'just transition' to cleaner agriculture, forestry and mining practices in the spotlight."

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