Tuesday, October 22, 2019

New Yorkers offer bills to revamp, raise rural funding, create Rural Future Corps to send youth to rural areas, maybe stay

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who recently gave up her Democratic presidential bid, has introduced legislation meant to revamp and increase federal funding for rural areas. Rep. Antonio Delgado, also of New York, will introduce a House version, Cara Chapman reports for the Plattsburgh Press-Republican in the state's northeastern tip.

The Rebuild Rural America Act would establish a new $50 billion Rural Future Partnership Fund that would provide flexible, multi-year block grants for regional rural revitalization projects. "Rural regions that work together to become certified would automatically receive a commitment of five-year, renewable funding to support progress on the region’s locally developed goals and objectives," says Gillibrand's summary of the bill.

Gillibrand told Chapman that the bill is needed because "Federal grants are often too narrow and inflexible to support the development needs of rural communities." Rural communities can find it difficult to apply for grants because they often don't have enough staff and expertise, and shouldn't have to employ lobbyists or dedicated grant writers to access funding, she said.

Eligible projects would include entrepreneurship, infrastructure, public services, skills training and job placement, and improving disaster response. Gillibrand's summary of the bill promises a new, streamlined approach to disaster response and recovery that can help aid arrive sooner. 

The bill also proposes launching a "Rural Future Corps," which would be a joint effort of the Department of Agriculture and AmeriCorps to expand services like child care, health care, nutrition assistance, education and job training. Another aim of the program: persuade corps members to stay in the rural areas where they've served after they're done with their stint.

The act would be funded one of two ways, Gillibrand said. "Should a hoped-for bipartisan infrastructure bill come about — the senator noted President Donald Trump's frequent statements that he wants to invest $1 billion in that sector — a $50 billion piece would be dedicated solely to rural America," Chapman reports. "That would be combined with other infrastructure bills the senator has written to make for a comprehensive approach."

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