Thursday, February 25, 2021
Panel of rural experts say Biden administration needs more rural voices
"Rural perspectives should be present in every office in the Biden administration, said a panel of rural policy experts convened by students at Kenyon College. When decision-makers don’t understand rural communities, bad policy can be the result," Olivia Weeks reports for The Daily Yonder. "The biggest takeaway from the panel, said Daniel Napsha—founder of The Rural Cause initiative at Kenyon, is the need for rural voices in policy discussions. A non-representative body of policymakers has resulted in major structural problems, he said." The Rural Cause, which sponsored the panel, is a student-led advocacy group seeking to strengthen ties between Kenyon College and its rural Ohio surroundings.
The Feb. 18 panel, called "The Future of Rural America Under President Biden," also discussed the need for direct rural-development funding, the importance of data collection, the dangers of stereotyping rural America, and the policy implications of misunderstanding rural America.
Another common problem in discussing rural needs is that too many lawmakers conflate "rural" with "white" or "agricultural," which often means racial and ethnic minorities, including Native Americans, get left out of the discussion. "One way to help policymakers differentiate between rural America and farmers, said Zoe Willingham, research associate at the Center for American Progress, is to decouple rural policy from the Department of Agriculture, which houses non-agricultural rural-development programs in housing, broadband and utilities infrastructure, and a range of other community-development activities.
Increased broadband access would help overall rural resiliency, said John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health, Libraries Broadband Coalition. Direct funding is needed to make that happen, he said, noting that it will cost an estimated $80 billion to bring broadband to all rural Americans. However, he also said it's difficult to assess rural broadband reach because of faulty Federal Communications Commission data maps.