Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Infrastructure bill has much for rural America

One square equals $1 billion. (Washington Post chart; click to enlarge)
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package Congress passed on Friday has much for rural America. Here's some of what we found, and more will likely be forthcoming later as we continue to comb through the gargantuan bill, which has:
  • $550 billion in new spending, which is mostly paid for but would add $256 billion to $350 billion to the deficit over the next decade without raising taxes. Most of the funding comes from unspent pandemic relief and tightening enforcement on reporting gains from cryptocurrency investments. (The National Association of Counties has a more detailed breakdown of the bill's funding sources.) Moody's Analytics estimates it could add as many as 660,000 jobs by 2025.
  • $110 billion for roads and bridges, with specific earmarks for Appalachian and Alaskan highways (Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, "were instrumental" in crafting the bipartisan package, according to The Washington Post.)
  • $66 billion for railroads. Passenger rail gets a lot of that money (the Post says Amtrak's expansion would be the largest ever, but the bill also has funding for freight-train safety.
  • $65 billion to expand broadband to under-served communities, including rural areas, including $14 billion for subsidizing internet bills for the poor, and $2 billion for the Agriculture Department's Reconnect Loan and Grant Program for rural areas.
  • $65 billion to update power lines and cables and invest upgrades to protect utilities from cyberattacks. It also has funding for renewable energy development.
  • At least $55 billion for water infrastructure, including $10 billion to clean up the "forever chemicals" per- and polyfluoroalkyls, and money for drinking water in tribal communities.
  • $47 billion for "resilience," mainly for cybersecurity upgrades to infrastructure and for addressing droughts, floods, coastal erosion and other extreme-weather issues.
  • $21 billion for cleanup of abandoned wells and mines.
  • $10 million over five years for the new Rural and Tribal Assistance Pilot Program through a new Build America Bureau. "The program would provide financial, technical and legal assistance; assistance with development-phase activities; and information on innovative financing practices to rural and Tribal communities. It would sunset after five years," NACo reports.
  • $2 billion over five years to fund the newly established Rural Surface Transportation Grant program for road and bridge projects. Under the new program, counties can apply directly to the Transportation Department for projects. The federal government will cover 80% of the costs for approved projects.
  • The Digital Equality Act of 2021, which prioritizes federal broadband funding for rural and other underserved communities.
  • Additional counties for the Appalachian Regional Commission service area; also, ARC is eligible for new funding initiatives. Manchin's wife Gayle is ARC's federal co-chair.
  • Three more years for the Secure Rural Schools program, which the Forest Service funds to make up for losses in timber revenue.
Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler debunks claims that the bill isn't mainly for infrastructure.

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