Today a national collaborative of rural policy and advocacy organizations released the “2021 Rural Policy Action Report,” which outlines specific investments, policy improvements, and regulatory reforms designed to improve the economy, infrastructure, and equity for diverse rural communities.
“We came together over the past few months to hammer out a comprehensive rural federal policy action agenda that reflects the wide diversity of rural people, rural needs and rural experience,” said Shawn Sebastian, Senior Strategist on Rural Policy and Organizing for People’s Action. “From racial and gender equity to a more fair economy to jobs and infrastructure, this report provides a roadmap for rural policy we hope the Biden Administration and this Congress prioritize in the next two years.”
In the early weeks of 2021, the Rural Democracy Initiative, Farm Action Fund, and RuralOrganizing.org began assembling a Rural Policy Summit to engage rural advocates across policy sectors and around the country. To understand the full scope of work and life in rural communities, the organizers gathered input from Indigenous communities, healthcare workers, family farmers, rural educators, farmworkers, small business leaders, elected officials, and more. Discussions were conducted through 35 in-depth interviews with policy leaders, six group discussions by policy sector, and a two-day convening of over 60 experts and organizers.
Participants grouped the most strategic, popular, and critical Rural Policy Action demands into four primary pillars, including:
End historic discrimination
Invest in rural communities
Rein in corporate monopolies and prioritize working people and locally owned businesses
Build a rural economy that prioritizes community and is sustainable, not extractive
“Our policy advocacy and organizing efforts are already paying off,” said Joe Maxwell, President of Farm Action Fund. “The American Rescue Act and the Biden American Jobs Plan proposal includes many of our rural priorities. Our political leaders need to build on this momentum, and reverse the bipartisan legacy of rural wealth extraction and deprioritization.”
Participating groups say this report is unique because it cuts across multiple sectors, challenging policymakers to expand their notion of rural policy. “Rural policy is so much more than debates about agriculture exports and farm subsidies. Our report is inclusive of rural environmental justice issues, economic viability and infrastructure, healthcare access and affordability, and the rural imperative of a more robust public sector,” said Wisconsin Farmers Union Executive Director Julie Keown-Bomar.
The report seeks to dispel myths about rural communities and identifies seven themes that prevailed throughout the report development process:
1. RURAL AMERICA IS DIVERSE, AND RURAL PEOPLE HAVE EXPERIENCED UNIQUE SYSTEMIC DISCRIMINATION. Rural America is only slightly less diverse than urban America, a gap that continues to close. And Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Asian residents of rural communities have experienced specific systemic racism and discrimination in federal policy and government operations. Policymakers should acknowledge this and take action to help correct these historic and current wrongdoings.
2. RURAL ECONOMIC DRIVERS ARE INCREASINGLY EXTRACTIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE. Federal and state policies have allowed corporations with concentrated power and political influence to extract wealth and resources, drive small businesses and family farmers out of business, and exploit vulnerable workers. We must hold corporate power and influence to account, rein in monopolistic behavior, and create a level playing field for rural workers, farmers, small businesses, and cooperatives.
3. GOVERNMENT INVESTMENT IS DESPERATELY NEEDED. We must substantially increase federal grants and capital to pay for infrastructure, public services, job creation, housing, small business development, conservation of natural resources, and health care improvements. In fact, infrastructure is just as important for the health of rural communities as it is for urban spaces.
4. MANY RURAL COMMUNITY GOVERNMENTS LACK ESSENTIAL CIVIC CAPACITY. In addition to funding for physical infrastructure, rural communities need funding for human capital, technical assistance and staffing to develop and procure rural resources through grants, loans and other means.
5. POLICYMAKERS OFTEN DO NOT PRIORITIZE RURAL LIVABILITY. MANY PEOPLE WANT TO STAY IN RURAL COMMUNITIES OR RETURN TO THEM. Unfortunately, there is a lack of policy to promote basic livability features, including high-speed internet, affordable housing, access to high-quality healthcare, pre-k, K-12, vocational and higher education, child care, and arts and culture. Further, our government – across parties – often promotes extractive and polluting industries that make communities less livable in the name of economic growth.
6. AN EFFECTIVE RURAL AGENDA AVOIDS ADDRESSING ISSUES AS SILOS. Integration of policy across issue areas is necessary to create thriving rural communities. Rural economic vitality cannot be separated from essential services like healthcare and education or the management of resources like public lands. Effective rural policy focuses on the community as a whole.
7. MANY POLICIES HAVE A SIMILAR DETRIMENTAL IMPACT ON URBAN AND RURAL COMMUNITIES. Urban and rural communities alike face crumbling infrastructure from decades of government deprioritization, a lack of choices due to the monopolization of our markets, and challenges accessing affordable health care or jobs with good pay and benefits. The best way to address the perceived “rural-urban divide” is by building a coalition of rural and urban people united around an agenda that puts the government to work revitalizing all communities and improving people’s lives.
The Rural Policy Action Report was Co-Hosted by the Rural Democracy Initiative, Farm Action Fund, and RuralOrganizing.org, and sponsored by Rural Democracy Initiative. For more information and to read the full report, visit https://ruralpolicyaction.us/.