CANTON — In a last-minute addition to St. Lawrence University’s 17th annual North Country Symposium, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., announced her $50 billion Rebuild Rural America Act, which she said would prioritize federal investment for rural communities and small towns across the state.
If passed, the act would create a new $50 billion grant program, the Rural Future Partnership Fund, to provide non-competitive, five-year, renewable block grants to certified rural regions to implement locally-developed regional revitalization plans.
The symposium, held at the St. Lawrence University Eben-Holden Conference Center, filled the center with community members, businesses and civic leaders who Sen. Gillibrand encouraged to ask their local congresswoman to support the act as a “great piece of advocacy.”
The announcement was in step with the annual symposium’s theme, “Movement in the North Country,” with a focus on rural migration patterns and how community development can help attract businesses and residents to the north country.
The Rebuild Rural America Act would improve the way that the federal government supports development projects in small towns and rural communities in order to better fit their specific needs, she said.
“We really wrote this legislation back on the years of work that this group has done,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “The work we do, right here, at the North Country Symposium, to develop proposals and programs that serve our communities is really inspiring and deeply important, so I am grateful for the work that you guys do every day for the north country, and I will continue to partner with you, listen to you, use your ideas, lift them up and find common-sense, bipartisan solutions for every challenge you offer.”
Sen. Gillibrand said she is currently seeking that bipartisan support for the act, with cosponsor U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, and believes she can urge Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-21, to support it.
Moreover, Sen. Gillibrand said she will be traveling with senators Joni K. Ernst, R-IA, and Shelley W. Moore Capito, R-W.V., who she said she believed would support the proposed act, both coming from rural states.
“This is the kind of common-sense solution that really shouldn’t have a bipartisan edge,” she said. “This bill would help multiple places in New York and I would be assisting all of those regions to apply for this money and it is a generous program. It is a $50 billion program over five years, so that’s $10 billion just dedicated to rural America and I think because we have such strong economic advocates and leaders in New York, we’ll get our fair share of those funds because we will be competing with other states, not amongst ourselves.”
The proposed bill would also apply to education and would create several programs.
Sen. Gillibrand said the Rebuild Rural America Act would establish a dedicated stream of federal funding for rural communities and provide guaranteed, multi-year, flexible block grants to support regional economic growth, which would help rural communities better plan for and encourage economic growth across regions.
Following the public announcement, a news release from Sen. Gillibrand’s office spelled out the Act in more detail, stating federal grant funding is often inaccessible to rural communities and too inflexible to fully meet local development needs.
According to the release, if the bill is passed:
n Funding will be allocated proportionately based on the population of each region, with an increased allocation for regions that include areas that have a poverty rate greater than 20 percent.
n Eligible regions include those with a central community of 10,000 to 50,000 people, collections of rural census tracts or counties outside of regions with a central community of 10,000 to 50,000 people, and Indian reservations. States, in coordination with USDA, will certify the regions’ participation in the program.
n Encourage rural regions to develop comprehensive, collaborative, and locally-driven community and economic development plans that revitalize infrastructure, provide support for public services and job training and foster local entrepreneurship.
n Require interested rural regions to form a Regional Rural Partnership Council that brings together local leaders, elected officials, economic development organizations, cooperatives, higher education institutions, foundations and other entities important to regional development.
n Empower rural community leaders by creating national capacity and training programs that will help connect the expertise and resources of the USDA and national and regional technical assistance providers with rural regions.
n Establish a state-by-state Rural Innovation and Partnership Administration to oversee this new program and offer hands-on help to local leaders.
n Launch a Rural Future Corps in coordination with AmeriCorps to assist rural communities with implementing Rural Partnership Plans and expanding critical services including childcare, health services, nutrition assistance, education and job training.
“And last, it creates new capacity building and training programs that will help connect the expertise and resources of the federal government and national and regional technical assistance providers with your region,” she told the crowd. “So if somebody wants to become an expert in any of these fields, it will provide funds actually to fund that.”
The Rebuild Rural America Act has been endorsed by the Center on Rural Innovation, Fahe, Family Farm Action, Farm Credit Council, Housing Assistance Council, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, National Association of Counties, National Association of Development Organizations, National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA, National Farmers Union, Neighboring Food Co-op Association, New England Farmers Union, People’s Action, Rural Community Assistance Corporation, The Rural Community Assistance Partnership and United Action for Idaho.