A bill supported by U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would reduce obstacles to receiving federal grants and give community leaders a greater voice in how these funds are spent.

The Rebuild Rural America Act would establish a $50 billion program to provide grants to certified rural areas. If passed and signed into law, it will allow local planners to apply for funds to use on revitalization ideas they generate. Ms. Gillibrand promoted the legislation Oct. 21 at a news conference in Hudson with U.S. Rep. Antonio R. Delgado, D-Rhinebeck.

“The Rebuild Rural America Act proposes an overhaul of the current federal funding model with a $50 billion, multiyear federal grant solely for rural communities across the country. The grant would address complex rural issues ranging from rural broadband to aging infrastructure to child care,” according to a story published Oct. 21 by the Watertown Daily Times. “Delgado and Gillibrand both said the current complex, bureaucratic system that requires excessive time, energy, expert staff and finances to apply for and continue receiving grants has put rural communities without sufficient resources at a disadvantage. In addition, federal grants are too narrowly defined and inflexible, they said. The Rebuild Rural America Act would even the playing field.

“There are multiple types of investment that need to be made in rural communities to help them thrive, that the federal government is not designed to comprehensively address, Gillibrand said. These include main street revitalization, along with rural broadband and outdated infrastructure to stimulate the economy; access to mental health services and investment in rehabilitation programs to help combat the opioid crisis; modernizing schools with broadband access and smart technology; and ensuring rural communities have access to quality child care, health care and long-term care.”

Ms. Gillibrand further discussed the bill at St. Lawrence University’s 17th annual North Country Symposium, held Nov. 18 in the school’s Eben Holden Conference Center. She credited people who attended the event with providing the foundation for her proposal.

“We really wrote this legislation back on the years of work that this group has done,” Ms. Gillibrand was quoted as saying in a story published Nov. 18 by the Watertown Daily Times. “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.”

The program she proposed would offer noncompetitive, five-year, renewable block grants. It 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,” according to the story.

This bill has real potential for helping community planners design innovative ways of enhancing local economies. It’s good that Ms. Gillibrand has recognized the unique needs of rural areas and tailored her legislation to address concerns specific to regions such as Northern New York.

The $50 billion price tag may pose challenges to attracting enough support in the U.S. Senate. But we commend Ms. Gillibrand for her work on this bill and urge her colleagues on Capitol Hill to move it through the process.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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