HUDSON — To some New York legislators, there is an evident disconnect between rural, upstate communities and the federal government. U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, hope to bridge the gap with new proposed legislation they announced Monday.
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.
“Our rural communities have too often been on the sidelines, missing critical investment needs that have been persistent for way too long,” Delgado said at a press conference at Hudson Hall. “This bill gives rural communities the funding flexibility and technical assistance to help do what they know will assist their towns.”
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.
“My bill would provide communities like Hudson with multiyear, flexible block grants to support locally developed plans for regional economic growth,” Gillibrand said. “It would encourage rural communities to come together as a region and rebuild their economies.”
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 These include main street revitalization, along with rural broadband and outdated infrastructure to stimulate the economy; access to mental health services and investment in rehabilitation programs to help combat the opioid crisis;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.
“Those are just some really nuts-and-bolts ideas that, frankly, every small community in our state are desperate for,” Gillibrand said. “But I can tell you now, having traveled the country, everyone needs this. And so I’m very optimistic that with this knowledge I gained over the last year, I can really go to my Republican allies and say, ‘I know why you need this.’”
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-21, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at mmikati@ columbiagreenemedia.com.