2023 Rural Policy Action Report
A national collaborative of rural policy and advocacy organizations released their 2023 Rural Action Policy Report, outlining specific investments, policy improvements, and regulatory reforms to provide the tools rural people need to succeed. The report highlights the ongoing challenges people in rural communities face, the numerous policy successes since the publication of the previous report in 2021, and recommends federal policies that will continue to improve the economy, infrastructure, and resources for these communities.
Earlier this year, more than 50 rural advocates from across the country gathered in Omaha, Nebraska for the 2023 Rural Policy Summit. They identified key federal and state policies designed to support rural people and the places they live. Advocates discussed priority legislation and executive action that will ensure all working families, no matter where they live or the color of their skin, have the opportunity and tools to build a good life and strengthen their communities.
Rural advocates are taking note of the progress their communities have made and warn policy makers to not lose this momentum. “In the first two years of the Biden administration, with tireless work from rural advocates, we witnessed a dramatic change of direction for rural places as many of these policies were enacted, including the most significant investments in rural America in a generation,” Sarah Jaynes, Executive Director for the Rural Democracy Initiative writes in the report.
The report includes four rural spotlights, written by rural advocates and local elected officials. Erik Hatlestad from CURE writes how federal investment in rural electric co-ops will create 90,000 jobs, reduce energy costs by up to 20%, and eliminate massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
"Rural America has a historic opportunity to reinvest in our communities and our rural electric cooperatives that will create rural jobs, save rural people money, and act on the climate crisis. Rural people need and deserve a future that puts workers, farmers, and communities first," said contributor Hatlestad.
There are also stark criticisms of federal policy. Chanda Causer of Main Street Alliance and Katy Milani of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance describe how small businesses are being crushed by federal policy that prioritizes giant corporations.
“When these giant corporations land in our communities, they displace small businesses,” said Causer. “What happens when there is no other option for employment within a 60-mile radius? This movement is about serving all aspects of rural communities, and if we want a thriving, healthy community, we must organize small business owners to influence local legislative decisions.”
Three elected officials describe the ongoing barriers to implementing Federal programs. J.D. Scholten, a State Representative in Iowa, Jaime Kinder, Mayor of Meadville, Pennsylvania, and Sherri Jones, Governing Board Member of Florence Unified School District, Arizona “call on federal officials to lead a collaborative effort with all levels of government to ensure programs are accessible to rural communities.”
The report combines the most strategic, popular, and critical needs facing rural, working people today, and compiles them into four primary pillars, including:
- Protect people’s freedom to live and work safely and without discrimination
- Invest in foundational infrastructure for thriving communities
- Rein in unchecked corporate greed and safeguard the power of workers, small businesses, and family farmers to build a good life
- Ensure opportunities for a more secure, prosperous, and sustainable future
The report amplifies the voices of rural organizers, shining a light on the many diverse backgrounds of rural communities, the challenges they face and the tools they need to address them. “While the post-COVID narrative is largely one of remarkable recovery, rural areas, like after the Great Recession, are slower to recover and more vulnerable to additional pressures like inflation. The Rural Policy Action Report helps show how daily economic concerns are connected to rural folks having the power to make decisions that impact their lives” said Annie Contractor, the Associate Manager of Government Affairs at RuralOrganizing.org.
The report highlights policy implementation made over the past two years and urges federal agencies and state governments to consider the realities of the communities they are working with as they make decisions about critical investments and policy change. “Working together, we can build an economy from the bottom up and middle out, not the top down,” said Jaynes. “We can build an economy that doesn’t leave rural communities behind. And we can end an era of unrestrained corporate power, level the playing field, and ensure people have the power to set a course toward clean air and water, better health, and a more prosperous future for everyone.”