New Resource Guide for State-based Rural Policy
Blueprint for Rural Policy Action in the States
State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and Rural Democracy Initiative created a resource guide for state policymakers and advocates to take action to benefit Rural America. Issues range from advancing the freedom to vote, access to business licenses, strengthening economic competition and local food economies, and protecting rural water quality. Each issue area includes policy priorities, example legislation, and the context for how these issues impact people in rural communities.
State Policy Impacts Rural Communities
Many of the decisions that most directly impact the lives of rural people are made at the state level, from Medicaid expansion and hospital funding to factory farm siting and enforcement of clean water rules to broadband expansion. Too often, these decisions reflect the priorities of big business and lobbyists, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Grassroots organizations, policy groups, and rural leaders can work with state legislatures to advance policies that make a difference for rural people. By listening to rural residents and building relationships with organizations and small businesses, state legislators can advance policies that will give rural communities the resources we need to take care of each other and succeed.
Making Progressive Rural Policy Possible
The Blueprint for Rural Policy Action in the States helps legislators and advocacy organizations establish progressive solutions that create new opportunities for people to improve their lives. Using the Blueprint, advocates can select their priority issue and then quickly access several examples of state legislation, each one vetted by rural policy experts. For rural advocates who are interested in progressive policy but haven’t determined a focus area, they can browse the over 25 policy areas — organized into four pillars — for inspiration and to match with community needs.
Most of the priority issues for rural communities are also important for urban communities, and these policies offer significant opportunities for coalitions across geography. However, the policies for rural communities should be discussed in ways that resonate with people in towns and rural communities. In addition, the solutions need to be created with specific knowledge of the communities and in partnership with the people most directly impacted. For example, working families struggle to find affordable, safe, and stable housing in both rural and urban areas. Yet, the differences of population density, availability of private capital, sewer and water infrastructure, and scale of local government planning resources means that the solutions are different in rural and urban communities. For each issue, the Blueprint provides context relevant for rural communities and legislation specifically written to include rural needs.
It’s also important to note who actually lives in rural communities. A common narrative among progressives holds that rural communities are all-white and conservative, but according to the 2020 census, one in four rural Americans is Black, Indigenous, or Hispanic. We must approach our organizing in all communities by leading with shared values and being explicit that we stand for racial justice. The Blueprint includes specific policies to end historical discrimination, such as championing fair opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and people of color farmers. And throughout the Blueprint, policies are lifted up that support communities across race.
The research is informed by a broad view of what rural Americans want and need. As an organizer of and in service to more than 3500 values-aligned state legislators, SiX understands that meaningful policy change requires deep community input, the centering of those most impacted, and a race-forward stance that builds the capacity of activists and lawmakers to succeed. Rural Democracy Initiative grants to over 100 groups building powerful, permanent civic and political infrastructure in small towns, small cities, and rural communities. The following organizations also contributed to the resource guide: Center on Rural Innovation, Farm Action, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Main Street Alliance, Northwest Farmers Union, Progress Michigan, RuralOrganizing.org, Small Business Majority, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, and Wisconsin Farmers Union.
State-Focus Report Complements 2021 Federal Report
In 2021, Rural Democracy Initiative, Farm Action, and RuralOrganizing.org convened rural advocates from across the country to create the Rural Policy Action Report. Identifying the top rural federal policy priorities for the year, the report was widely publicized and was shared directly with policymakers and key decision-makers in the Biden administration.
Many of the recommendations of the 2021 report were adopted and have made a significant impact in people’s lives. The American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funded key programs for public health, economic recovery, and job growth. The Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy calls for new and better rules to lower prescription drug prices, increase wages, expand internet access, and establish the “right to repair” which empowers people to fix their equipment and property without going to an authorized agent. The Postal Service Reform Act funds the USPS and removes artificial barriers to economic sustainability. The Act also supports reliable delivery across the country and enables the USPS to collaborate with local governments to provide non-postal services.
Recognizing state legislatures as critical sites for game-changing policy, the Blueprint for Rural Policy Action in the States is an addendum to the 2021 federally-focused Rural Policy Action Report. Building on the original report’s key priorities and challenges, this report provides detailed research on many issues facing rural regions and offers examples of strategic and popular policies introduced and enacted to address these issues in states around the country.
RDI combined the state-level research from the Blueprint for Rural Policy Action in the States with the federal policy priorities from the Rural Policy Action Report into a policy toolkit at ruralpolicyaction.us. A separate state-based PDF will be published later this year. The 2021 Federal report is also accessible as a standalone PDF.
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