House GOP Members Push Bills to Address Rural Woes

November 14, 2017
In The News

Eleven House Republicans dubbing themselves the Rural Relief group plan to introduce a package of five bills Tuesday to address worsening economic and social woes in small-town America.

The bills include measures to bolster training for rural emergency medical service squads and rural students in technical education programs. Others would redirect some existing funding to help small towns manage the complex needs of the homeless and to help families whose children are substance abusers.

Another measure in the package, called the Rural Relief Initiative by the group, would set aside money in matching grants for communities to build and run workshops that let young students use 3-D printing and other new manufacturing techniques. Such “fab labs” have spread to many cities after the concept was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a decade ago.

The lawmakers who plan to introduce the legislation cited a Wall Street Journal series detailing the socioeconomic decline of rural America as the impetus for the bills. The series, called “One Nation, Divisible,” has detailed a generation-long decline that has left rural areas with rates of disease and dysfunction that rival or top those of large cities.

Rep. David Valadao (R., Calif.) said that the lack of access to medical care detailed in the Journal’s series spoke to the challenges his rural Central Valley district faces in luring doctors. Crime is also worsening, Mr. Valadao said, adding that he had caught people stealing fuel from his farm.

Mr. Valadao said his district was “disadvantaged” in securing federal funding, partly because thousands of inmates in state prisons boost populations enough to make towns ineligible for rural grants.

Separate from the bill package, he has sponsored a bill to exclude prisoners in criteria for population-based grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Constituents are frustrated that people in metropolitan areas have access to new infrastructure while rural residents lack basics, these lawmakers said. Rep. Sean Duffy, (R., Wis.) cited the fact that Milwaukee was building a $128 million streetcar line “and we don’t even have broadband in northern Wisconsin.”

He said that the bill package represents the first stage of an effort by rural lawmakers to support each other’s diverse needs and help small towns. He said the group deliberately chose simple ideas and sought little new funding — $100 million spread across five years.

Rep. David Young (R., Iowa) said parts of his district lack cellphone service. The House recently passed his measure to require the FCC to tighten regulation of firms that provide important intermediate links for landline service in rural areas to ensure better service.

Mr. Duffy cited urban economies of scale, especially in providing human services. Rural areas can get money to house homeless, but they struggle with associated issues such as addiction or mental illness, something urban areas have more infrastructure to handle. One proposal in the package would let rural areas hire case workers with some of the funds they receive to house the homeless.

The group also includes Reps. Rod Blum (R., Iowa), Mike Bost (R., Ill.), John Faso (R., N.Y.), Greg Gianforte (R., Mont.), Richard Hudson, (R., N.C.), Will Hurd (R., Texas), Bruce Poliquin (R., Maine) and Lloyd Smucker (R., Pa.).