Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., at an event at SUNY Westchester Community College in May of 2023, in Valhalla, New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Rebuild Rural America Act of 2023 was introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, and aims to infuse $50 billion into programs designed to support rural America across different areas of need. 

Among other provisions, the bill would fund the creation of the Rural Future Corps, a program that would place AmeriCorps fellows in rural communities to help in areas including health, nutrition, education, and job training. The program would work to retain the members to the rural area after one year of service. 

In many instances, rural areas have volunteer officials and lack capacity. This bill would help them with both money and people power, said Tony Pipa, senior fellow in the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution. 

“This, I think, is place-based policy that focuses specifically on rural, and specifically, to get resources to the types of rural communities that find it most challenging to be able to transform where they’ve been economically and socially,” he told the Daily Yonder. 

Gillibrand said in an interview that there exists a maze of more than 400 federal programs spread across 13 departments and over 50 offices and sub-agencies intended to support rural communities.

“The scattered nature of these programs makes it difficult for rural communities to identify grants, loans, and other sources of assistance and to apply for that funding,” she told the Daily Yonder. “Many rural communities often cannot afford grant writers or lobbyists to apply for funds, nor should they be expected to.”

She added that the bill “simplifies and streamlines” resources for rural communities by providing a “straightforward, renewable, flexible source of block-grant funding.”

There are no Republican sponsors on the bill. However, Gillibrand said she believes investment in rural communities is a bipartisan issue. 

“The upcoming Farm Bill will require votes from members of both parties in order to pass,” she said. “I have had productive conversations with colleagues on both sides of the aisle about this legislation, and I believe some form of this proposal has potential to make it into the Farm Bill.”

Annie Contractor, associate manager of Government Affairs at Education Fund, said there are a lot of rural places led by Republican leaders that could benefit from the bill. 

“So I’m disappointed to see that so far, we haven’t had any Republican co-sponsors on the bill,” Contractor told the Daily Yonder. “I think that there’s a missed opportunity here, particularly in communities where  folks have been newly elected – new leaders – and those communities, I think, should be looking at what their communities need. And economic distress is a persistent need in a lot of those places.”

In fact, she said some of the things that stand out in the Rebuild Rural America Act is that marginalized groups and groups that have historically been left behind are specifically called out as beneficiaries of the bill. 

“Native people and Native communities and those who support Native communities are specifically named, which we know from activists, Native activists, who are supporting their own communities are really calling for that in every piece of federal legislation,” she said. 

Additionally, she said data shows that eight out of 10 distressed communities are rural, and about 60% of the people who live in those places are people of color. 

“That focus on distressed communities, economically distressed communities, is really a great target to reach communities that have experienced that systematic disinvestment by policy over the past 100 years,” she added. 

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