During the 2020 campaign the Biden-Harris campaign promised to do more for rural America. This administration and Congressional Democrats are making transformational investments in rural people and places. The 2022 midterm results tell us that when Democrats show up, listen, and work with local people – we can make a difference. But there is much more work to do.
The reality is that for decades rural communities have been left behind by both parties. For the past few decades Republicans have made electoral gains in rural America by showing up and making empty promises, while Democrats have just not shown up. The depth of the disconnect between federal program implementation and rural communities has been stark.
Those of us to live in rural places can give you chapter and verse on the ways that federal programs don’t get to our communities. Federal agencies have shown a consistent lack of understanding of the real barriers rural people and governments face in getting access to programs designed to help our communities. A few examples: are the lack of access to experienced grant writers, matching fund requirements, reimbursement funding structures, and a very basic failure to communicate about opportunities and how to access them.
Right now, an additional challenge is that so many rural communities have Republican elected officials who are wholly committed to proving that government doesn’t work. They refuse to apply for or use the federal money that is available. Resources for basic infrastructure that will help our communities thrive like broadband, water systems, public health, housing/homelessness are not being leveraged because it’s “government.” This creates the worst of all worlds – investments allocated for rural places go unused and rural people continue to be left behind.
While Republicans continue to focus on partisan politics and blaming Democrats for the problems our communities face, the Biden Administration and Democrats are focused on fixing things.
As a rural person living at the intersection of the disconnect between government policymakers and the needs of underserved communities, the most exciting change I have seen with the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats is the recognition of the need to engage communities. I see more and more federal agency leaders displaying an understanding of the challenges – and a willingness to listen.
One example of the strength of the Democrats commitment to rural America is the development of the Rural Partners Network (RPN). It’s a first-of-its-kind collaboration between federal agencies and networks of local leaders and stakeholders working together to improve the community and economic well-being of rural areas. This website Rural.gov Homepage | Rural.gov is an incredible resource for rural people and governments to navigate the incredibly complex federal funding resources for people in every state.
An exciting aspect of this program is that the USDA is hiring local people to serve as Community Liaisons to work on the ground with selected Community Networks in Alaska, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. These Community Liaison positions are designed to help rural people clarify community improvement priorities, navigate federal programs, build relationships, and identify additional resources to promote locally driven solutions.
The Biden Harris Administration and Congressional Democrats have recognized that rural America has been left behind. They are working to keep the promise of helping our communities, but there are still real barriers to progress. We all have a role to play in ensuring that these investments hit the ground in our communities, reflect a genuine connection to the needs of our communities that helps us build homegrown prosperity together.
Teresa Purcell is a national political, communications and organizing consultant. During the 2022 midterm election cycle, she served the Democratic National Committee as senior adviser for rural engagement.