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Billions of dollars for rural America in the American Jobs Plan will go beyond traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges to tackle needs like broadband, housing, and economic development, according to the Biden administration.
The spending proposal, which will likely change would provide more than $10 billion for grants and loans to rural or tribal communities for water systems, $3 billion for infrastructure projects in rural areas, $2 billion in USDA Rural Development housing programs for low-income rural borrowers and renters, $20 billion over five years to fix 12,000 of the 30,000 smaller bridges currently in poor condition that are not part of the National Highway System.
On Monday, the White House released state-by-state fact sheets outlining what kinds of infrastructure investments would be included in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure legislation.
The $2.7 trillion spending proposal will expand the definition of infrastructure to include broadband, investing $100 billion on delivering broadband access to every family in the country. Other features of the proposal include supporting water-treatment infrastructure and access to caregiving and child care.
In March, during a virtual report on the American Society of Civil Engineers’ release of their report card on the nation’s infrastructure systems, U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina, 6th District) reiterated the importance of broadband.
“In the beginning of the internet, we called it the information highway,” he said. “And I’d like to see that become a part of our infrastructure. Broadband access is going to be key to rural America in the 21st century, just like electricity was key to rural America in the 20th century.”
Clyburn said that without expanded investment into infrastructure, the country faced creating new pockets of poverty.
Biden’s plan also calls for $400 billion to help older adults and people with disabilities get the care and caregivers they need, $300 billion to retool and revitalize manufacturing facilities in America and $18 billion to improve the Veterans Administration’s infrastructure.
For rural communities, the president would set aside $10 billion in Community Revitalization Funds to support community-led redevelopment projects in rural and urban areas to spark economic growth. The plan would remediate and redevelop idle rural properties, like former industrial and energy sites that have become sources of blight and pollution. The plan would also provide the U.S Department of Agriculture with $15 billion for subsidized credit programs aimed at bringing manufacturing to rural areas.
Some Republicans have called anything outside of roads and bridges “Green New Deal spending” and part of the “liberal agenda.”
“Joe Biden’s ‘infrastructure’ bill is nothing more than a massive tax hike in disguise,” U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-Alabama, 3rd District), said. “Our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, but all Joe Biden is focused on is green new deal and liberal, environmentalist job killing. Only a small percentage of this bill even addresses infrastructure. I’m against this package, and I will fight against it in the House.”
Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville said he would oppose it as well.
“As it stands now, only 6% of the $2.25 trillion proposed actually goes to fix bridges and roads, while the rest goes to big cities on the coasts and progressive priorities, leaving rural communities behind,” he said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has called the plan a gateway into Democratic priorities. “We’re hearing the next few months might bring a so-called infrastructure proposal that may actually be a Trojan horse for massive tax hikes and other job-killing left-wing policies,” McConnell said in March.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, similarly panned the proposal. “They’re terming it social infrastructure. Never heard that before,” Capito said to Newsweek. “I think we need to talk to the American people and say, ‘Is this what you envision with infrastructure?'”
Recent polls, however, indicate the plan has wide-ranging support, even from Republican voters.
A poll from Data for Progress and Invest in America found that 71% of voters strongly or somewhat support these “care infrastructure” proposals including 58% of Republicans, 64% of independents and 58%of Democrats. Only 19%of Republicans oppose those portions of the plan.
When asked if they supported providing affordable care for aging people and those with disabilities, 79%of voters said yes. Another 74%supported providing living wages to care givers, and 73%approved of plans to ensure affordable child care.