We Demanded A Bold New Paradigm For Building Rural Prosperity From the Bottom Up And Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats Are Delivering
We all agree that the small town way of life is worth fighting for and that no one should have to choose between leaving their hometown and providing their family with opportunity, healthcare, and financial security.
That’s why, for over a year, RuralOrganizing.org has been advocating for a strategic program to unlock federal funding for small towns and rural communities. As a down payment on a comprehensive overhaul of failed federal programs in rural America, we joined with a loose coalition of rural advocates calling for a new, bottom-up approach to rebuilding rural economies that puts local leaders in the driver seat.
Now, President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats appear to be doing something about it, and our work is starting to pay off.
Today, the House Agriculture Committee released their piece of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that includes more than $18 billion rural prosperity, water and energy programs and an historic $40 billion for forestry programs over the next decade.
Included in the details released today by House Democrats is a new $4 billion “Rural Partnership Program” championed by Rep. Antonio Delgado, Rep. Cheri Bustos, and Rep. Angie Craig that’s focused on giving local, rural experts the tools they need to leverage federal funds to bring good paying jobs to their communities.
At the core of the new $4 billion rural Partnership Program are two new grant programs called “Rural Prosperity Development Grants’ and “Rural Innovation Grants” that will remain in effect until September 30, 2031.
The new Rural Prosperity Development Grants will provide $3.5 billion to micropolitan local/tribal governments, veteran authorities, non-profit & for-profit organizations, philanthropic organizations, community development financial institutions, cooperative extension, and institutions of higher education working to reduce poverty and increase homegrown prosperity in small towns and rural communities.
In the past, the most economically disadvantaged rural communities struggled to leverage federal funds intended to promote economic opportunities because they lacked the grant writing, strategic planning, and administrative resources needed to access federal dollars.
The Rural Prosperity Development Grants in the Democrat’s Reconciliation bill changes this precedent by providing these economically disadvantaged communities with the tools they need to compete and waive the 25% matching requirements for communities experiencing economic distress.
Additionally, House Democrats are allocating another $370 million for Rural Prosperity Innovation Grants to provide technical assistance to support groups awarded RPD grants.
And the commitments to rural America in the House reconciliation bill don’t stop there.
The climate crisis is uniquely impacting small towns and rural communities. An increase in flooding in some communities and wildfires and droughts in others are pushing small rural communities, many of which have long struggled economically, to the brink of bankruptcy.
Rather than bouncing back, places hit repeatedly by more violent weather, longer droughts, and large wildfires are unraveling. When residents and employers leave, the tax base shrinks, and it becomes even harder to fund basic services.
The House proposal allocates $40 billion to mitigate wildfire risks by reducing hazardous fuels, managing vegetation, and providing forest restoration and resilience grants and provides $2.25 billion for a Civilian Climate Corps focused on managing national forest land.
House Democrats are also investing heavily in rural and agricultural related climate research setting aside about $7.75 billion for agricultural research and infrastructure, including $380 million for the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority, $250 million for USDA’s climate hubs, and $45 million for the Economic Research Service to study the impact of climate change on agricultural economies.
And remember, these are only the provisions in the reconciliation bill from the House Agriculture Committee. They don’t include other programs like the $25 billion in funding to invest in small business programs approved by the House Small Business Committee and a host of new programs like universal pre-k, free community college, and farm worker legalization that would be a major boost for rural economies.
But the fact is, we’re just getting started. The announcement of these provisions are only the beginning. We still need to make sure these programs make it through the markup process and once they pass ensure that the money we designate for rural communities stays in rural communities for as long as possible.
Without a doubt, our Campaign for Rural Progress is paying off. We demanded a bold new paradigm for building rural prosperity from the bottom up and Washington is set to deliver.
With the leadership of Joe Biden and House Democrats, it's starting to feel like a new day in rural America.