Rural Spotlight

Barriers to Policy Implementation

While we serve in different levels of government in different parts of the country, we see the same challenge. As elected officials we hear from our constituents that recent federal legislation promising a lifeline to our communities is more of the same from Washington because it seems just out of reach for our neighbors and the places we call home. These promises are empty without a commitment from federal officials to effectively implement these programs in rural areas and small cities.

We see the headlines that billions are allocated for communities. But how do school board members and staff members identify and apply for the best opportunities? Large municipalities hire full-time staff and high-powered consultants to navigate grant applications, reporting, and compliance across dozens of federal agencies. But what about rural communities and small cities like Florence, AZ?

Even when we find grants geared to rural communities, the funding rules frequently exclude many rural communities and small cities. Government leaders and residents in Meadville, PA were excited to take advantage of a USDA program to help families keep up with property maintenance and live in safe homes. The grant required significant staffing to manage the program and fulfill reporting requirements that could go on for years, and the grant wouldn’t cover those operational costs. Without the staffing infrastructure, Meadville leadership made the heartbreaking decision not to apply.

The Inflation Reduction Act allocates $27 Billion to states to provide low-cost financing for projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions. These funds would generate great jobs and spur entrepreneurship. But here’s the catch, the state must establish the financing project, called a Green Bank, and the majority party in Iowa doesn’t want a “green” program. So before we can implement a program to strengthen local economies and accelerate rural-led climate solutions, we must address a superficial naming problem within a high-stakes political conflict.

We see people’s frustration as they question whether good-sounding federal policy will translate into actually supporting our communities. A lot can go wrong, or never even get started, between passing a bill and the doors opening on a local-led program. But we still believe that if we all work together, we can get this right. We call on federal officials to lead a collaborative effort with all levels of government to ensure programs are accessible to rural communities. And we invite community leaders, stakeholders, and people who care about policy to make more noise about implementation to ensure rural communities get fair access to programs that will give people the tools and opportunities to live a good life.

J.D. Scholten, State Representative, Iowa

Jaime Kinder, Mayor, Meadville, Pennsylvania

Sherri Jones, Governing Board Member, Florence Unified School District, Arizona