Policy Priorities

1. End Historic Discrimination

Our government has failed to include rural Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Asian people in its policy making and has often discriminated against them. Black farmers being pushed from the land, Native American sovereignty disregarded, and Latino and Asian farm and meatpacking workers forced into dangerous working conditions are just a few examples of harm and cruelty. It’s time to end these discriminations and right these wrongs.

Ongoing Priorities

  • Ensure that COMMUNITIES OF COLOR ARE DIRECTLY INVOLVED in all parts of government decisions and implementations, such as infrastructure projects and agency rulemaking.
  • END THE ENDANGERMENT OF RURAL COMMUNITIES, particularly those with large populations of color, as sites for polluting industries, such as mega factory farms.
  • ENGAGE IN NATION-TO-NATION CONSULTATION WITH TRIBAL GOVERNMENTS on federal projects and rulemakings in a manner consistent with the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, acknowledging their right to “free, prior, and informed consent.”

Specific Policy Priorities for 2021

  • Pass the “For the People Act,” a bill that would expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy.
  • Pass the “Justice for Black Farmers Act,” a bill that would establish a federal land grant program to create a new generation of Black farmers, expand access
    to credit, direct USDA to end historic discrimination and create system level reforms to make farming a profitable opportunity.
  • Implement Rep. Jim Clyburn’s “10-20-30” approach to future funding proposals. Clyburn’s proposal would require that at least ten percent of any agency’s appropriated programmatic funds be invested in persistent poverty counties where 20 percent or more of the population has been living below the poverty line for the last 30 years. Some federal funding programs already abide by this practice.
  • Enact reforms to support farm workers. By passing the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act,” a bill that would establish a certified agricultural worker (CAW) status, increase statutory mandatory working conditions requirements, and change the H-2A temporary worker program by providing a pathway to citizenship. As well as the “Fairness For Farmworker’s Act,” a bill that would give farmworkers equal rights to overtime pay and minimum wage standards.
  • Enact reforms to treat tribal governments with equality and fairness. Provide funding for tribal members to obtain easier access to federal programs, as well as increase available resources for tribal infrastructure and economic development, consistent with the federal trust and treaty responsibility.

2. Invest in Rural Communities

The historic economic extraction and lack of federal government investment has left rural communities in a financial hole. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated those challenges. Now is the time for policy that invests in rural people and communities.

Ongoing Priorities

  • INVEST IN CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND SERVICES, including hospitals, healthcare providers, schools, affordable housing, transportation, local government capacity, postal services, legal aid, child care, rural small businesses and local food systems.
  • Connect rural businesses, homes and farms to HIGH-SPEED AFFORDABLE INTERNET.
  • Invest in CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION AND MITIGATION that prioritizes local control and local people.

Specific Policy Priorities for 2021

  • Pass the “Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act,” a $100 billion comprehensive bill to expand high-speed internet to all communities. This includes massive infrastructure spending to deploy internet, requirements for affordable plan options and the expansion of public internet options such as school buses.
  • Pass the “Housing is Infrastructure Act of 2019,” a bill that would invest billions in rural single and multifamily housing projects. Additionally, it provides $100 million in rural, elderly, aging in place grants and additional resources for disability housing.
  • Pass the “Save Rural Hospitals Act,” a bill that would preserve access to rural health care by ensuring fairness in Medicare hospital payments, create opportunities for rural critical care facilities and invest in rural health care services.
  • Pass the “Rebuild Rural America Act,” a bill that would expand rural economic development and job creations. The bill establishes a $50 billion grant fund, creates federal training and technical support, establishes a state-by-state rural innovation and partnership administration to coordinate efforts, and creates a “Rural Future Corps” to support essential development.
  • Protect and strengthen the United States Postal Service (USPS). The postal service is an essential part of rural life, supplying everything from prescription drugs to critical supplies. USPS is also a critical hub for other essential services and can be expanded to better serve rural communities. Several important pieces of legislation are critical including the “USPS Fairness Act” and the “Postal Banking Act”
  • Expand, implement and create rural reforms of Medicaid for poor and working class families. Expanding Medicaid and increasing Medicare reimbursement rates has been identified by many rural health care advocates as the best way to deliver increased quality of care in rural communities.  Additionally, reforms that give easier access to rural people should also be prioritized such as making family, elder and disability care reimbursable.
  • Increase tenfold the budget of currently existing programs that support local and regional food systems and establish priority community set asides. Programs like the Local Agriculture Marketing Program, small scale meat processing grants and community food system projects are critical investments for food system resilience and are severely under funded. Additionally, funds are often distributed by competitive grants forcing those with little grant getting experience, but high levels of need to compete with organizations that have much more capacity. Priority areas are crucial for ensuring that historically underserved communities share in the opportunity.
  • Reform and invest in the rural credit system. Accessing appropriate credit is more challenging than ever. Strategic reforms including requiring the Farm Credit System to place a portion of profits in a community mandate fund for grants and loans to support rural small business, mid tier food system businesses and young, beginning or historically underserved farmers and ranchers are critical.
  • Overhaul the U.S. Small Business Administration to better support new and growing businesses, especially those in rural areas, the very small and those owned by women and people of color. This means shifting a significant share of the SBA’s loan programs to finance entrepreneurs in communities that have been left behind. As well as rethinking SBA’s training programs to better serve rural and minority entrepreneurs. Finally, the SBA’s Office of Advocacy should be transformed to provide much-needed analysis and advocacy on the most pressing policy issues hindering independent businesses, including unchecked monopoly power and policies that spur corporate consolidation.
  • Reform federal procurement and contracting. Procurement should not only include, “Buy American,” but “Buy Local,” “Buy Rural,” and “Buy from Small Business” initiatives that channel the procurement power of government spending to create rural opportunities. In addition, “Stewardship Contracting’’ should be mandatory where possible to promote local business and economic development.
  • Expand the USDA’s Home Repair Program. The USDA Rural Housing Service’s Home Repair Program is dramatically underfunded compared with the need to improve housing quality in rural communities. More funding for the Home Repair program would be instantly leveraged by the financing instruments available to add energy systems and efficiency upgrades to low-income rural homes.

3. REIN IN CORPORATE MONOPOLIES AND PRIORITIZE WORKING PEOPLE AND LOCALLY OWNED BUSINESSES

Corporations, particularly those that extract wealth from rural farms and main streets, have far too much power over our government. It is time to get serious about prioritizing rural people and their communities.

Ongoing Priorities

  • STRENGTHEN AND ENFORCE ANTITRUST AND ANTI-MONOPOLY LAWS and policies to eliminate the concentrated power that corporations exert over rural life and economies, from the seeds planted in the field, to retail choices.
  • Allow people to have choices and opportunities, LIVING WAGES, ESSENTIAL BENEFITS, and a thriving community to live in.
  • Ensure that workers have THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE and that public investment in economic development mandates the rights of laborers in those projects.

Specific Policy Priorities for 2021

  • Pass essential reforms to update and strengthen Antitrust policy for the 21st Century. Rural communities are among the hardest hit by lack of fairness and choice in the market. These reforms should include many of the recommendations identified in the House of Representatives Report on Competition in the Digital Sector and Senator Klobuchar’s “Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act”
  • Pass the “Farm System Reform Act,” a bill that would hold corporate agribusinesses accountable for their pollution, enact a factory farm moratorium, help with the transition to more sustainable livestock production and mandate Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) for food products.
  • Pass the “Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act,” reforming Commodity Checkoff Programs to de-fund corporate agribusiness lobbying groups that oppose rural policies that are good for rural people, independent farmers, ranchers and working people.
  • Pass the “Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act,” as the first step towards dealing with extreme levels of consolidation in the agriculture sector.
  • Strengthen Food Labeling Requirements beginning with reinstating mandatory “Country of Origin Labeling” on beef and pork. Multinational corporations currently use lax labeling requirements to manipulate and mislead consumers while taking advantage of American farmers and ranchers. Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from and should have transparent information so they can trust that their choices match their values.
  • Reduce cost and improve access to prescription drugs for rural people. Including passing the “Lower Drug Cost Now Act” and reforming rural specific programs like 340B to improve rural access is urgent.
  • Pass all the provisions of the “Essential Workers Bill of Rights.” Workers are critical members of rural communities. They keep the nation running and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, not just during a pandemic, but permanently.
  • Pass coal transition legislation that takes meaningful action on the 7 Pillars of the “National Economic Transition Platform.” The platform identifies important actions to create a just transition, reclaim mine land and build economic opportunities in communities dependent on coal including a call to pass the “RECLAIM Act.”
  • Pass Right to Repair. Nation wide right-to-repair is gaining momentum and would empower people to repair their equipment and property without going to an authorized agent. Rural people have a long history of being self sufficient from fixing their own tractor to changing an iphone battery. Corporations have used their market power by creating restrictive contracts and excluding independent repairers access to critical information to take away those rights, but they must be restored.

4. BUILD A RURAL ECONOMY THAT PRIORITIZES COMMUNITY AND IS SUSTAINABLE, NOT EXTRACTIVE

Rural economic reliance on extractive industries like fossil fuels, factory farming and industrial timber must end. A new economy can be built on regenerative food, natural resource and energy production along with small business innovation, and a strong public sector. Rural policy must prioritize resilient local economies, putting people and communities first.

Ongoing Priorities

  • Utilize the challenge of the climate crisis to CREATE LOCAL OWNERSHIP, GOOD JOBS, AND EMPOWER FARMERS AND SMALL BUSINESSES in rural America.
  • Support local and regional governments and non governmental organizations with CAPACITY BUILDING AND RESOURCES to end reliance on the extractive boom and bust industries.
  • Enable distributed, COMMUNITY-OWNED CLEAN ENERGY SYSTEMS like rooftop and community solar and wind.

Specific Policy Priorities for 2021

  • Pass $100 billion in appropriations for federally insured Hardship Loans from the USDA Rural Utilities Service with conditions for loan forgiveness based on retirement of fossil fueled power plants and documentation of new investments. These appropriations would facilitate the retirement of a huge majority of 300 rural electric cooperative fossil fueled power plants currently in operation. In exchange for debt forgiveness, rural electric cooperatives will make equal investment in clean energy, distributed energy resources, energy efficiency, high speed broadband, storage, and electric transportation.
  • Pass the “Forest Management for Rural Stability Act,” which would create a permanent endowment fund that offers stable and reliable funding for rural public lands, county services and education. The bipartisan bill would appropriate money for the fund initially, but all commercial revenue generated on National Forests, Oregon & California lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and Fish & Wildlife refuges would then help capitalize the fund in the future. The bill would prevent underpayment or nonpayment of federal obligations to local governments through annual appropriations shortfalls, as well as preventing federal lands extraction due to county government shortfalls.
  • Pass the “Climate Stewardship Act,” a bill that would provide increased funding for USDA conservation programs, renewable energy programs, ecosystem restoration and a new Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The bill expands on USDA identified conservation practices, farm and small business renewable energy, tree planting, and wetland restoration to make huge strides in using natural climate practices to reduce U.S. Greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing farmer income and creating good jobs.
  • Pass the “21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps For Our Health and Our Jobs Act,” a bill that expands upon provisions in the Climate Stewardship Act to resource a wide range of federal agencies to create good conservation jobs.
  • Ensure that rural economic development and job training prioritizes “rural jobs.” Too often economic development and job training programs prepare workers and entrepreneurs to leave rural communities rather than creating opportunities to stay and thrive. Development efforts must prioritize building strong rural communities.
  • Create and fund “jobs of the future” and “industries of the future” apprenticeship programs. Job training and business development must envision the next generation of rural economies and focus on preparing and supporting the development of those industries including information technology and new commodities like hemp. This focus on a just transition away from extractive industries to local wealth creation and well paying jobs should be a critical part of rural economies.
  • Reform federal farm programs while supporting local food systems and expanding conservation programs for family farmers. Stop subsidizing extractive, industrial agriculture that promotes overproduction of commodities, as well corporate livestock production controlled by multinational corporations. Instead, expand grant programs for local food processing and infrastructure as well as conservation programs that support family farm based conservation practices.
  • Reform existing tax credits for renewable energy. Provide fair treatment of electric cooperatives under the direct payment option for renewable energy tax credits so that RECs receive the same vital option for direct payment that is afforded to every other type of utility in The Moving Forward Act passed by the House.