We believe 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. But for too long, Wall Street monopolies have rigged the economy and structural inequalities have held us back. As a result, in Rural America, wages have stagnated, good paying jobs have become harder to come by, and the already too high cost of living continues going up.
That’s why, together—with our sister organization, RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund (501c3)—we are launching a two-year campaign focused on passing local, state, and federal policies that create opportunities and improve the quality of life in America’s small towns and rural communities.
Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fight income inequality and grow prosperity in small towns and rural communities. We need bold federal programs that address persistent poverty—especially in Appalachia, on Native American lands, across the Southern “Black Belt,” in the Mississippi Delta, and throughout the Rio Grande Valley. But this isn’t a fight that will be won in Washington, DC. We need to send a strong message to our elected leaders demanding that they invest in building resilience in America’s small and rural towns by fully funding rural development programs.
At the core of our campaign is a $60 billion rural development package that prioritizes programs, especially grant programs, ensuring the smallest and lowest resourced communities do not bear the burden of debt financing for their recovery. We strongly believe that Congress must target federal resources in ways that will optimize the best long-term outcomes, especially for distressed rural places, and focus investments on programs that will support local ownership and control while delivering critical assistance in the small and disadvantaged communities where it is most needed.
While our campaign for $60 billion dollars in rural development spending is the primary focus of our campaign efforts, our agenda--based on countless conversations with local leaders, extensive public opinion research, and consultations with rural policy experts reaches far beyond rural development at USDA.
Here's a look at a current legislative priorities on in Washington, DC.
Expand and Coordinate Rural Development Programs
If we’re going to overcome income inequality and regional disparities in the United States, we need bold federal programs that address persistent poverty—especially on Native American lands, across the Southern “Black Belt,” in the Mississippi Delta, in Appalachia, and throughout the Rio Grande Valley. For over a year, we have been advocating for a strategic program to unlock federal funding for small towns and rural communities consisting of agency leaders who will partner with community-building organizations in persistent poverty rural communities and help them unlock federal resources.
We are aggressively advocating for the $5 billion for a Rural Partnership Program proposed within President Biden’s American Jobs Plan specifically designed to “help rural regions, including Tribal Nations, build on their unique assets and realize their vision for inclusive community and economic development”; joining with rural development experts in calling for $60 billion dollars to be allocated to rural development programs, and pushing for the creation of a permanent centralized Office of Rural Prosperity to coordinate a full government approach to closing the economic, health, education and opportunity gaps that remain between rural America and urban America.
Ensure Farm Workers Have Access to Citizenship
Rural America has long been home to our country’s agricultural workforce which consists of a mixture of self-employed farm operators and hired farm workers. Currently there are roughly 2 million farmers in the United States and 3 million farmworkers. Many hired farmworkers are foreign-born people from Mexico and Central America, with many lacking authorization to work legally in the United States. However, in recent years, farmworkers have become more settled, fewer migrating long distances from home to work, and fewer pursuing seasonal follow-the-crop migration. These farmworkers are Rural Amerircans, and ensuring they can fully engage their communities through the rights and responsibilities that come with US citizenship would be a major boost for thousands of farm towns across the country.
We are working to pass policies like those included in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. It’s bipartisan immigration legislation that would provide undocumented farmworkers and their family members with a path to legal immigration status and citizenship, revise the H-2A agricultural guestworker program to address some employer and worker concerns, and impose mandatory employment verification (“E-verify”) in agriculture. The legislation represents the culmination of difficult, months-long bipartisan negotiations that included the United Farm Workers, UFW Foundation, and Farmworker Justice, as well as agribusiness representatives.
End Black Farmer Discrimination at USDA
Black farmers have long faced discrimination at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and that discrimation still continues today. In fact, in 2020, through one program that helps farmers pay for land, equipment and repairs, the agency granted loans to only 37 percent of Black applicants but accepted 71 percent of applications from white farmers, according to a POLITICO analysis of USDA data. In a grant program to help producers weather the coronavirus pandemic, farmers of color received less than one percent of the payments even though they are five percent of all U.S. farmers.
We are advocating for policies that end and reverse farmer discrimination at USDA, and we are pushing for the passage of policies like those included in The Justice for Black Farmers Act. This is a bill that will enact laws to end discrimination within the USDA by protecting remaining Black farmers from losing their land, providing land grants to create a new generation of Black farmers while also restoring the land base that has been lost, and implementing systemic reforms to help disadvantaged family farmers across the United States.
Rebuild Rural Economies in Communities Hosting Extractive Industries
American prosperity was built largely on the backs of coal towns and other communities that hosted extractive industries for generations. As we adapt to changing market demands for more sustainable alternatives, economic recovery and habitat restoration in these extraction communities are critical to ensuring they too can thrive in changing times.
We strongly support reclamation policies like those included in the RECLAIM Act, which revises requirements concerning the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, including by expanding the eligible uses of the fund. Specifically, the bill allows the fund to be used to provide support for economic revitalization, diversification, and development in economically distressed mining communities through the reclamation and restoration of land and water resources adversely affected by abandoned coal mines.
Ensure All Rural Americans Have Access to the Digital Economy
Since home internet was first made available in the 1990’s, market demand has favored the building of high speed infrastructure in areas with higher population densities. As a result, there has been little economic incentive to insure rural people have access to the digital economy. With so many Americans working from home, attending video conferencing school classes, and relying on telehealth America, we saw first hand how this digital divide is leaving rural communities behind.
As a result, roughly one in four rural households cannot connect to the internet, and it is often too slow and too expensive for the households who have the option of connecting. That’s why we are pushing Congress to pass the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act Bipartisan legislation that directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fund shovel-ready, high-speed internet projects immediately, so consumers can access broadband within a year.
Ensure all Rural Workers Have the Right to Organize
In order for rural communities to thrive, rural Americans need to see their wages raised and benefits expanded. While corporations and the wealthy continue to capture the rewards of a growing economy—working families and middle-class Americans are being left behind because of policy choices that have stripped workers of the power to join together and negotiate for decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. Unions are critical to increasing wages and creating an economy that rewards hard working people, but special interest attacks on labor laws have eroded union membership.
We strongly support The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act because it restores fairness to the economy by strengthening the federal laws that protect workers’ right to organize and join unions. It would amend decades-old labor laws to give workers more power during disputes at work, add penalties for companies that retaliate against workers who organize and grant some hundreds of thousands of workers collective-bargaining rights they don’t currently have. It would also weaken “right-to-work” laws in 27 states that allow employees to forgo participating in and paying dues to unions.
Protect Rural Delivery Through the United States Postal Service
The United States Postal Service has long been a lifeline for remotely rural Americans. The USPS is legally required to deliver all mail to all postal addresses in all regions, at a flat rate, no matter how far it may have to travel. However, in recent years lobbyists for private carriers have attempted to defund or dismantle the public postal service inorder to increase their profit margins.
Our grassroots lobbyists are fighting back and pushing Congress to pass the USPS Fairness Act, a proposed United States law that would repeal the draconian requirement that the United States Postal Service prepay future retirement benefits. The bill, which passed the House in 2019, but stalled in the Senate, would specifically undo the requirement that retirees' health benefits be pre-funded, decades in advance, put in place by the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which placed a significant financial burden on the postal service.