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Small-Town Ohio Leaders Highlight What They’d Like To Hear from President Joe Biden Ahead of His Trip to Licking County

New data shows daily expenses and neighborhood livability top the list of issues for small towns and rural voters surveyed by RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund, the Fairfield Think Tank on Poverty, Indivisible Appalachian Ohio, and the Newark Think Tank on Poverty

On the eve of President Biden’s visit to Licking County, Ohio, new survey data provides valuable insights into the top issues for small-town and rural voters across central and southeastern Ohio.

Today, RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund, Fairfield Think Tank on Poverty, Indivisible Appalachian Ohio, and Newark Think Tank on Poverty released the results of the first-ever Local Progress Report survey, a deep dive into local public opinion in high-need, low-civic engagement neighborhoods across three rural battleground counties. 

The survey collected responses from 1,106 households, blending door knocking and community-based research to obtain detailed insights into neighborhood needs and opinions. 

The results show that reducing daily expenses and improving local quality of life, particularly by addressing the addiction epidemic and investing in local housing, infrastructure, and public services are the top concerns.

The results of the survey are available here.

Here is a breakdown of the top five issues in each survey: 

Athens Census Tracts 9726 & 9735

(n=501)

  1. Reducing healthcare and prescription costs

  2. Reducing food and grocery costs

  3. Reducing the use and sale of illegal drugs in my neighborhood

  4. Repair local roads and bridges

  5. Reducing utility costs

Fairfield Census Tract 317

(n=248)

  1. Reducing food and grocery costs

  2. Reducing healthcare and prescription costs

  3. Improving affordable housing options

  4. Improving veterans services

  5. Improving mental health services

Licking Census Tracts 7590 & 7525 within Newark city limits (n=331)

  1. Reducing food and grocery costs

  2. Reducing the use and sale of illegal drugs in the neighborhood

  3. Reducing theft in the neighborhood

  4. Reducing healthcare and prescription costs

  5. Cleaning up polluted areas

The following is a statement from Brent Edwards, Ohio Statewide Organizer with RuralOrganizing.org

The three local progress groups in Athens, Fairfield, and Licking Counties have been working tirelessly to facilitate transformative conversations about the issues that matter most to their communities. This dataset will be an invaluable resource for candidates, elected officials and other leaders who seek to understand the lived experiences of rural Ohioans. As seen so far in the 2022 cycle, candidates with a bold, progressive rural agenda can set themselves apart from the tired stereotypes of what it means to be a Democrat. President Biden and Democrats in Congress have done more to address the rising cost of living in small-town Ohio in the past 20 months than we’ve seen in decades. The President should acknowledge that. 

The following is a statement from Ella Zimmerly of Indivisible Appalachian Ohio based in Athens County, Ohio:

“Doing door-to-door surveying in Athens County, the poorest county in Ohio by median income, has been 100% eye-opening. Exploring our neighborhoods, finding homes, meeting the people, hearing their stories, collecting their survey answers is all a wealth of information. What can we do with it? What can politicians do to help the people whose homes are next to vacant, run-down buildings or drug houses? There are parks, sidewalks going in, and I witnessed some road repair. Is that enough? There are other, more rural areas with poor cell phone reception and internet coverage. What about them? Will politicians do enough? What can we do together? We need a solution.”

The following is a statement from Al DiLorenzo of the Newark Think Tank on Poverty based in Licking County, Ohio:

“It's really, really bold to do what we're doing. I’m having a lot of positive feedback from the groups who are feeling like they're making a difference. What we're doing is important. In the greater context of collecting this data, it isn't just about the doorstep. It is important at the door, but there will be more that comes from this.”

The following is a statement from Phoebe Sampson of the Fairfield Think Tank on Poverty based in Fairfield County, Ohio:

“I've had many conversations with people in this area who do not think the same way as me but people know that they're mad at something. It's just misdirected anger. And I think it is very much a conversation about policies and not people because the political spectrum has become very much like a sporting event where sides are pitted against one another. And then when you actually start talking to people who would say they are straight down the line Republican, their opinions reflect empathy for people.”

The following is a statement from Michelle Novak, RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund Ohio Strategist based in Butler County, Ohio: 

“This project provides validation of what many of us have been experiencing across Ohio’s small towns and rural communities. Local conversations are not about having access to new jobs but the struggle to keep up with rising food costs, the livability of our communities, and access to affordable housing. The Local Progress Survey results show that this is not just unique to the experience of my own blue-collar community in Butler County but is something experienced across rural Ohio. Rural Ohioan’s have been ravaged by a decades-long heroin epidemic, harmful cycles of generational poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, and now rising grocery and housing costs. To ignore these very real concerns will only reinforce the continued isolation and disconnect rural communities feel from national leadership. Not speaking to this experience will be a missed opportunity to engage Ohio’s rural communities.

The following is a statement from Annie Contractor, RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund Policy Research Analyst: 

As far as we can tell, this is the first time that community-based research and civic engagement canvassing have been combined in this manner. Compared to conventional polling, our model is more equitable and the targeting is more granular because we are working on such a hyper-local scale. Compared to political canvassing, our conversations are more relational and less coercive since we are using our surveys to compile local policy agendas, not impose them. And compared to both big deep canvass operations and major polls, the funding, the skills, and the findings stay with the neighborhoods. 

 The mission of RuralOrganizing.org is to rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing.

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RuralOrganizing.Org Hails Senate Passage of Inflation Reduction Act

Bill marks an important victory for rural residents. Urge House Democrats to Pass IRA ASAP

The following is a statement from Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of RuralOrganizing.Org:

We (very loudly) applaud Senate Democrats who,  with the help of  a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, passed  the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) today. This legislation will have significant impacts on rural communities.

The climate crisis has a growing death toll and has caused so much  damage around athe country, including rural communities.  People living in rural areas have become all too familiar with drought, violent storms and floods, rising temperatures, and megafires. This bill makes the most significant contribution ever to addressing the crisis. 

It’s no secret that many rural residents  are poorer, older, and experience higher rates of key risk factors when compared to the nation as a whole. And, many of our friends, family, and neighbors are on Medicare or have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.  Those residents will get relief thanks to the Democratic bill. 

For too long, Republicans have worked to convince rural voters that they are on their side. Today’s vote  against the IRA by every Republican Senator, - and, of note, their 43 votes to remove insulin caps from the bill - shows once again that they are not. Democrats are actually delivering for our rural communities. 

Something that seemed impossible just a couple weeks ago is now on the verge of becoming the law of the land. Thanks to Majority Leader Schumer and his fellow Senate Democrat  for making this happen. We urge House Democrats to pass the bill as soon as possible and really strongly encourage  every House Democrat with a rural constituency to support it. 

The mission of RuralOrganizing.org  is to rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing.

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RuralOrganizing.org Strongly Supports the Inflation Reduction Act 

The following is a statement from Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of RuralOrganizing.Org:

This weekend, the United States Senate has the opportunity to pass historic legislation that will deal with issues that are critically important to rural America. The Senate Democrat’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) makes a significant contribution to fighting the climate crisis, which has wreaked havoc on so much of the country, including rural communities.   The damage brought by drought, violent storms, rising temperatures, and megafires have an outsized impact on all people living in rural areas. 

The package also allows Medicare to negotiate for  lower prescription drugs, which will have a direct impact on families across the country.  Our research has found that vast majorities of rural voters have wanted elected officials to stop the pharmaceutical industry from ripping off the American people by capping what Americans pay for prescription drugs. That’s finally happening. 

Any Senator who claims to care about their rural constituents should vote YES on this important legislation. But, we know talk is cheap from GOP Senators. They talk a good game, but never deliver for real people in rural communities. Their constituents are multinational corporations, big AG,  and big Pharma. Meanwhile, Democrats are once again showing they deliver for rural America. 

 We strongly encourage Senate Democrats to reject all Republican amendments, which are solely designed to undermine the package and sow division. Finally, credit where credit is due. Thank you to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats for crafting this vital legislation and, also, thanks are due to the activists and organizers who kept up the pressure to make it happen.  It’s a big step forward.

The mission of RuralOrganizing.org  is to rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing.

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Statement: Vote No on Kansas Abortion Ban Referendum

The following is a statement from Aftyn Behn, Campaign Director at RuralOrganizing.Org:

This last week, we sent an email to our supporters in Kansas urging them to vote NO on the abortion ban. I wrote about the impact the ban would have on rural Kansans, “As rural hospitals and maternity wards shut their doors, abortion providers are forced out, and our communities living in rural stretches face more restrictions and obstacles in seeking reproductive, and abortion care, states like Kansas will continue to see their maternal and infant mortality rates climb.”

We have watched with optimism and admiration the incredible on-the-ground organizing in Kansas. I know from my previous work that the health of women - and their lives - are literally on the ballot in Kansas. We strongly urge a NO vote.

The following is a statement from Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of RuralOrganizing.org:

Abortion rights are on the ballot in Kansas. We strongly encourage Kansans to  Vote No on the Ban.  For those who may think restricting abortion rights will be popular in rural areas, we have news: That’s not the case. There is significant opposition to abortion bans across rural America. We know because we asked. In 2020, RuralOrganizing.org conducted a poll of rural voters in battleground states including Kansas, asking:  “How Strongly do you agree with the following statement: Should Abortion be illegal?

To be clear, that is the question being asked of Kansans. In our 2020 poll, 46% of rural voters disagreed with that statement that abortion should be illegal - 32% strongly.  We strongly encourage all the voters of Kansas to vote NO, especially those rural voters who feel that way. 

“The mission of RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund is to educate and empower everyday Americans with the nonpartisan movement building tools they need to create resilient, welcoming, and equitable communities. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing."


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Statement On the Passage of the $1 Billion Recompete Grants Program Through the CHIPS Legislation

The following is a statement from Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of RuralOrganizing.org:

This week, with the leadership of  Rep. Derek Kilmer and lobbying and grassroots effort by RuralOrganizing.org, Congress successfully passed a critical new federal policy that establishes a new $1 billion federal block grant program at the Economic Development Agency (EDA).  This new program empowers persistently distressed communities, including rural communities, with flexible 10-year "Rebuilding Economies and Creating Opportunities for More People to Excel" ( RECOMPETE) Grants to create good jobs in persistently distressed communities, including rural and Tribal communities.

For nearly two years, through our Campaign for Rural Progress, RuralOrganizing.org has focused on passing policies that increase good-paying jobs and wages, decrease daily expenses, and improve the quality of life for rural communities experiencing economic distress.

As rural people, we know that every rural community is different. Local people know best what their strengths and challenges are, and solutions should be locally-driven. For some rural communities, the barriers to job creation may be a lack of high-speed internet or our crumbling transportation infrastructure. Other communities may need more workers with skills in growing industries or job retention resources like childcare services. 

The new  RECOMPETE Grants are based on each communities’ level of economic distress and are developed and implemented with robust technical assistance from the EDA, in order to provide the consistent, longer-term assistance needed to execute a comprehensive, long-term economic development strategy.

RECOMPETE Grants can be used for a wide variety of purposes, including:

  • Business advice for small and medium-sized local businesses and entrepreneurs, such as manufacturing extension services and small business development centers.

  • Land and site development, such as brownfield redevelopment, research and technology parks, business incubators, business corridor development, and Main Street redevelopment.

  • Infrastructure and housing, such as improvements in transit, roads, broadband access, and affordable and workforce housing development.

  • Job training oriented to regional or local labor market needs, such as customized job training programs run by local community colleges in partnership with local businesses.

  • Workforce outreach programs that reach out to lower-income neighborhoods and embed job placement and training services in neighborhood institutions.

  • Job retention programs for support services such as job success coaches, childcare services, or transportation support.

We applaud the thousands of people  in our network who took action to push for the passage of the RECOMPETE and the leadership of elected officials like Representative Kilmer and we will continue to advocate to ensure the implementation of this new program reaches the most marginalized rural communities.

It’s especially refreshing to see programs, like RECOMPETE that build economic opportunity from the bottom up, pass through legislative vehicles like the CHIPS Act which was filled with “trickle down” corporate give–a-ways that will fail to reach the most distressed and marginalized rural communities.

The mission of RuralOrganizing.org  is to rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing.

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Statement on Senate Passage of RECOMPETE Act

The following is a statement from Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of RuralOrganizing.org:

Today, the United States Senate passed H.R.4346, known as the CHIPS + Science Act, which includes The Rebuilding Economies and Creating Opportunities for More People to Excel (RECOMPETE) Act

Knowing how hard it is to pass any significant legislation, we are really grateful that Rep. Derek Kilmer’s bill was included in the larger package and appreciate his efforts to make that happen.

RECOMPETE will have a significant benefit for rural communities around the country. As Rep. Kilmer outlined, the legislation will provide 10 year RECOMPETE grants “ to meet local economic development needs, create good jobs, invest in their workers and businesses, connect local residents to opportunities and resources for long-term success, and rebuild stronger with lasting opportunity and economic growth.” The legislation insures local control, which will allow communities to make the best decisions for their residents. 

This bill, which now moves to the House for final passage,  demonstrates a continued commitment to rural America by House and Senate Democrats. For too long, we’ve been overlooked by Republicans who take us for granted.  


“The mission of RuralOrganizing.org  is to rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing.”

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RuralOrganizing.org Statement on Joe Manchin’s Betrayal on Climate Change

The following is a statement from Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of RuralOrganizing.org

A couple weeks ago,  the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry and Natural Resources held its first hearing in nine years about the worsening drought crisis fueled by climate change. In a preview of the hearing, Senator Michael Bennet said to the Washington Post, “Colorado is literally being incinerated as a result of climate change.” 

As I noted after that hearing, rural communities are  facing some of the most dramatic impacts from climate change, yet often lack access to resources for resilience and mitigation planning.  This is obviously a major concern for farmers, but the damage brought by drought, violent storms, rising temperatures, and megafires have an outsized impact on all people living in rural areas. 

Across rural America, communities are struggling to deal with the impacts of our changing climate and need federal legislation to help. But, yesterday, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin slammed the door on that possibility.

For whatever reasons, Manchin has again put his own personal politics above the needs of his constituents, his country, and the planet. And, new research released by Headwaters Economics  found  that West Virginia was one of 10 states with the most limited capacity to deal with infrastructure and climate resilience projects.  It’s beyond appalling. It’s life threatening. But, Manchin has no shame, obviously. 

President Biden now needs to use all of his executive authority to literally help save the planet. Rural Americans, like the rest of the country and the world, desperately need that leadership.

“The mission of RuralOrganizing.org  is to rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing.”

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RuralOrganizing.org Statements on Supreme Court Ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

The following is a statement from Aftyn Behn, Campaign Director at RuralOrganizing.org

Unfortunately for those of us living in Southern states, post-Roe conditions have been our reality for a long time. We know that rural women, low-income women and rural women of color will face even greater difficulty accessing abortion and reproductive care and that pregnancy and childbirth complications will lead to more deaths. 

Especially in southern states which codified the criminalization of pregnancy, abortion bans and the reversal of Roe is state-sanctioned violence. In this moment, I can only be hopeful and guided by the agency and doggedness of  abortion providers, organizers, lawyers, and reproductive justice networks that will continue to provide care and fight these oppressive laws rooted in white supremacy to control women’s bodies.  

Politicians have been working for decades to make abortion as difficult as possible to get: its time to reject  any candidates who do not believe in the right to abortion and defeating far right, extremist candidates who seek to impose their minority will upon our bodily autonomy. We will continue to  advocate and build a world where abortion isn’t just legal -- it’s accessible, affordable, and destigmatized.

The following is a statement from Annie Contractor, Policy Research Analyst at RuralOrganizing.org

There will never be a time when abortions don't happen, but more importantly, there will never be a time when we don’t NEED abortions. Access to abortion serves every single one of us - adults of all genders, children, from babies to the elderly. Access to abortion is a livelihoods issue, a hunger issue, an education issue, a domestic violence issue, a labor issue, a small business issue. We all need it.

But today's decision will instead criminalize women who dare to think they can make their own decisions, that their lives and bodies are their own, and anyone who dares to support them. And let's be clear: it's not women like me who will bear the brunt of this criminalization. It will be the women who always bear it - my family members with disabilities, my Black friends, my Indigenous neighbors.

It’s  worth thinking about what, and who, is served by today's decision. Who stands to gain when rights are taken away? And WHAT do they gain? When we get closer to each person having shared, equal rights, the power of the powerful loses potency.

The Supreme Court, between yesterday and today, could not have been more clear: not everyone deserves equal rights. Not everyone is a full person under our constitution. And our systems, from their inceptions, never intended to guarantee equal rights, but to concentrate power.

As the highest court in our country has decided it is going to spend its time ripping away peoples' rights, of course we can support abortion providers and the people in the interstate systems working their asses off to make sure people can get the care they need (and thank you to all of you doing so!). It is also time for civil disobedience. 

The following is a statement from Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of RuralOrganizing.org:

As Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan said, "Above all others, women lacking financial resources will suffer from today’s decision."

That is why we support groups like The National Network of Abortion Funds which help remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access. Donations can be made to The National Network of Abortion Funds here and there is more information about starting a fundraiser here. You can find your local fund here.

No woman needs Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh or Ted Cruz looking over their shoulder as they are making personal decisions about their health and their bodies. Today’s Supreme Court ruling by the right-wing Justices eviscerated Roe v. Wade. It is a despicable political decision by Justices who put their extreme right-wing politics ahead of the rights of women.

I've often heard that restricting abortion rights will be popular in rural areas so we tested that premise. Here's some important news. That isn't true. In 2020, RuralOrganizing.org conducted a poll of rural voters in battleground states asking:  “How Strongly do you agree with the following statement: Should Abortion be illegal?  Nationwide, 50% of rural voters disagreed with that statement - 35% strongly. 

And, that's what we are facing now. Republicans and their political accomplices on the Court are taking the steps to make abortion illegal. Access to rural health care is already a very serious crisis in many rural communities. GOP Senators hear that all the time. Instead of working on that, they are endangering the lives of women.

Please note that the entire RuralOrganizing.org team stands in solidarity with these statements.

“The mission of RuralOrganizing.org  is to rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing.”

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Rural Organizing Statement on Iowa Supreme Court Ruling Overturning 2018 Decision that Abortion is a Fundamental Right

The following is a statement from Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of RuralOrganizing.org:

Today’s ruling by the conservatives on the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn the 2018 decision that abortion is a fundamental right is an extreme move that endangers the health of women across the state. As Chief Justice Christensen wrote in her dissent, this was a political decision engineered by Governor Kim Reynolds, who responded to the ruling by calling it a “significant victory.”

It’s only a victory for those who don’t believe women should have control over their bodies. Reynolds and her GOP allies are creating a health care system where extremists like Bob Vander Plaats stand between women and their health care providers.

For those who may think restricting abortion rights will be popular in rural areas, we have news: It’s not. In 2020, RuralOrganizing.org conducted a poll of rural voters in battleground states like Iowa, asking:  “How Strongly do you agree with the following statement: Should Abortion be illegal?  51% of rural voters disagreed with that statement - 35% strongly. 

Access to rural health care is already a serious concern in Iowa. Instead of focusing on that, Reynolds and the Iowa GOP have made it worse with today’s ruling by paving the way for an abortion ban when and if the United States  Supreme Court overturns Roe.

“The mission of RuralOrganizing.org Education Fund is to educate and empower everyday Americans with the nonpartisan movement building tools they need to create resilient, welcoming, and equitable communities. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing."


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RuralOrganizing.org Statement On Senate Agriculture SubCommittee Hearing on Drought Crisis Fueled by Climate Change

This week, the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry and Natural Resources held its first hearing in nine years about the worsening drought crisis fueled by climate change.

The Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), was ​​held to “examine the drought parching the American West.” In his opening remarks, Bennet said “This is a five-alarm crisis for the American West.” And, he told the Washington Post, “The main reason why this drought is so severe is because of climate change,” later adding, “Colorado is literally being incinerated as a result of climate change.”

The following is a statement  from Matt Hildreth, Executive Director of Rural Organizing:

Thank you, Senator Bennet, for holding the hearing on the drought crisis and how climate change is making it worse . Anyone who lives in the west or midwest knows this reality. They live it. And, that’s especially true for anyone working in agriculture, or in my case, family who works in that business. The question isn’t “is climate change real?” It is “what are we going to do about it?” 

Rural communities are  facing some of the most dramatic impacts from climate change, yet often lack access to resources for resilience.  This is obviously a major concern for farmers, but also the damage brought by drought, violent storms, and fires are having outsize impact in rural areas. 

As the Colorado Senator noted the impact: more than 75 percent of the West is experiencing severe drought, which threatens to put farmers and ranchers out of business and also presents a dire situation for communities that rely on the Colorado River to sustain their families and their livelihoods.

With that in mind, we strongly support Senator Bennet’s efforts to pass legislation addressing this crisis this year as part of the budget reconciliation process. And, we are focused on the 2023 Farm bill as an opportunity to educate rural voters about the local benefits associated with the national transition to cheap, renewable, and clean energy  through our Campaign for Rural Progress.  

When a United States Senator can say, without hyperbole, that their state is being incinerated , there’s really no time to waste.

The mission of RuralOrganizing.org  is to rebuild a rural America that is empowered, thriving, and equitable. Follow us on Twitter @RuralOrganizing.

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