Following NCBA CLUSA’s open letter to presidential candidates, Gillibrand rolls out rural platform emphasizing co-ops

One of Sen. Gillibrand’s proposals to “put rural Americans back in the driver’s seat” is a White House Council on a Cooperative Economy.

In June, NCBA CLUSA president & CEO Doug O’Brien wrote an open letter to each candidate running for President of the United States in the 2020 election—Democrats and Republicans, alike.

The letter highlights the long history of successful cooperative businesses in the U.S., beginning with farmers who formed cooperatives for greater cost and market efficiency. Later, farmers applied the same business model to build the infrastructure to distribute electricity to rural homes and businesses when investor-owned businesses wouldn’t.

While the challenges we face today are different, cooperatives remain a critical part of the solution. Therefore, it’s vital that co-ops are part of every candidate’s policy platform.

“With the challenges facing our country, the co-op model will continue to shine through as a solution that empowers people to champion their own successes by working together. And while the member-owners of cooperatives are the drivers of this success, a policy framework that supports the robust development of cooperatives is imperative,” the letter stated.

Candidates listened.

In a Medium post on August 7, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a 2020 presidential candidate, laid out her proposal to Rebuild Rural America for Our Future, writing “Rural America has long been shaped by co-ops.”

Gillibrand’s proposal specifically cites a number of policy challenges that NCBA CLUSA’s letter detailed, including childcare, homecare, housing, food, and Internet.

Her plan would, in part, “launch a cooperative business initiative.” This pillar of her proposal would establish a White House Council on a Cooperative Economy to increase access to capital for cooperatives to start up, convert, expand or innovate. In addition, this pillar would fully fund the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program, which was reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, at $40 million. Currently, RCDG is funded at approximately $5.8 million.

Sen. Gillibrand was the lead author of the Main Street Employee Ownership Act, which was signed into law in 2018. This law expands Small Business Administration programs to include co-ops, and requires SBA and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) to engage in education, outreach and technical assistance to current business owners on the option to sell the business to their workers or customers when they are looking to retire, and convert the business to a worker- or member-owned cooperative. Co-op conversions will not only preserve businesses that are anchors in their communities, but also has the potential to empower millions of people as new owners and create an opportunity for people to build wealth.

This proposal demonstrates the importance of engaging with candidates and policymakers. As a membership organization, NCBA CLUSA is committed to advocating on behalf of the cooperative community for federal policies that empower people to use the cooperative business model.

We encourage you to get involved, too. For more information on how you can engage with 2020 presidential candidates, take a look at the #CoopsFor2020 toolkit, which includes a sample Letter to the Editor to submit to your local newspaper, questions to ask candidates if you attend a town hall or other campaign event, and sample social media posts.

Did you write a Letter to the Editor encouraging candidates to include the co-op model in their policy solutions? Let us know! Tag us on Twitter @NCBACLUSA using the hashtag #CoopsFor2020 or email us at


Note: As a nonpartisan association, NCBA CLUSA does not endorse candidates. 

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