Lifting Up What’s Working in Rural America
An exclusive statement for the Cooperative Business Journal from the co-leaders of the bipartisan Senate Rural Working Group
By U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Mike Rounds (R-SD)
We are two upper Midwest U.S. Senators—one of us is a Democrat from Minnesota, the other a Republican from South Dakota.
While we don’t agree on every issue, one thing we both understand is the important role our small towns and rural areas play in the success of both of our states. We’ve seen how the people and organizations that make up the beating heart of rural America have a lot to teach our nation about coming together, overcoming challenges, and solving even the most difficult problems in unique and innovative ways.
Cooperatives understand this and are at the forefront of problem solving in rural areas. During our current troubled times, when isolation is growing due to the coronavirus pandemic, we know that cooperatives are working hard to ensure that rural customers stay connected in a variety of ways.
It’s no secret that years of low farm prices, trade disruptions and weather disasters have left many farmers and ranchers, as well as rural families, businesses and communities hanging on by their financial fingertips. But as we’ve traveled to small towns and rural areas across our states, we’ve been inspired by the spirit, resilience and ingenuity of the people we’ve met who, in the face of adversity, are doing great things every day to help their communities to not only survive, but thrive.
Bipartisan Senate Rural Working Group
Last year, as we thought about how the federal government could be better partners with these communities, the two of us agreed to co-lead a new bipartisan Senate “Rural Working Group” to highlight what we see working in rural America and to lift up the best ideas and share them with our colleagues in Congress.
We had already joined forces on other bipartisan efforts to help rural America, including supporting the 2018 Farm Bill, which included our provisions to improve rural health care delivery and to expand rural broadband—two key ingredients that help communities thrive.
We both agree that the strongest rural communities—ones that have a sense of place that make young families want to raise kids there, and businesses want to locate there—all have things in common. They have access to affordable health care services, and to educational opportunities that include not only great schools, but also access to nearby higher education and technical training that prepares employees for 21st-century careers. They also have access to rural broadband services that connect businesses to customers, health providers with patients, and students with the world.
Just as cooperatives across the country make important investments in the communities they serve, we want to use this new bipartisan group to champion important investments in rural America and to highlight innovative local efforts being undertaken in small towns and rural communities and to lift them up for communities not only in our states, but across the country to emulate.
Moving forward, working with rural leaders and organizations
Over the past few months, we have worked to expand the Rural Working Group’s efforts. In February, we organized the group’s first officials meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. That meeting included Senators Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, and Deb Fischer a Republican from Nebraska, who will help us lead the group.
Importantly it also included rural leaders and advocates who work on education, healthcare, agriculture and housing. These will be key allies in helping us identify successful ideas and partnerships that can spur efforts to restore economic prosperity in rural communities across the country.
We all know that the nation is going through unprecedented and challenging times. It has only deepened our resolve to find ways to work together to solve problems. We know that rural communities do this every day, and we will continue to highlight those efforts.