Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Republican congressmen seek rural relief with "simple ideas" and little funding

The Wall Street Journal ran this story yesterday, by Paul Overberg and Janet Adamy, about a group of 11 Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Congress who are calling themselves the "Rural Relief group."  Yesterday, they introduced five bills aimed at "address[ing] worsening economic and social woes in small-town America."  An excerpt follows:
The bills include measures to bolster training for rural emergency medical service squads and rural students in technical education programs. Others would redirect some existing funding to help small towns manage the complex needs of the homeless and to help families whose children are substance abusers. 
Another measure in the package, called the Rural Relief Initiative by the group, would set aside money in matching grants for communities to build and run workshops that let young students use 3-D printing and other new manufacturing techniques. Such “fab labs” have spread to many cities after the concept was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a decade ago.
The lawmakers indicated that they were motivated in part by a WSJ series, "One Nation, Divisible," that has detailed the "socioeconomic decline of rural America."  Legal Ruralism posts about the series are here, here, here, and here

The group noted that they are seeking only $100 million over five years, a modest amount to support the range of programs.  Several of the programs will enhance the technological capacity of rural areas, including cell phone service, 3-D printing in rural "workshops," and enhanced broadband.  The story quotes Sean Duffy (R-Wisconsin) who notes that while Milwaukee is building a $128 million streetcar, "we don’t even have broadband in northern Wisconsin.”

Housing and homelessness are also a focus. "One proposal in the package would let rural areas hire case workers with some of the funds they receive to house the homeless," a recognition of the lack of services on offer in rural regions, which are eligible for money . 

David Valadao (R-Cal.) spoke of some problems in his Central Valley district, including the challenge created by counting prison inmates in local populations (something typically considered a benefit to places with prisons).  The downside is that the higher populations make these places "ineligible for rural grants." He also noted the challenge in attracting doctors to his district, and he observed that crime is worsening, "adding that he had caught people stealing fuel from his farm."

In addition to Duffy, the congressmen in this coalition are Rod Blum (R-Iowa), Mike Bost (R-Ill.), John Faso (R-N.Y.), Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), Richard Hudson, (R-N.C.), Will Hurd (R-Texas), Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine), Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.), and David Young (R-Iowa).  Too bad there are no Democrats trying to get in on this action.  I'd be interested to know why that is.  

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