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Rural Advocates Don't Want to Lose Community Improvement Momentum

Mailbox along a rural road
Christopher Habermann/The Toidi - stock.adobe.com
Mailbox along a rural road

A national coalition says despite progress, more moves are needed to help small towns thrive. The new 2023 Rural Policy Action report contains input from nearly 30 organizations. The authors say there are four main areas federal lawmakers should focus on to ensure rural communities are set up for success. They include infrastructure investments, taking on corporate mergers, and protecting democracy and natural resources.

Erik Hatlestad, energy democracy program manager with the Minnesota group Clean Up the River Environment, said small-town America remains overlooked.

"We did make some really great progress in the Inflation Reduction Act and [the] bipartisan infrastructure law and others. But we still have a long way to go - we have many decades of disinvestment and under-investment to make up for," he said.

Hatlestad contributed to the report, and added federal incentives will leverage tens of billions of dollars for rural
electric cooperatives and communities as they transition to clean energy sources. But he likens it to a down payment, noting more investments are needed to cover every rural utility. House Republicans are prioritizing spending cuts, and he warns some of these policies could be undone.

As for the resources that are currently available, Hatlestad said rural governments need some technical guidance in getting their hands on grants that could transform their communities.

"I think that is still a really big concern, and continuing to clear pathways for federal investment to reach rural communities needs to be a big priority," he explained.

Infrastructure goes beyond roads, bridges and broadband upgrades, the report said. Small, rural towns are also in desperate need of healthcare access, less expensive childcare, and a larger stock of safe and affordable housing to improve the quality of life for residents. The Minnesota Legislature helped this past session, other states should follow suit in filling gaps, Hatlestad added.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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