By Wally Adeyemo
This week, I had the privilege of visiting Charles City County and Henrico County, Virginia, where I met with local leaders to discuss the impact of the Biden-Harris administration’s investments in rural America.
Rural communities are the backbone of the American economy in ways ranging from food to culture to natural resources. Take agriculture for example agriculture, food, and related industries make up over 5 percent of our whole economy, and farming itself accounts for 2.6 million jobs. The work of US farmers helps Americans to expend a smaller share of their spending on food than any of G7 country.
Despite our reliance on our rural communities, too often they are hit the hardest when economic crisis strikes. In previous recessions, rural communities rarely received the full support they needed.
Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, Wally Adeyemo
Today, we are seeing a strong rural recovery from the pandemic because of President Biden’s focus on the issues these communities face. Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate was nearly 20 percent higher in rural areas than in metro areas. That gap is now eliminated. Not only have rural communities gotten back more jobs than those lost during the pandemic, but jobs are now paying more.
We made a number of investments that have powered the rural recovery. Funded by the American Rescue Plan, the Treasury Department’s $10 billion Homeowner Assistance Fund and $46 billion Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program are delivering assistance to rural residents. For example, in Alabama, the statewide ERA program provides short-term help with rent and utilities to lower-income renters experiencing financial hardship, particularly in the state’s more rural counties.
Beyond housing, another $20 billion in funds went to rural healthcare providers, community health centers, and programs for mental health and substance abuse disorders across the country. Moreover, in order to keep the operations of farms going, we devoted $4 billion for purchases of personal protective equipment for farmers and food workers as well as $800 million in direct purchases for food aid programs. These targeted programs came on top of the stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, and expanded child tax credits we provided to all Americans.
We know our efforts, though, cannot just be about returning to the pre-pandemic status quo. Historically, rural areas have had lower average incomes, higher poverty rates, and lower rates of health insurance coverage. To alleviate these long-term trends, as part of President Biden’s investing in America agenda, we are focused on improving economic opportunity in rural America.
Last August, president Biden signed into law the largest single investment in rural electrification in over eight decades – the Inflation Reduction Act. More than 900 rural electric co-ops that provide power to 32 million Americans can now benefit from direct payments for a dozen clean energy tax credits.
The law also allocates $13 billion in incentives to support rural opportunities in clean energy projects, which will create jobs, spur economic growth, and reach more than 41,500 small businesses and farms.
In just one year, we have already seen over 200 announced clean energy projects concentrated in communities that have the most to gain. For example, rural Mingo County, West Virginia, where nearly one-third of residents are below the poverty line, is set to host a new clean ammonia production facility – a $3 billion project expected to support 2,000 construction jobs.
President Biden understands that many rural communities need technical assistance to access these historic resources. That is why last year the Biden-Harris administration launched the Rural Partners Network, an all-of-government program that helps rural communities find resources and funding to create jobs, build infrastructure, and support long-term economic stability on their own terms.
The Treasury Department is one of over 20 federal agencies and regional commissions supporting the Rural Partners Network and contributing to Rural.gov. The Biden-Harris administration also drew up a Rural Playbook for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help rural communities access infrastructure funding.
Rural Americans disproportionately lack access to high-speed internet, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $65 billion to create universal access in rural communities. These funds come in addition to Treasury’s $10 billion Capital Projects Fund, which is already delivering high-speed internet to rural communities across the county, such as in Ohio where the state is using more than $75 million to fund last-mile high-speed internet projects serving an estimated 15,000 homes and businesses in rural areas.
While the context of rural America is unique, the challenges these communities face are common across underserved patches of our country. This is why the Treasury Department created a team focused on these challenges – the Equity Hub – led by my colleague Diane Lim. In addition to rural communities, the Equity Hub is helping the Department think about how we can unlock the unrealized potential of underrepresented communities throughout our country.
For too long, these communities have borne the brunt of recessions and been deprioritized for investment. Moving from recovery to investment, our administration knows that centering equity is not just a moral imperative, but is a policy decision that will drive a stronger economic recovery for all of America.
Source: US Department of the Treasury, Office of Public Affairs
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