With the midterm elections in the rearview mirror, Illinois’ electric cooperatives are looking ahead at the impact and opportunities for rural America and electric cooperatives.
Electric co-ops across the nation played an active role in the midterm election and worked to get to know each candidate running for federal office. This was particularly important since more than 60 members of Congress decided to retire or run for another office.
Through Co-ops Vote, a nonpartisan political engagement effort led by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, more than 100 candidates attended electric cooperative functions or met with co-op staff.
There are several opportunities for our elected leaders to find common ground and advance legislation to benefit our communities.
Improving our nation’s aging infrastructure is a great place to start. Congress and the White House should explore an infrastructure package that benefits all Americans, especially those at risk of being left behind in rural America. This investment in critical infrastructure needs to go beyond roads and bridges. Congress should leverage an infrastructure package to help maintain and modernize the electric grid and connect rural communities to the modern economy.
The new Congress also presents an opportunity to expand access to high-speed internet service in rural communities. According to the FCC, 23 million rural Americans lack access to broadband internet—most of them are members of an electric co-op. Several electric cooperatives are working to close the digital divide by bringing broadband to their communities.
Despite that progress, an expanded combination of grants and loans is necessary to continue providing rural communities with the wherewithal for education, telemedicine and a 21st century economy. Everyone—the Trump administration and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress—agrees on the need to bolster rural broadband.
A third area of possible bipartisan agreement lies in the need to produce a new farm bill. The farm bill, which authorizes numerous rural economic development programs, traditionally has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. Although the House and Senate have passed very different versions of a farm bill this year, we’re hopeful that lawmakers can come to an agreement on a compromise bill that promotes rural economic development and protects Rural Utilities Service electric loan funding on which electric co-ops depend.
Electric cooperatives are engines of economic development and we are proud to continue working toward a brighter and more prosperous rural America. Source: NRECA