Trump, Congress focus on Rural America

The Trump administration and Congress both are ­taking steps they say can help to promote expanded economic activity in rural America. Trump signed an executive order on April 24 establishing an interagency working group to promote agriculture and rural prosperity.

The task force, chaired by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, is charged with ­identifying legislative, regulatory and policy changes that can enhance the ­economy and quality of life in the nation’s heartland. Its initial report is due in six months.

“We appreciate President Trump recognizing the need to ­prioritize rural American families and ­businesses,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson, adding that co-ops look forward to working with the group.

“This task force is a key step as we seek to develop rural ­communities ­economically. That includes ­implementing new energy tech­nologies to meet tomorrow’s energy needs while also deploying broadband and other services to enhance daily lives throughout rural America,” he said.

NRECA was a lead member of a broad-based ­coalition that asked the president in February to pay attention to rural America, citing needs in energy, transportation, bridges, railways and dams, among others.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Congress has started work on the 2018 Farm Bill, legis­lation that will provide five-year ­authorization for programs important to co-ops. The legislation was a topic of discus­sion at the recent Legislative Conference, as NRECA officials and congres­sional staffers said they expect the pace of hearings on the bill to pick up in the next few months.

It is likely that broadband will play a big part in the Farm Bill, as the Department of Agriculture ­adminis­ters four programs ­relating to rural broadband deployment.

“Even though the Farm Bill is not due to be ­reauthorized until 2018, we will be ­laying the groundwork for electric co-op priorities this year,” said Kirk Johnson, NRECA senior vice ­president, government relations. “Between the Trump administration and Congress, we envision oppor­tunities for us to play an important role in shaping policies for rural America.”

Source: NRECA, Steven Johnson