Hillary Clinton’s Plan for a Vibrant Rural America
America’s rural communities lie at the heart of what makes this country great. The affordability of our food, the independence and sophistication of our energy supply, and the strength of our small communities all depend on a vibrant rural America. Despite their critical role in our economy, too many rural communities are not sharing in our nation’s economic gains. Unemployment and poverty are too high, commodity prices have recently declined, and necessary components to economic security – including accessible health care and affordable education – are unavailable in too many rural communities. We must do more to ensure the vitality of our rural areas—not only because America’s 46 million rural residents make up nearly 15 percent of our population, but also because rural America provides the foundation for the entire country’s economic success.
Clinton’s focus on strengthening rural America for the next generation focuses on four key areas.
- Spurring investment to power the rural economy. Small and medium sized businesses power the rural economy but many are being held back by inadequate infrastructure, poor access to credit and capital, and insufficient incentives to invest. To unleash the potential of America's rural businesses, farms, and ranches – and create jobs and grow wages for working Americans – Clinton will:
- Expand access to equity capital for rural businesses by increasing the number of Rural Business Investment Companies (RBICs), which make equity investments in small rural businesses—driving growth and creating jobs in rural areas. RBICs are approved through the Farm Credit Administration, funded by Farm Credit Banks, and directly link entrepreneurs to capital. They help to build "capital networks" in rural areas, which research suggests is a major factor impacting venture capital access in states with large rural populations.1
- Simplify regulations for community banks to ensure they are focused on funding our small business and are not swallowed up by a never-ending cycle of examinations and paperwork. These banks are vital to our rural businesses—a National Federation of Independent Businesses survey found that more than 70 percent of rural respondents identified their primary financial institution as a local bank, compared to 49 percent of urban respondents.2 Clinton's plan will cut red tape for banks that don't measure their assets in billions – while making sure community banks are never used as a Trojan Horse to undermine Dodd-Frank reforms for the largest Wall Street Banks.
- Create a national infrastructure bank and invest in infrastructure to improve the country's rural transportation, water, and broadband infrastructure so that it meets the demands of our modernizing industries and creates jobs in rural America. Crucially, Clinton will focus on increasing access and adoption of high-speed broadband so that rural small businesses can better connect to the global economy, farmers and ranchers can benefit from agricultural technology, and students can benefit from distance learning.
- Streamline, expand, and make permanent the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) to increase the amount of credits available to low-income communities and add new credits for hard-hit communities that have seen jobs and production depart. Since the NMTC was amended in 2006 to ensure non-metro communities were allocated their fair share, the credit has created tens of thousands of jobs and financed over 600 businesses and facilities in rural America.3 This tax relief for long-term investments in rural and other communities will be paid for by raising capital gains rates on short-term trading and churning.
- Strengthen USDA grant programs to make them less about bureaucratic buckets and more about funding flexibility, leveraging local resources, and measuring results. For example, Clinton will partner with Land-Grant Colleges and Universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges, and Hispanic Serving Institutions to expand the USDA StrikeForce Initiative. StrikeForce targets rural development resources to create jobs and revitalize areas of the country where poverty rates exceed 20 percent—about 85 percent of which are in rural areas.
- Raising agricultural production and profitability for family farms. A strong agricultural economy remains a critical cornerstone of a vibrant rural economy. Farmers and ranchers supply food for America's dinner tables, invest in farm machinery and supplies, and provide domestic energy resources that fuel small businesses. The agriculture economy also drives America's larger economic success—accounting for about $800 billion in economic activity each year and supporting one out of every eleven jobs in the country. To ensure that America's farmers and ranchers have the tools they need to succeed Clinton will:
- Support the next generation of farmers by doubling funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program to provide education, mentoring, and technical assistance to aspiring farmers and ranchers. Clinton will also fight to enact her New College Compact to tackle student debt. A National Young Farmers Coalition survey found that 30 percent of respondents said that student loans delayed or prevented them from farming.4
- Build a strong local and regional food system by doubling funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program to expand food hubs, farmers markets, SNAP recipients' access to fresh food, and to encourage direct sales to local schools, hospitals, retailers and wholesalers. Clinton's focus on this issue stems from the “Farm-to-Fork” initiative she promoted in New York as Senator.
- Provide a focused safety net for farmers and ranchers by continuing to make progress in targeting federal resources in commodity payment, crop insurance, and disaster assistance programs to support family operations that truly need them in challenging times, like when weather-related disasters devastate whole areas of the country.
- Fight for comprehensive immigration reform because America's immigrants and migrant workers play a critical role in developing and supporting America's agricultural economy.
- Promoting clean energy leadership and collaborative stewardship. Rural America is an energy leader, providing clean electricity and transportation fuels to the rest of the country, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and making the air we breathe cleaner and safer. Over the past decade, American wind power generation has grown 10-fold and domestic renewable fuels production has expanded by more than 350 percent—creating jobs, boosting farm incomes, and driving billions of dollars of investment into rural communities. Clinton believes that America can't afford to cede our leadership in developing and deploying advanced clean fuels and clean electricity that will grow our economy, lower our energy bills, combat climate change, and make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st Century. Rural America's rich endowment of natural resources extends far beyond energy, too, and Clinton will partner with local communities to protect our lands, waters, and wildlife. Clinton will:
- Fully fund the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides assistance to producers – including a set-aside for minorities and veterans – who are working to conserve and improve natural resources on their farms and ranches. Additional funding will be directed toward proven initiatives like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which provides communities with flexible funding to set priorities and lead the way on efforts to improve water quality, combat drought and wildfires, expand wildlife habitat, and enhance soil health.
- Strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard so that it drives the development of advanced cellulosic and other advanced biofuels, protects consumers, improves access to E15, E85, and biodiesel blends, and provides investment certainty.
- Support the bio-based economy's dynamic growth by doubling the loan guarantees made through the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. The loan guarantee program helps fund the creation of bio-processing plants and emerging technologies that, for example, convert agriculture and landfill waste into productive chemicals and non-petroleum based materials. In 2013, the bio-based economy generated $369 billion and was responsible for over 4 million American jobs.5
- Launch her Clean Energy Challenge to give states, cities, and rural communities ready to lead on clean energy the tools, resources, and flexibility they need to succeed. In doing so, Clinton will achieve the twin goals of having more than half a billion solar panels installed in this country by the end of her first term and producing enough clean renewable energy to power every home in America within 10 years of her taking office. This includes expanding the Rural Utilities Service and other successful USDA energy programs and ensuring the federal government is a partner, not an obstacle, in getting low-cost wind and other renewable energy from rural communities to the rest of the country.
- Expanding opportunity in rural communities across America. Clinton believes that you should be able to live, work, and raise a family anywhere you choose. But increasingly, young Americans in rural areas have been forced to look outside of their communities to find quality heath care, a good education, or a stable job. America's rural areas are each unique, and each faces its own set of challenges—but every American, in every community, deserves a fair chance. That is why as Clinton fights to strengthen the rural economy and raise wages for working Americans, she will also work to ensure everyone has a solid foundation for success. Clinton will:
- Make critical investments in our youngest learners by doubling funding for Early Head Start and working to ensure that every 4-year old in America has access to high-quality preschool in the next ten years. Rural children disproportionately lack access to quality preschool—during the 2013-14 school year, ten states did not offer a preschool program for four-year-olds, eight of which had a higher percentage of students enrolled in rural schools than the national average.6
- Ensure cost won't be a barrier for college. For students from rural areas – who attend two-year institutions at a higher rate than their peers in metro areas – community colleges provide a pathway to obtain high-skilled manufacturing, service and agricultural jobs in their local communities.8 Clinton's New College Compact incorporates President Obama's plan to make community college tuition free so that young students and displaced workers can gain the skills they need to succeed. Research also shows a ten-percent gap in college attainment for rural students compared to the national average. Reasons for this gap include a lack of access to college preparatory courses in high school and cost barriers to attending 4-year institutions. Clinton is committed to ensuring that rural schools access college-prep courses in high school through on-line learning. And Clinton's New College Compact will work to ensure that students can attend a 4-year public college without taking loans for tuition.
- Improve health care access for rural Americans by further integrating telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and other information technologies into our broader health system. Nearly a sixth of Americans live in rural areas, but barely a tenth of physicians practice there.9 Clinton will explore cost-effective ways to broaden the scope of healthcare providers eligible for telehealth reimbursement under Medicare and other programs, including federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics. She will also call for states to support efforts such as those by doctors and state medical boards to streamline licensing for telemedicine. Additionally, she will examine ways to expand the types of services that qualify for reimbursement, such as treatments that use remote patient monitoring technology – while ensuring that eligible services improve health and drive value. We need to harness public resources and private innovation to expand telehealth and information technology to benefit patients in rural areas and all over the country.
- Ensure that our rural communities have better access to substance abuse prevention, early intervention, and treatment. Substance abuse is striking small towns and urban areas across America. But in rural America, the disease is particularly devastating—between 1999 and 2009, the death rates associated with drug poisoning grew by 394 percent in rural areas compared to 279 percent for large central metropolitan counties.10 In the coming weeks Clinton will release a comprehensive plan to address our substance abuse epidemic.