Restoring Hope To Rural America
"Senator Edwards has offered a detailed plan that reflects his understanding of and commitment to rural America.
-- U.S. Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D)
"I support John Edwards because he's the first national candidate in years who really takes rural America seriouslyand he's got a solid, bold plan to help turn things around."
-- Sen. John Land, Democratic Leader of the South Carolina State Senate
Edwards Outlines Proposed Rural Recovery Act
Too often, the problems of rural America are forgotten by politicians living and working in far-off capital cities. Many rural areas are struggling: rural families earn 27 percent less than other families and 244 of the poorest 250 counties are rural. Rural manufacturing has been hit particularly hard by international trade, the offshoring of jobs, and automation. Struggling family farms are another challenge for small towns. As young people move away to find opportunity, rural communities are turning into ghost towns. One in four non-metro counties lost population in the 1990s. [Carsey Institute, 2006; Davis, 2003; USDA, 2002]
As a native of a small rural town, John Edwards knows that America cannot turn its back on rural areas. Small towns and rural areas are the keepers of American values like family, work, community, and freedom. America depends on rural communities for a strong manufacturing base, reliable and affordable food, and increasingly for clean energy as well. To make sure they share in our prosperity, we must fight corporate greed and turn the tables on runaway economic disparity. Today, Edwards outlined initiatives to restore economic fairness and create new jobs and businesses in rural America, help struggling counties and towns, and protect the rural people and their way of life.
Restoring Economic Fairness To Rural America:
* Investing Seed Money for Rural Recovery: Helping innovative small businesses is a promising approach to economic development, but only 1 percent of state economic development funds now support entrepreneurs. Edwards will create the Rural Economic Advancement Challenge (REACH) Fund to bring capital and management expertise to small town America. The REACH Fund will connect investors with rural entrepreneurs, organize businesses into networks to help them succeed together, and ensure that rural areas have access to the investment capital they need. [RUPRI, 2007]
* Creating the New Energy Economy in Rural America: Renewable sources of energy -- including ethanol, biodiesel, wind, and solar -- can make the U.S. independent of foreign oil, cut global warming pollution, and create new industries and hundreds of thousands of jobs in rural America. Edwards will establish the New Energy Economy Fund to jumpstart renewable energies. He will create new markets for ethanol by requiring all new cars to run on both gasoline and E85 ethanol, requiring 25 percent of chain gas stations to carry E85, supporting E20 and E30 fuels, and working with U.S. automakers to make efficient and alternative-fuel cars. He will support locally owned biorefineries with start-up capital. He will also require 25 percent of electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2025.
* Creating Fairness for Family Farmers: Edwards recognizes that the rules are stacked against family farmers. He supports the strict enforcement of laws against anticompetitive mergers, unfair pricing, and country-of-origin laws. He will enact a strong national ban on packer ownership to stop the spread of large corporate hog interests and create a national moratorium on the construction and expansion of hog farm lagoons. To help family farmers he will also limit farm subsidies to $250,000 per person, close loopholes in payment limits, and expand conservation programs.
* Investing in Rural Broadband: Once a world leader in broadband access, the U.S. is now 21st in the world, trailing Estonia. Rural households are only about half as likely to have a broadband connection even though digital inclusion is one of the quickest and surest ways to attract businesses. Edwards will establish a national broadband map to identify gaps in availability, price, and speed and require telephone and cable companies not to discriminate against rural communities in building their broadband networks. [ITU, 2006; CWA, 2006; Pew, 2006]
* Prohibiting Banks from Discriminating against Rural America: Rural communities have fewer bank branches, fewer per-capita small business loans and more high-cost mortgages. Deregulation has led to bank consolidation while small towns rely on community banks to support local businesses. Edwards will strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act to prevent banks from discriminating against rural areas and increase investment in rural small businesses. He will also establish a strong national law against predatory mortgages common in many rural areas. [NCRC, 2007; Carsey Institute, 2006; Federal Reserve Board of St. Louis, 2004; SBA, 2004; Independent Community Bankers Association, 2006.]
* Fighting for Economic Fairness: Child poverty rates in rural areas are higher than urban rates for every racial and ethnic group. The highest child poverty rates are in the most isolated rural areas. To eliminate adult and childhood poverty nationwide within 30 years, Edwards will raise the minimum wage, cut taxes for low-wage workers, help workers save and invest, and expand affordable housing near good jobs and schools. [Carsey Institute, 2006]
Helping Rural Towns And Counties:
* Guaranteeing Rural America the Funding It Needs and Is Entitled to: More than half of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's $70 billion in rural development funds has actually gone to metropolitan regions, suburbs of midsize cities, and resort towns like Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Edwards will rewrite these funding rules and get resources to the intended isolated and disadvantaged areas. Because many small towns lack the grant-writing capabilities of larger towns, Edwards will direct federal agencies to offer a simplified, one-page grant application for small grants to rural towns and counties, based on the successful COPS program. [Washington Post, 4/6/2007]
* Strengthening Rural Schools: Rural schools enroll 40 percent of American children - including most children in Iowa, New Hampshire, and North Carolina - but receive only 22 percent of federal education funding. Small rural schools often struggle to provide a complete curriculum and attract and retain excellent teachers. [NEA, 2007]
o Investing in Teachers: Research has found that teachers are the most important part of any school, and rural schools have particular difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers. They often lose teachers to wealthier districts. Edwards will improve pay for teachers in rural and other hard-to-staff schools, including rural schools, to help attract quality new and experienced teachers. He will also offer college scholarships for students who commit to teach in underserved rural schools after graduation. [Rural School and Community Trust, 2006 and 2007]
o Creating Digital Learning Opportunities: Distance learning through the Internet can bring the content of the world's best universities, libraries, and museums to rural and remote areas. Software programs incorporating virtual reality, digital modeling, and intelligent one-on-one tutoring systems are proven to dramatically accelerate learning. Edwards will invest in cutting-edge research to integrate these new teaching tools and test them in rural America. [Digital Promise, 2003]
* Improving Rural Health Care: Over the past 25 years, 470 rural hospitals have closed. Rural counties have only one-fourth as many doctors and one-sixth as many specialists per capita and face critical gaps in trauma care. The Edwards plan for universal health care will cover the 9 million rural Americans that lack insurance and establish a nationwide network of safety net clinics and public hospitals. He will rewrite the unfair Medicare and Medicaid funding formulas that punish rural states and communities. He will also support investments in telemedicine to instantaneously connect distant specialists and advanced equipment with local doctors and patients, allowing better monitoring, chronic disease management, and emergency response. Health care is also an important source of economic development, creating jobs directly and attracting businesses and retirees. One study estimated that each doctor was worth more than eight jobs. [Winbush and Crichlow, 2005; Carsey, 2006; USDA, 1999; Wakefield, 2000; KFF, 2003]
Protecting The Rural Way Of Life:
* Ridding Rural America of Methamphetamines: Many areas of rural America are facing the devastating effects of meth abuse. It can be easily, quickly, and cheaply produced and is highly addictive. Edwards will invest in enforcing drug laws in rural areas, help states make meth ingredients more difficult to get, and expand programs that successfully treat addicts such as the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program for prisoners.
* Protecting Lawful Gun Ownership: In small towns across America, hunting and gun ownership is a way of life. John Edwards believes that law-abiding citizens have the right to defend their families and respects the long American tradition of hunting. We can protect Second Amendment gun rights while also stopping criminals from using guns. Edwards will protect the right of law-abiding citizens to participate in gun shows, an important source of economic activity in many communities, while ensuring all that all weapons sold there are subject to an instant check. He will also crack down on gun crimes.
* Expanding Access to Clean Water: Every household deserve clean, drinkable water and sanitation services, but more than 1.7 million Americans lack basic plumbing facilities. Rural households are four times more likely to lack proper plumbing than urban homes. Inadequate water and sanitation damage public health and impede economic development. Edwards will help local areas improve their infrastructure and tackle local pollution problems. He will also establish tough clean air and water requirements for concentrated animal feeding operations. [RCAP, undated]