Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Takes Aim at Rural America

Daily Yonder | By Joe Belden | April 20, 2021

President Biden’s $2 trillion national infrastructure plan, released March 31, includes many new or expanded programs for rural America.

The most interesting proposal – but also with few details so far – is a new $5 billion “Rural Partnership Program to help rural regions, including Tribal Nations, build on their unique assets and realize their vision for inclusive community and economic development.”  This program will support local planning and capacity-building efforts and offer flexible funding.

A fact sheet from the White House, “How the American Jobs Plan Will Create Jobs in Rural America,” briefly describes the rural parts of the overall plan.

The three-page document begins by pointing out that even though “… rural and Tribal communities across the country are asset-rich, more than 8 in 10 persistent poverty counties fall outside of a metropolitan area. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan directly invests in rural and Tribal communities, including by providing 100% broadband coverage, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure like roads and water systems, and positioning the U.S. agricultural sector to lead the shift to net-zero emissions while providing new economic opportunities for farmers…Rural communities often don’t have the same [resources] as big cities to … navigate and access federal programs. On top of that, they have to navigate a myriad of programs all with different purposes and requirements.”

A note of caution:  This last sentence could mean further proposals may come to consolidate and possibly cut programs into large block grants.

The proposal has 19 further bullet points that briefly summarize other Jobs Plan investments in rural America.  Included are:

  • $100 billion for rural broadband
  • Efforts to help agriculture to move to net-zero energy use
  • $10 billion for water infrastructure
  • $2 billion for rural housing
  • $20 billion for “off-system” bridge repairs
  • Forest restoration projects
  • Drought resilience for farmers
  • Wildfire resilience financing
  • Redevelopment of blighted and polluted urban and rural property
  • Infrastructure buildout in disadvantaged communities
  • $15 billion for subsidized manufacturing credit programs
  • USDA research and development
  • 10 new regional innovation hubs to leverage private investment
  • A $10 billion Community Revitalization Fund
  • Plugging of old oil and gas wells and clean-up of abandoned mines
  • Investment in clean energy projects in distressed communities
  • Funding for rural transportation infrastructure projects
  • $10 billion to help rural electric coops transition to clean energy
  • Dedicated funding for tribal areas in water projects, broadband, housing, and transportation.

Few details are yet available for any of these efforts.

It is perhaps significant that the Biden Administration appears to be making a clear effort to reach out to and assist rural places.  Democratic Presidential candidates since the 1980s have seen their share of the rural and small-town electorate fall off very sharply.  That is probably irreversible to some extent, but the trend will only get more polarized if rural voters feel that their issues and challenges are of no interest to urban coastal elites.

The White House website’s “Briefing Room” has a 28-page fact sheet on the full plan.  More detail on the President’s approach to rural can also be found in a 22-page Biden-Harris campaign document.