With the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law last November—a $1.3 trillion investment in our nation’s infrastructure—major funding is now available to rural communities. These funds can be used to rebuild roads and bridges, invest in high-speed internet access and clean drinking water, and upgrade electric power infrastructure.
However, just because these funds are available does not necessarily mean they are accessible. Rural communities often find it difficult to navigate funding opportunities because they lack the capacity to research and apply. Grant applications require extensive research, documentation, and technical writing skills. Additionally, some require communities to provide matching funds, a barrier to already resource-constrained communities.
The Biden-Harris administration has made it a priority to address this by launching new initiatives, including the Rural Partners Network and the Communities LEAP, and proposing the Office for Rural Prosperity.
The Rural Partners Network, an effort led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, launched in April with the goal of transforming the way federal agencies partner with rural communities to create economic opportunity. Federal field staff will be located in rural communities to help them navigate and access federal resources.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) created the Communities Local Energy Action Program (LEAP), which will create a community-driven action plan focused on reducing local pollution, increasing energy resilience, and lowering utility costs and energy burdens for 22 low-income communities, including the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska.
Additionally, Congresspersons from Iowa, Nebraska, and other states introduced a bipartisan bill to establish a permanent Office for Rural Prosperity. The Office would ensure federal dollars earmarked for rural communities are actually spent there and ease access to government services for rural Americans.
These three initiatives demonstrate that the federal government is serious about prioritizing rural America. Often overlooked or sidelined due to a variety of challenges, rural communities now have a more equitable opportunity to access federal programs and funding.
Mouw is policy associate Center for Rural Affairs.