White House Rural Council Blog

  • Giving Doctors and Hospitals the Tools They Need to Provide Better Care

    Ed. note: This blog is cross-posted from HHS

    Last week, I visited the Metropolitan Community College where I toured the Virtual Hospital and Patient Simulation Lab. This facility is a great example of how Community Colleges are training the skilled workforce that is so critical to creating and running successful Health IT systems.

    When doctors and hospitals use Health IT, it reduces errors, cuts paperwork, and lowers costs. Over the past 3 years, the Obama Administration has made it a top priority to make it easier for doctors and hospitals to adopt Health IT.

    We’re providing incentive payments to hospitals and eligible providers to adopt electronic health records and use them to improve patient care. We created 62 Health IT Regional Extension Centers around the country to help health care providers take advantage of those incentives. Already, more than 120,000 primary care providers, including over 70% of rural primary care providers in small practices, have registered to use those incentives.

    At community colleges we’re training the skilled workforce that is essential to sustaining this investment. More than 9,000 community college students have already completed Health IT training through federally supported workforce programs, with thousands more enrolled.

    And last week, we announced that these investments are already making a difference. New data shows that nearly 2,000 hospitals and more than 41,000 doctors have received $3.1 billion in incentive payments for meaningful use of Health IT, particularly certified Electronic Health Records (EHR).  Meaningful use requires doctors to give their patients a summary of their office visit. Like a receipt, this clearly explains at a glance the care the patient received and the next steps for both the patient and provider.

  • “Life is a Highway: Rural Tourism and the Prospects of Economic Opportunity”

    The President recently unveiled an ambitious plan to make the United States the #1 tourist destination in the world. Each year, tens of millions of people from around the world visit the U.S. In 2010, the travel and tourism industry generated over $134 billion dollars for the American economy and tourism supported 7.5 million jobs.   

    The President wants to build upon this success, and recently announced steps to ease the international arrival and admissions process for tourists to visit the United States. Frequent travelers who pass an extensive background check will be able to scan their passports and fingerprints and skip long lines at immigration at more airports through the Global Entry Program. As a result of the President’s action, the U.S. will expand the number of countries where visitors can get pre-cleared by Homeland Security so they don’t need a tourist visa. And we’re going to speed up visa processing for countries with growing middle classes that can afford to visit America – countries like China and Brazil. 

    I want to take a moment to highlight what these actions mean for Rural America. The iconic images of Rural America’s assets – our farms and ranches, historic sites and small towns, and national parks, forests and seashores – are powerful motivators for international travelers who choose to spend their vacation time and money in America. Visitors in search of a memorable American experience encounter a wealth of attractive tourism opportunities in our country’s rural landscapes and communities.

  • Regional Planning – Key to Rural Economic Strength

    Ed. note: This blog is cross-posted from USDA.gov.

    Both of us grew up in small towns, Kathleen in Greenfield, MA and Bob in Ancram, NY.  From our own experiences, we understand the challenges and the importance of a strong rural economy.

    We recently visited Brevard, a town of about 6,000 people in North Carolina’s Transylvania County. While there we held a White House Rural Council meeting at the Transylvania County Library with leadership from the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, the regional economic development commission AdvantageWest, business leaders from Asheville and Brevard, and several local elected officials. We released a report from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities, at Brevard College, which focuses on how the federal government can help rural areas to be economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable.

    One theme that was discussed at the Rural Council roundtable was the need for communities to be solution oriented by setting priorities and realistic goals for the direction they want their region to head. In Transylvania County, about 1/6th of the residents used to work in the paper mill business, an industry that is no longer there. So the county is working within the region to figure out how they can build a sustainable community for the future, one that recognizes the great economic value of the water, farmland and forests in Western North Carolina.

    Participants asked about how communities can continue economic growth with declining Federal, state and local resources.  We spoke about the need for regional planners to get the right people around the table in order to create a clear vision in the community so that they can make the best use of Federal funding to form partnerships and leverage private sector development. Because ultimately, the economy in Brevard, like the small towns we grew up in, is linked to the rest of the region.

  • White House Rural Council Feedback Report

    Since the establishment of the White House Rural Council in June, President Barack Obama, a number of senior Administration officials and I met with folks throughout the country to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing rural America. By hosting the White House Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa, as part of the President’s three-day Bus Tour in August, in addition to nearly 200 roundtable discussions with business and agricultural leaders in rural communities, we learned what rural Americans think are the most important issues to ensure that their future is bright and prosperous.

    A summary of the places we visited and many of things we learned is encapsulated in the White House Rural Council feedback report (pdf), which is now available. 

    To be sure that we heard the voices of rural Americans from every corner of the nation, Obama Administrations officials traveled to 46 states and held nearly 200 forums to determine how folks in Washington, D.C. can improve our efforts on creating jobs and spurring economic growth.  We heard from local citizens on several key topics ranging from ways to build small business and strengthen the middle class in rural America, to plans for building economic opportunity for rural business through infrastructure investment. From these discussions, we were able to not only identify key themes and issues but also identify ways in which to improve our country. 

  • Lessons from the Farm to Strengthen America

    Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the USDA Blog.

    A week ago, President Obama released the American Jobs Act, a specific plan to jumpstart our economy and put Americans to work today.  It contains ideas that both parties in Washington have supported.  And yesterday, he laid out a plan that will pay for it – and for other long-term investments we need to stay competitive – while reducing our deficits.

    His plan takes a balanced approach.  It looks for savings across government.  And it asks everyone to do their part and pay their fair share so we can live within our means.

    For agriculture, the plan focuses on what the President and I believe is one of the most pressing challenges facing producers right now: maintaining a strong safety net and disaster assistance programs that will work for all farmers and ranchers, no matter what they produce or where.

    The plan will strengthen our disaster assistance programs, which are currently set to run out of funding at the end of the month.  It means that farmers knocked down by natural disaster can get their operations back on track.  After witnessing flood, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires this year – I am even more certain of the importance of this component of the safety net.

    By modernizing our crop insurance program and making modest changes to the subsidy that crop insurance companies receive, we’ll make sure that we improve the programs and implement them more efficiently.

  • “Someday” is Now: Direct Farm Payments and the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction

    For nearly two decades, I have served in agriculture policy capacities for the federal government – most of those years with the United States Department Agriculture.  Today, I am reminded of a quote by Will Rogers.  The outspoken Oklahoman once remarked, “An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.”  Instead, Rogers made so many Americans laugh during some of the most difficult times in the history of rural America, sometimes pointing out irony in the activities of government.

    Today marks a truly historic action, as President Obama proposes dramatic, yet common sense reform to what has become over the years, a product of conventional politics and longstanding irony in the landscape of government.  As part of the President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction announced today, President Obama is proposing to terminate direct farm subsidies.  At nearly $5 billion in funding per year, the Direct Payments program is certainly no laughing matter.  And if a vegetable were ever developed per the Rogers quote above, it wouldn’t qualify for direct payments, because vegetables are not deemed to be “program crops”. (more on that in a moment)  

    As the lead advisor on rural issues for the President’s Domestic Policy Council, some will ask me “why advocate for the reduction of an agriculture program?”  In short, I believe the President’s proposal seeks to establish new policy that has been long overdue, and takes action that conventional thinking would regard as either too difficult, or too controversial.