As Prepared For Delivery:
Thank you to Rural Assembly for this invitation to a gathering that spans every corner of the country. It’s an honor to join a lineup of rural leaders, advocates, farmers, workers, artists, and storytellers that showcases the incredible diversity of rural communities, and serves as a reminder that rural America truly is “everywhere.”
Rural America is in the food we eat and the landscapes we cherish, in the stories of Native people, immigrants, and descendants of slaves. It’s in our rivers, roads, and rails, and the movement of people and goods that drive our economy. And just as rural America has been a vital piece of our past, you will help lead us into a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous future. From energy production and climate change to innovations in mobility, manufacturing, and agriculture, rural America is at the frontier of so many challenges and opportunities that we face as a nation.
Rural communities are a priority for the Biden Administration. First, we are committed to ensuring COVID-19 vaccines get to rural areas. And as we begin to turn the page from crisis to recovery, we are investing in areas of critical need such as health care, substance use prevention, schools, and housing. But we must also look beyond the pandemic; we must build back better than before. The road to that more prosperous future runs through rural America, and the Biden Administration stands ready to ensure we all reach it.
At the very heart of that promise is a commitment to equity and inclusivity, values that I know Rural Assembly shares. The pandemic has painfully exposed the costs of inequity, as marginalized communities across America have borne the heaviest burdens. But this is not some new reality. Indian Country has long struggled with a lack of healthcare access and inadequate funding. In Appalachia, miners who risked their lives to power our economy have seen wealth extracted from the ground, leaving nothing but a scarred landscape behind.
Today, rural America is home to more than 8 in 10 persistent poverty counties. These inequities span generations, and require a generational investment. That is why the equity agenda is not only a question of policy, it is the bedrock on which we will build a government that serves all people. Equity boosts our economy, our towns, our very democracy. It is the opportunity for every child to realize the promise of America, from the Black Belt to the Sioux Nation.
On Day One, President Biden signed an executive order to embed equity across every federal agency and ensure resources are not only reaching all communities, but meeting their needs. For rural America, that means support for planning and capacity-building at the local and regional level, so that small communities have the resources they need to access federal programs. That means flexible funding so that every community can build on its own unique assets and ambitions.
These principles aren’t just hopes and dreams, they are concrete actions woven throughout the American Rescue Plan and American Jobs Plan. The President understands that rural communities have missed out on economic growth and government investment for years, and he is determined to change the narrative.
The American Jobs Plan will transform how the federal government supports rural communities. The plan’s proposed Rural Partnership Program provides $5 billion in dedicated, flexible funding to rural and Tribal areas for locally-led community and economic development. The program is designed to meet the needs of communities on the ground for planning, technical assistance, and implementation so that rural America is leading its own way into the future. Rural communities are racially, economically, and culturally diverse. There is no such thing as one size fits all. Whether you want to build around outdoor recreation, manufacturing, agriculture, or cultural heritage, it’s time to reimagine an inclusive rural economy where the strengths of each community are reinforced and celebrated.
The Rural Partnership Program is just one way we will address historic underinvestment in rural communities. The American Jobs Plan calls for upgrading rural water systems so that every American has safe drinking water. It invests in rural housing so that low-income homeowners and renters can secure a stable home. And it will repair the bridges, roads, and rails that connect rural regions and fuel our economy. These efforts build on the American Rescue Plan’s investments in education, healthcare, and nutrition that are already helping rural families and workers get back on their feet.
The American Rescue Plan also recognizes that not everyone has equal access to the opportunities of rural America. My great grandfather, Pratt Suber, was a slave in South Carolina who managed to secure a piece of land following the Civil War. Though modest, he had the foothold he needed to become a successful farmer and local leader despite the cards stacked against him in the Reconstruction South. The legacy of that land meant that two generations later, my father Emmett Rice was born into a family with just enough stability to allow him to dream of all that he could be. Although he grew up in the heart of Jim Crow, my father served his country with the Tuskegee Airmen and overcame the barriers of segregation to ultimately sit on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.
There is a clear link between my great grandfather’s plot of farmland and where I am today. But too many Black, Native, and other farmers of color are denied the opportunity to build wealth that can grow over generations. That is why the American Rescue Plan included $5 billion for assistance and debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. That is why it included $31 billion for Tribal governments, education, housing, and healthcare—the largest ever federal investment in Native communities. These actions are long overdue, targeting some of the most enduring inequities in rural America. We still have a long way to go, but this is a historic start.
While we work to correct past wrongs, we must also look towards the future. The American Jobs Plan positions rural communities to lead the clean energy transition through partnerships with rural electric co-ops to replace old power plants with renewable systems. It recognizes the critical role of farmers in confronting the climate crisis and will make U.S. agriculture the global standard in net-zero emissions, protecting the environment while opening new markets for our farmers.
President Biden is committed to expanding rural prosperity through investments that respond to the crises of today and lay the groundwork for a stronger tomorrow. Rural communities can lead the nation out of crisis into a new era of inclusive growth, but we need your advocacy to pass the American Jobs Plan and turn this vision we share into reality. Together, let’s build a more equitable society where rural communities remain thriving places to live, work, and raise a family for generations to come.