Guest Opinion: Rebuilding America’s rural infrastructure | PostIndependent.com

Guest Opinion: Rebuilding America’s rural infrastructure

Sallie Clark
Guest Opinion

Some people remember when many rural households didn't have electricity or running water. Although those days are long gone for most, there's still lots of room for improvement. In fact, our American infrastructure used to be the envy of the world, but now it's in disrepair.

This is why President Trump has made it a priority to rebuild America's infrastructure. He proposes to devote $50 billion, which is 25 percent of new federal money, to improving infrastructure in rural America. This is an unprecedented commitment. His proposal will stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next decade.

As Congress takes up the president's infrastructure proposal, I am delighted to share with you some great news right now. Included in the FY 2018 budget bill that Congress just passed and President Trump signed in March is a robust investment of $600 million in rural broadband. These funds will serve as a "down payment" on the president's full, comprehensive infrastructure funding proposal that will be further deliberated over the coming months.

USDA will use these new rural broadband funds to administer a new program that will begin to meet the administration's goals of bringing reliable and affordable broadband e-Connectivity to America's rural towns, cities counties and tribal areas. Today, 80 percent of the 24 million American households that do not have 21st century high-speed internet are in rural areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission. That is unacceptable. America can do better for our rural citizens and for rural production sites that need e-Connectivity to continue to supply the nation and the world with food, fiber, minerals and manufactured products.

As we set up the new program, USDA will work diligently to ensure that the broadband e-Connectivity projects provide the most "bang for the buck" and improve access for as many rural American homes, businesses, farms, schools and health care centers as possible.

Every day, I see firsthand the tremendous difference USDA has made over the decades by investing in rural infrastructure. By providing funding for a telemedicine network to Lincoln Community Hospital in Hugo, to serve more than 20,000 residents in Northeast Colorado, to addressing rural health care and behavioral health by partnering with Valley Citizens Foundation for Health for upgrades and a new addition to the Rio Grande Hospital in Del Norte. These investments are the result of strong partnerships that USDA has formed over the years with local business and civic leaders.

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In addition to providing infrastructure financing, USDA is addressing statutory changes, regulatory relief and cultural shifts to help improve the way the federal government serves its citizens. This approach is consistent with the secretary's priorities: infrastructure, partnerships and innovation. All three are needed to rebuild this great nation.

Throughout my term, I will be meeting with business owners, developers, elected officials and rural residents to learn about your infrastructure needs and concerns. We will also be focusing our efforts on addressing the opioid crisis in rural Colorado.

I want to hear from you about what's working — and what we can do better. Please contact me or our team of specialists in Colorado to let us know of your community's infrastructure needs. Visit our webpage at http://www.rd.usda.gov/co.

Together, we can ensure that USDA investments in rural infrastructure will create jobs, expand economic opportunities and help ensure that rural communities continue to be great places to live, work, start a business and raise a family.

Sallie Clark is Colorado State Director for USDA Rural Development.