Rep. Steve Southerland II (R-Fla.) announced April 8 that he intends to introduce the Building Rural Communities Act later this week in Congress. He made the announcement while on a visit to Marianna, Fla., a community that the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) has been working with on its water and wastewater systems.
The act would enable not-for-profit technical assistance providers like RCAP to assist rural communities with community-facilities projects. Projects include public buildings like fire and police stations, courthouses, senior centers, and others. Communities would be able to request assistance in the planning and design stages all the way through loan repayment. The act would help to ensure that the projects are designed, constructed, and operated properly and assure lenders that their investments in these facilities will be repaid on time.
“Rural municipalities, country towns, and small farming communities form the backbone of North and Northwest Florida,” Southerland said at a press conference at Marianna City Hall. “Unfortunately, across America many of these bedrock communities are fading away because they can’t match the access to infrastructure and services that larger cities provide. Our legislation will make it easier for rural communities to thrive by providing the technical assistance and project planning they need to strengthen public safety, public health, and public access to upgraded services – all at no additional cost to taxpayers.”
The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and William Enyart (D-Ill.).
“This bipartisan bill will help communities in rural America build the infrastructure, public safety, and other essential community facilities that are necessary to support growth and economic development in rural areas,” said Robert Stewart, Executive Director of RCAP, which supports the bill.
During his visit to Marianna, Southerland met with local officials to discuss the improvements the city has made to its water infrastructure and the importance of technical assistance for rural communities. His visit was arranged by Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, the Southeast affiliate of RCAP, which has been carrying out the work in Marianna.
One of the biggest challenges facing rural America is a lack of access to capital for infrastructure, public safety, and other essential community facilities. Many small towns are run by volunteer or part-time mayors and council members who may not have experience with financing and managing large-scale construction projects. The act helps bridge that gap by ensuring that rural community leaders will have experienced partners they can rely on for technical, managerial, and financial expertise.
The act is modeled after the successful technical assistance program that has made the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Water and Wastewater Loan and Grant program one of the most efficient federal government programs. With a portfolio of over 17,500 active loans, it boasts a delinquency rate of less than 1 percent. RCAP’s assistance to small communities includes helping them secure loans from the program and manage the work funded by the loans.
“By expanding the availability of technical assistance for essential community facilities, the Building Rural Communities Act will help ensure that rural communities are able to access affordable financing for needed community improvements,” said Stewart. “It will also help ensure that the federal government’s limited resources are used most effectively.”