The National Association of Counties’ (NACo) Rural Action Caucus (RAC) Steering Committee recently met to discuss legislative priorities for the upcoming year. The group, which analyzes how federal legislation influences rural county programs and services, decided to focus its advocacy efforts on five key legislative issues for 2011: the farm bill reauthorization, surface transportation-aviation reauthorization, rural health care, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act-PILT, and food safety. NACo reports:
“It is more critical than ever for rural counties to educate Congress and the administration about rural county priorities,” said Keith Langenhahn, board chair, Marathon County, Wis. and RAC chair. “I ask my fellow rural county officials from across the country to become involved in RAC and work with us to advance these priorities.”
RAC will work to ensure that both the surface transportation reauthorization and aviation reauthorization take into account the key role of rural counties in the nation’s integrated transportation system. RAC will also emphasize the need for multi-year authorizations that give counties certainty in their planning and budgeting processes.
Raising the profile of NACo’s farm bill priorities is also critical to addressing rural infrastructure needs. NACo supports enhanced provisions aimed at bolstering renewable energy, beginning and young farmers, and flexibly funded rural development programs in the next farm bill. This work will be complemented by a simultaneous focus on securing strong appropriations for USDA Rural Development programs.
USDA Rural Development’s grant and loan programs bolster local initiatives to enhance and maintain water and wastewater infrastructure, community facilities, broadband infrastructure, rural business programs and rural housing. The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and PILT are also critical to many rural counties. RAC will work with NACo’s Public Lands Steering Committee and Western Interstate Region to support full funding of PILT and SRS.
RAC will also support NACo priorities within health reform implementation, with a particular focus on funding for critical access hospitals, the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP) and the shortage of medical professionals in rural communities. Lastly, RAC will urge Congress to focus on improving food safety regulations, especially through enhanced inspection standards of imported food products.