The Biden Administration last week launched a program to place federal field staff in more than 25 rural communities in multiple states, Tribal Nations and territories where they will help local leaders navigate and access resources made available by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The Rural Partners Network (RPN) is being funded and led by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) but is a whole-of-government effort that includes several federal agencies and regional commissions participating in the Rural Prosperity Interagency Policy Council, among them the departments of commerce, education, energy, health and human services, interior, labor, transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The aim of the Rural Partners Network is to “help rural communities create economic opportunity by leveraging resources from all federal departments and agencies.” In support of that effort, 13 federal agencies are dedicating a Washington, D.C. based point person or team to serve as a “front door for RPN staff and communities.”
RPN staff will work with local leaders in government, business, and community organizations; federal agency field offices and existing federal efforts such as Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, the Justice40 Initiative, and with regional commissions to identify challenges preventing rural communities from accessing federal support and to inform the work of the Rural Prosperity Interagency Policy Council, which is tasked with ensuring rural places are prioritized in Washington.
The American Rescue Plan, also known as the COVID-19 Rescue Package, provides billions of dollars to rural workers, local governments, and small businesses to rebuild from the pandemic. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, provides funding for broadband, drinking water, electric infrastructure, and roads and bridges for rural communities.
The Biden administration hopes to have the first cohort of the RPN program in place by the end of May in rural locations in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New Mexico.
The first cohort locations were selected by the USDA based on quantitative and qualitative factors, including levels of economic distress and readiness of the communities and local stakeholder organizations to participate in RPN program.
The RPN program will expand to Nevada, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Tribal communities in Alaska in a second cohort that would launch by the end of August, if Congress approves the appropriations in the Biden administration’s fiscal year 2023 budget.
Eventually, the administration sees the RPN program expanding to serve all 50 states, as well as more Tribal Nations and territories.