Administration Calls for Rural Broadband, Jobs, Housing, and More

President Trump addressed rural issues on January 8, 2018 at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s convention, and signed two documents related to improving rural broadband connections. A Presidential Memorandum instructs the Department of Interior to allow rural broadband installation on federal property. An Executive Order requires agencies to use standardized forms and contracts in order to streamline the process for these installations on federal property.

At the event, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue also presented the President with a report from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which he chaired.

The report groups its comments and recommendations into five sections: e-connectivity, quality of life, rural workforce, technological innovation, and rural economy. Affordable housing is included in the quality of life category along with education, healthcare, transportation, utilities, other infrastructure, and community resiliency planning.

Improving access to technology, reducing duplicative programs and regulatory burdens, and attracting private capital are among the recurring themes in the report.

The report describes housing issues this way:

In some places, housing affordability has become a major challenge, either because housing costs have risen rapidly or because incomes are insufficient for self-supported housing at market rates. These burdens are increasing among rural renters, in both high-amenity areas and in communities with high poverty rates. In such parts of rural America, addressing the shortage of local jobs and a lack of connection to those job opportunities will be a major factor in overcoming these challenges.

Under “objectives and recommended actions,” the housing section proposes:

Innovate Options for Rural Housing – Develop a set of shared best practices for increasing homeownership, reducing homelessness in rural communities, and building robust community infrastructure. Such practices should include recommendations for federal, state, tribal and local action to strengthen investments in rural housing and provide technical assistance. The Task Force recommends options such as the Department of Housing & Urban Development, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, and Department of Education jointly evaluating federal rural housing policies and programs, and targeting existing resources to best support sustainable housing in rural communities. To optimize rural housing options for the workforce needed in the current and future economies, private sector organizations’ resource deployment to rural areas can also be incentivized.

The report’s section on the rural workforce notes that “farmers often have difficulty finding American citizen and lawful permanent resident workers to fill” production agriculture jobs.

As labor instability grows, seasonal farmers are increasingly turning to [the] H-2A visa program to ensure that their foreign-born workers are working legally in the United States. The inefficiencies and administrative burden of the H-2A program are well-communicated by farmers. The White House is addressing farmers’ concerns through an interagency effort to implement policy and regulatory changes to improve the … H-2A program. The goal of this initiative is to ensure that farmers have access to the lawful workforce that is needed.

The task force proposes a three-part structure to continue its work and implement actions:

  • a Federal Commission on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity;
  • a Stakeholder Advisory Council to advise the commission; and
  • a Managing Director office to oversee and coordinate the work.