US federal staff to be deployed to rural communities to boost economic opportunities

By on 28/04/2022 | Updated on 28/04/2022
Photo of a house in rural New Mexico, USA
The network will initially benefit 25 communities across five states, including several in New Mexico. Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr

US president Joe Biden has launched a programme to deploy federal government employees to rural areas to help local leaders access the resources they need to boost their communities. 

The Rural Partners Network (RPN) is described by the White House as a “whole-of-government effort led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to transform the way federal agencies partner with rural places to create economic opportunity”.

The network will help distribute funds under Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. Passed in November last year, it allocates US$550bn between 2022 and 2026 to infrastructure projects focusing on providing affordable high-speed internet, clean drinking water, “clean and reliable” electricity, and better roads and bridges for rural communities across America.

“However, just making resources available is not enough – the federal government must better serve rural communities, so that they can take full advantage of these unprecedented opportunities,” the White House said.

Read more: Levelling up lessons: how to make regional development work

To do this, the network will place new federal field staff placed in more than 25 rural communities – including tribal nations – by the end of May. The communities are spread across five states: Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New Mexico.

Working directly with local leaders to help them draw up economic development plans and secure the funds needed to make them a reality, these officials will also identify the challenges preventing rural communities from accessing federal support. This will inform the work of the Rural Prosperity Interagency Policy Council, a task force set up to ensure rural places are prioritised in Washington. The council will drive policy changes based on information provided by network staff.

Washington’s door open to rural communities  

The field staff will be employed by the agriculture department (USDA) but will have a whole-of-government mandate. To connect them with departments in Washington, 13 agencies will have a dedicated person or team “serving as a front door” for RPN staff and local leaders as they work to boost rural economies.

Through this “direct line” between communities and Washington DC, the Biden administration said it will coordinate work across agencies to deliver technical assistance to the network’s beneficiaries, share rural data and measures of success, and align grant requirements.

The first 25 communities to benefit from the network have been chosen by USDA based on factors including levels of economic distress and the readiness of local stakeholders to participate in the programme. USDA conducted community engagement sessions with local government, business, and community group leaders as part of the selection process, and the communities determined the composition of their networks themselves.

The programme is to be expanded beyond the initial five states and territories to include Nevada, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Tribal communities in Alaska by the end of August. If Congress agrees to the funds requested by the President in his 2023 budget, the network will be expanded to “ultimately serve all 50 states”, the White House said.

The federal government has not yet announced how many network staff will be employed.  

The federal agencies and regional commissions participating in the Rural Prosperity Interagency Policy Council include:

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Department of the Interior
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Small Business Administration
  • Appalachian Regional Commission
  • Delta Regional Authority
  • Denali Commission
  • Northern Border Regional Commission

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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