Calls for rural broadband and climate mitigation as pandemic aid hits $24 billion

Rural communities “must have access to broadband” to succeed; climate mitigation provides opportunity for rural jobs, says letter drafted for House Agriculture Committee approval Tuesday.

Rural communities “must have access to broadband” to succeed, and climate mitigation provides an opportunity for rural jobs, said a letter drafted for House Agriculture Committee approval on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the USDA said it has paid $24 billion in pandemic relief to farmers and ranchers since last May.

The Agriculture Committee was scheduled to hear from four officials, including a Microsoft executive, about bringing broadband access to all rural Americans — part of President Biden’s infrastructure package — after voting on the so-called annual budget letter. The White House says more than 30 million Americans live in areas with poor or no broadband service, particularly in rural areas.

“The pandemic has laid bare critical challenges and highlighted important opportunities for improved resiliency in our food system for Congress to address going forward,” said the draft. Committee members usually approve the budget letter with a large bipartisan majority. “Put simply, rural communities must have access to broadband to compete and thrive.”

In the context of climate change, the letter endorsed “voluntary, private-land, farm bill conservation programs” to improve soil health, protect water supplies, and build wildlife populations. Innovations in renewable energy will offer the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency, and invigorate rural bioeconomies by creating jobs, it said.

Producers received an additional $126 million in pandemic aid in the past week, pushing the total to just over $24 billion in less than a year, said a USDA update on Monday. Half of the money went to two commodities; nearly $7.2 billion to cattle and nearly $5.2 billion to corn, according to USDA data. The top states for aid were Iowa, $2.1 billion; California, nearly $2 billion; Nebraska, nearly $1.6 billion; and Minnesota, $1.4 billion.

Several billions of dollars in pandemic assistance is available at present. The USDA has said it will try to reach producers left out of earlier rounds of aid.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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