More Assistance for Rural America

The Biden Administration launched an initiative earlier this year that has some interesting benefits for rural communities. The new initiative is called the Rural Partners Network, and has the goal of helping rural areas maximize the benefits available from the federal government.

The new program is putting federal employees directly in rural communities and making them available to help rural communities navigate the confusing federal bureaucracy.

As an example, one of the primary roles of the RPN is to help local communities find and apply for grants. I know this would be extremely useful just in the area of broadband. I’ve counted dozens of distinct ways that communities can get grant funding to help with broadband. By now, most of them have heard of the giant $42.5 billion BEAD grants, but there are many other grants available. For example, there are dozen of grants related to broadband that can go to rural schools and libraries. There are grants for strengthening the electric grid that might allow rural electric companies to extend middle-mile fiber where it’s highly needed. There are grants for rural healthcare facilities. And there are grants for digital inclusion which be used to buy computers and teach people how to use them. These same grants could be used to establish more formal technical training courses.

This blog clearly focuses on broadband issues, but there is a dizzying array of grants for other purposes as well. There are grants to help people kick-start an interesting new business idea. There are grants that help local non-profits meet their goals. There are grants to pay for online education and training. There are grants to help people to get their finances organized in order to qualify for buying a house. But the list of federal grants is so huge that it’s almost impossible for somebody to wade through the possibilities.

The new program will be part of the Department of Agriculture. But the program promises to help rural people and communities work with the Departments of Commerce, Education, Interior, Treasury, the Small Business Administration, and dozens of other agencies.

The RPN has already deployed people in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The goal is to get these folks deployed everywhere, assuming the funding is approved by Congress.

I work in rural America a lot, and in my experience, many counties are not able to navigate the huge number of grant opportunities or complete grant requests even if they know about them. This puts small communities at a huge disadvantage compared to larger cities that have a department of full-time grant writers on board. This program will help make sure that federal funding ends up where it’s needed the most.

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