The new hires will help local leaders in distressed areas navigate the bureaucracy to access federal staff and resources.
The Biden administration announced this past week that they plan to start sending federal employees to rural areas around the country in order to boost the partnership with rural communities and the federal government. They believe in doing this that it helps these areas gain access to more resources. These federal employees will essentially be “community liaisons” for areas that are in economic distress and then report back to one of the 16 agencies with the issues and possible solutions. This will be a first of its kind initiative.
The program is set to start in 25 rural communities in 5 different states and in some tribal areas. The second phase will include 5 more states and also Puerto Rico. The program is focusing on the most economically distressed areas first, and then plans are to have these liaisons in all 50 states. There has been a need for this for many years, and even some lawmakers were calling for a program like this, but it took the pandemic to make it clear that certain communities did not have the access to federal resources that they needed. “Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack said rural communities will benefit from more direct and specific relationships with federal employees. “The Rural Partners Network will help communities get funding for investments that create long-lasting benefits for their communities, especially those that have been overlooked in the past,” Vilsack said. “By providing one-on-one support to these communities, we can lay the foundation for people to build healthy, successful futures on their own terms” (Katz 22).
The states that are chosen to participate in the program will begin with 3 or 4 federal employees who will report to the USDA, and they are already hiring for these positions with the hope that they can begin by the end of May. “[Rural Partners Network] communities will have access to full-time federal staff based in or near their communities who will help community networks navigate federal programs that meet their needs, support the development of strong applications by assisting in the development of competitive projects and project materials, and helping communities build relationships with the appropriate federal agencies and staff,” the spokesperson said.
The program itself will focus on job creation, community improvement, and infrastructure development. The Biden administration is hoping that through this program it will give these rural communities more of a voice in federal policy making allowing more response to their concerns. The staff is said to wake up every day with a mandate to work with the local community and to build relationships. In doing so, they will identify the needs of these communities and be able to relay that to Washington.
“The agencies participating in the program will include the departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority, Denali Commission, Northern Border Regional Commission, Environmental Protection Agency and Small Business Administration” (Katz 22).
By: Beth Gray