DPCC Report: Rural America is at High Risk during the COVID-19 Crisis

April 23, 2020

Small towns and rural communities are being hit hard and face challenges addressing the impacts of the pandemic

U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC) Chair; Joe Manchin (D-WV), DPCC Vice Chair; Jon Tester (MT); Tina Smith (MN); and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today released a report detailing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on rural America. The report can be found here.

“As COVID-19 spreads across the country, rural communities are being hit hard due to the unique challenges they face. We need to do everything we can to support rural families, farmers and businesses and help them address the devastating impacts of the virus. We need our rural communities to survive and thrive,” said Senator Stabenow. 

“Our rural communities need more and better resources to overcome the disproportionate challenges they face fighting COVID-19, and Senate Democrats are fully committed to ensuring every corner of the country has what they need,” said Leader Schumer. “Democrats are continuing our call for a national testing strategy, a Heroes Fund to provide essential frontline workers with premium pay, greater action to protect the health and safety of our food supply workers and shore up our nation’s food supply chain, expedited support for rural small businesses, a special task force to help address the unique needs of rural communities, and more. Aggressive policy action is needed now to reduce risk and help keep these communities healthy and safe.”

“West Virginia is one of the most beautiful rural states in the nation, but our mountains and valleys also make it difficult for  rural communities to get the service they deserve. We see this time and time again as we fight to get reliable broadband or equal education resources to our more remote communities. Right now I’m fighting to ensure our rural healthcare providers do not get left behind as our nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic. We must continue pushing the Administration to ensure 20% of funding goes to rural providers and priority is given to facilities that serve high populations Medicaid and Medicare patients,” Senator Manchin said.

“The consolidation we’ve seen in the cattle market for a long time is being exacerbated by this pandemic. There are critical short-term fixes that will continue to allow independent cattle ranchers to sell their product, but in the long term, we need to address the consolidation that makes it possible for the failure of a just handful of plants to compromise the security of our food supply. Rural America feeds this country, and if we don’t get these folks the resources to weather this storm, we are going to be looking at problems bigger than a financial crisis,” said Senator Tester.

“This pandemic is a devastating blow to rural areas in Minnesota and across the nation,” said Senator Smith, co-chair of the Senate Rural Health Caucus. "As this report outlines, we need to take swift action to bring relief to these communities. Too many rural hospitals are struggling to make ends meet. Small businesses on main streets need immediate aid. And it’s essential that we help farmers, who have already endured years of low prices, weather disasters and trade disruptions. As we move forward, I’ll continue to stand up for rural communities and help them get the resources they need."

While initial hot spots of COVID-19 have been centered in urban communities, infections are expanding into rural areas. Public health officials fear severe testing shortages throughout rural communities are allowing the virus to spread unnoticed. This is particularly notable in meatpacking plants, where outbreaks have occurred among essential food supply chain employees.

 

Families in rural communities face disparities that put them at high risk and increase the challenges of addressing the pandemic, including: under-resourced health care systems, high rates of chronic health conditions, lack of access to reliable high-speed internet, vulnerable economic conditions, and greater food insecurity.

Democrats are fighting to provide every town in America with the necessary resources to overcome the challenges COVID-19 has presented, including:

·      Widespread, rapid testing to save lives, contain the spread of COVID-19, and ultimately reopen our economy.

·      Immediate high-speed internet funding to close the digital divide and deploy high-speed internet across the country.

·      Protections for our food supply and essential food industry workers in rural communities.

·      A Heroes Fund that rewards our frontline workers with the premium pay they deserve during this pandemic and recruits the additional workers we will need in the months ahead.

·      Support for farmers and ranchers who have been adversely affected by COVID-19.

·      Expedited support for rural small businesses to help them weather the crisis.

·      Increased access to food assistance and expanded food donation for families.

·      The creation of a Rural COVID-19 Task Force to identify and address the needs of rural communities.

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