REBUILD RURAL: One Infrastructure Bill Down and One to Go, plus other Rural Infrastructure updates

House Passes Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill: As President Biden joked over the weekend, last week was finally “Infrastructure Week” as the House passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill late last Friday. The 228 to 206 vote had 13 Republicans joining a majority of their House Democratic counterparts voting in favor of the bill. This was critical as six progressive members of the Democratic caucus opposed the bill due to concerns about passing the much larger reconciliation bill. The newly passed bipartisan infrastructure bill will head to the President’s desk on Monday to be signed into law. The legislation will authorize more than $1 trillion in total spending on physical infrastructure projects, $550 billion of which is new spending. A breakdown of what all is included in this final bill can be found here.
As Congress returns next week, Democrats most likely will return to the debate on what they should include in the reconciliation bill (Build Back Better Act). The Speaker’s Office recently released an updated fact sheet, found here, last Thursday. The Build Back Better Act also includes several items of interest to our coalition members, including an additional funding for affordable housing and increases in funding for Rural Development programs at USDA , as well as several other provisions that would benefit rural communities. However, timing on when the House will finish drafting that bill and vote remains unclear. One aspect of the House Democrats’ internal agreement, which was included as part of the rules package in advance of the Infrastructure vote last Friday, includes having a score from the Congressional Budget Office. That agreement suggested a vote would take place no later than the week of Nov. 15, as long as the CBO findings are “consistent” with White House projections. 
However, CBO Director Phillip Swagel said Tuesday the agency would release individual portions of the bill as they are completed but could not provide a specific time estimate for the final report. “We anticipate releasing estimates for individual titles of the bill as we complete them, some of which will be released this week,” Swagel wrote. “Other estimates will take longer, particularly for provisions in some titles that interact with those in other titles. When we determine a release date for the cost estimate for the entire bill, we will provide advance notice.” So, whether the House will take up this bill before Congress recesses for the Thanksgiving holiday remains uncertain. The reconciliation legislation’s fate in the Senate remains unclear, too. Needless to say, Congress will stay busy on this and other must-pass items (raising the debt ceiling, etc.) as we move closer to the end of the year. For more information, check out coverage from The APCNNNBC,ReutersThe Washington PostThe New York TimesThe New Yorker,The Wall Street Journal and Farm Progress.
Thank you for your continued support: More then 5 years ago, many of us joined together to found the Rebuild Rural Coalition to help advance these types of infrastructure investments in the rural communities we all represent. Many more organizations have joined us along the way to grow the coalition to the more than 260 organizations that partner in advocating for rural infrastructure investment. Although we can all agree that there is much more work to be done, it is worth celebrating this progress and thanking each of you for your efforts in helping us spread the message of the challenges that our rural communities face and help demonstrate need for rural infrastructure investment. Together, we have made a difference and helped to improve the lives of many rural residents, businesses and communities.  
Statements of Support: If your organization has issued a statement or letter on either the bipartisan infrastructure bill or reconciliation package, please share it with us by emailing them to RuralInfrastructure@fccouncil.com. Here is an example of a statement the Farm Credit Council released last week. We would like to know your thoughts, so please feel free to reach out to us at any time. 
Biden’s Ports Action Plan: On November 9, the Biden administration announced a new “action plan” aimed at expanding the capacity of U.S. ports and inland waterways, as persistent supply chain congestion has slowed goods deliveries and contributed to the rising price of fuel. In the factsheet that the White House released Tuesday that outlined their plans, the administration states that the DOT “will allow port authorities across the country to redirect project cost savings toward tackling supply chain challenges.” The factsheet also indicates that the administration will “continue to look for additional flexibilities and other solutions to support infrastructure needs in the goods movement supply chain” and lays out many other short-term steps that the administration intends to take to address some of these supply chain concerns. To learn more, check out the White House’s factsheet and coverage from The HillReutersThe Washington PostCNN and DOT’s Press Release.  
USDA to Offer $1.15 Billion in Funding for Broadband Deployment: On October 22, USDA announced $1.15 billion in available funds through its ReConnect program, to provide rural areas with high-speed internet. “Rural people, businesses and communities must have affordable, reliable, high-speed internet so they can fully participate in modern society and the modern economy,” USDA Secretary Vilsack said in a statement announcing the funding. To qualify for funding, applicants must commit to providing download speeds of 100 megabits per second to all locations in its suggested service area. According to USDA, projects that currently serve areas with 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload speeds or less will be given priority. Approximately $200 million will be offered for loans with another $250 million earmarked for loan/grant combinations. There’s also a $350 million fund that will be distributed with a 25% matching requirement and another $350 million in grants with “no matching requirement for projects in tribal and socially vulnerable communities,” USDA noted. The department will begin taking applications for grants and loans Nov. 24. For more information on how to apply, check out the Federal Register notice and USDA website. USDA will also host two webinars in the coming weeks for stakeholder to learn more about the program and this funding opportunity. The first “ReConnect Program Regulation Webinar” will be on November 16 at 2 p.m. ET; click here to register. The second “ReConnect Program FY2022 FOA Webinar” will be held on November 18, also at 2 p.m. ET; click here to register.  

House Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing on Supply Chain Issues: On November 3, the House Agriculture Committee held a full committee hearing entitled The Immediate Challenges to our Nation’s Food Supply Chain. Witnesses at that hearing included: Jon Schwalls-Executive Officer for Southern Valley Fruit and Vegetable Inc., Ed Cinco-Director of Purchasing for Schwebel’s Baking Company, Mike Durkin-CEO of the Leprino Foods Company, Jon Samson, VP of Conferences and Executive Director for the Agricultural & Food Transporters Conference and Rod Wells, Chief Supply Chain Officer, GROWMARK, Inc. Several witnesses represented Rebuild Rural Coalition Partners. In their testimonies, witnesses pointed to the multiple breakdowns in how goods are transported across the country and around the globe. They also noted worsening crises in a food and agriculture sector already bleeding profits and customers. The topic of truck driver shortages and port congestion arose, too. “We need to sound the alarm because I think we’re actually in a crisis when I look at all aspects of this,” said Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson of Pennsylvania, ranking member of the committee at the hearing last Wednesday. To view a recording of the hearing and for more information, check out House Ag. Committee’s website, where you can also find witness testimonies. For coverage of this hearing, check out articles from Agri-PulseNational Hog FarmerFarm Progress and AgWeb.   
USDA Provides Update to Stakeholders on Rural Housing: On October 13, Rural Development Multifamily Housing leadership held a meeting providing a quarterly update to external partners. The update included information about the American Rescue Plan, budget reconciliation, emergency management notifications, upcoming Farm Labor Housing Workshops, among other issues. Here’s a copy of the presentation from that meeting: Multifamily Housing Partnership Updates. USDA-RD’s Multifamily Housing leadership team will continue to hold partnership on a regular basis, with the next meeting tentatively scheduled for January 19, 2022, at 3 p.m. ET.
FCC Announces $554 million in Funding for Broadband & New Chair: On October 20, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced more than $554 million in its third round of funding for new broadband deployments through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Together, with two prior funding wave announcements, the commission has now announced over $1 billion in funding to winning bidders for new deployments. The FCC noted 11 broadband providers have been selected in the third round of funding that will serve nearly 180,000 locations with gigabit service. “Broadband is an essential service and during the pandemic we’ve seen just how critical it is for families, schools, hospitals and businesses to have affordable internet access,” Former Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. Additionally, the Biden administration announced Rosenworcel to chair the FCC, making her the first woman to serve in that role. To learn more, check out coverage from Agri-Pulse, the High Plains JournalBroadband World and FCC’s statement announcing the funding.  

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