By Rep. Cindy Axne
As a fifth-generation Iowan, I know that sometimes it can feel like the federal government has overlooked states like ours and the rural communities that folks have called home for generations.
In the halls of Congress, I’m up against states that have dozens of representatives – so I’ve had to do the work of ten representatives to make sure Iowans’ voices are heard.
That’s why I’m teaming up with Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois to launch the Rural Reinvestment Task Force where we, and other Congress members from rural areas, will develop policy that addresses the specific challenges facing rural America. By forming this group, my colleagues and I in the New Democrat Coalition will ensure that there is a seat at the table for rural Iowa. As the new Task Force’s Co-Chair, I will lift up the voices of Iowans and advocate for smarter policies to make sure the concerns I hear about from Iowans every time I’m home are heard in D.C.
Those concerns cover all manner of issues, from the immediate anxieties about making ends meet at the end of the month to worries about what the future will hold for our next generation.
And I’m ready to continue to work on that full scope of concerns – because so many are issues that I’ve faced personally, and have already tackled in my first few years in Congress.
As a small business owner myself, I know how difficult it can be to find the capital needed to start a new business and succeed. And right now, entrepreneurs in our rural communities face unique challenges getting the loans and other investments necessary to get their dreams off the ground.
I wrote bipartisan legislation, the Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act, to ensure that our federal policymakers see the gaps in opportunity that our rural businesses face – which will allow us to identify how we can get more investments back to the Main Streets of our rural towns.
In addition to access to capital, a high-speed internet connection has become not just an indispensable part of operating a business in the digital world, but also an essential tool that our students, health care providers, and community leaders need.
I’ve helped write legislation that will expand broadband connectivity to our rural communities – and as we’re poised to make those broadband investments a reality through upcoming infrastructure bills, it’s critical that we make sure that money reaches the communities that need it most.
I also will utilize this Task Force to continuing working to make sure everyone in rural Iowa have access to the health care they need.
A zip code shouldn’t determine the kind of medical care you get, but right now rural communities have a harder time accessing prenatal and maternal care, putting both mothers and babies at potential risk. That is why earlier this year, I also introduced bipartisan legislation to improve access to maternal health services for expecting moms —the Rural Maternal and Obstetric Modernization of Services Act, or Rural MOMS Act.
My bill would take steps to address those gaps in care and invest in bringing greater maternal health care to Iowa and other rural areas.
And I’ve backed bills that will keep telehealth – a vital health care tool that is being utilized more because of the COVID-19 pandemic – available to areas where driving to a doctor’s appointment can sometimes take an entire day.
Through this new Task Force, I also hope to build on success that I’ve already found in the past year securing specific support for our rural communities.
In June, President Biden signed my legislation to expand health care for our veterans, the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act, into law. The legislation, named in memory of Iowa Veteran Brandon Ketchum, expands mental health care programs provided by the VA for our rural veterans, and supports additional research on the needs of our veterans as they return home.
And earlier this year, the House voted to include my bill, the Protect Rural Renters Act, in the last federal COVID-19 relief package that was signed into law. This gave specific funding to the USDA to help renters who were struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.
While I have been working long hours fighting for Iowa in Congress, there is a lot more we can do to make sure our rural areas can not only grow but be welcoming and comfortable places for the families who live there.
With this new group, I look forward to delivering the policy solutions and support that rural Iowa needs.