Clinton seeks to spark investment in rural America

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Monday, August 31, 2015

Student Laura Hinkel (right) leads Democratic presidential

Hillary Clinton unveiled a plan Wednesday to boost rural America by expanding access to health care, education and investment for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Clinton, who spoke at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, also said she strongly supported the federal mandate that requires renewable fuels such as ethanol to be blended into the national fuel supply.

She also outlined plans to boost investment in rural businesses and entrepreneurs, reduce regulations on community banks so they have more freedom to make loans to growing businesses, and called for doubling funding for beginning farmer programs.

Although agriculture and agricultural-related manufacturing are key industries in the lead-off presidential-voting state, candidates have spent little time talking about agriculture issues outside of the Iowa Agriculture Summit in March or discussion of the renewable fuels mandate.

Clinton’s speech prompted praise from Iowa’s agriculture leaders.

“Secretary Clinton touched upon many issues important to us — specifically renewable fuels and trade, as well as supporting our young farmers,” said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, a conservative agricultural advocacy group.

Bill Northey, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, said he also liked Clinton’s support for the Renewable Fuel Standard, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeks to scale back. The standard sets levels of renewable fuels that must be blended into the nation’s motor vehicle fuel supply. Iowa is the nation’s leading ethanol producer, and state leaders view the standard as critical to the industry’s growth.

But Northey, a Republican, said he didn’t hear Clinton wade in on several controversial issues that are important to farmers, such as proposals to require labeling of genetically modified food or new regulations that farmers fear will expand government oversight and the definition of U.S. waterways.

And while Clinton said she believed the U.S. needs to increase trade “that gives American farmers a shot at new opportunities,” Northey said he wished Clinton would have provided more details.

Northey said farmers need expanded markets to help offset declining profitability driven by a surplus of corn and soybeans.

“We want increased profitability, not more loans,” Northey said.

This week, the Agriculture Department estimated that farm income will drop to $58.3 billion, a 36 percent drop from last year’s $91.1 billion.

Support for trade deals is a tricky position for Democratic caucus candidates. Clinton rivals Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley have railed against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership as a threat to American jobs and wages.

Clinton, introduced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, said she would create a “national infrastructure bank” and invest in the country’s rural transportation, water and high-speed broadband.

Clinton said those infrastructure improvements are needed to create badly needed jobs in rural America. For example, she said access to high-speed Internet can help broaden markets for small businesses.

Liesl Eathington, an Iowa State University economist, agreed that many rural communities struggle with crumbling water, sewer and other infrastructure, and need assistance.

But she said high-speed Internet — while improving rural Iowans’ access to health care and education opportunities for high school students — has limits on how much it can boost a small company’s markets.

“It’s important to have access … but I don’t see it as a way to revitalize rural America,” Eathington said. “There’s more to exporting than high-speed Internet.”

Clinton touted her experience helping rural New York as a senator. She said the face of rural America is changing.

“Education, innovation and technology — Iowans are in the future business, as all Americans should be,” she said.

But, she said too few children in rural America go to college or “feel they have to move away to find a new job.” 

Basics of Clinton’s plan

Here are highlights from Hillary Clinton’s plan, released Wednesday:

  • Spurring investment in the rural economy. She proposes expanding access to investment for businesses and entrepreneurs; simplifying regulations for community banks; improving rural transportation, water and broadband infrastructure; expanding and streamlining popular development tax credits,called New Market Tax Credits; and making federal Agriculture Department grant programs more flexible to meet rural community needs.
  • Raising agricultural production and profitability. Her plan includes supporting the next generation of farmers by doubling funding for beginning farmers and ranchers; expanding support for food hubs, farmers markets, food stamp recipients’ access to fresh food, and encouraging direct sales to local schools, hospitals, retailers and wholesalers.
  • Promoting clean energy leadership. Clinton’s plan includes fully funding the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that supports conservation efforts; strengthening the Renewable Fuel Standard so that it drives the development of advanced cellulosic and other advanced biofuels; and supporting renewable fuels development by doubling loan guarantees.
  • Expanding opportunity in rural communities across America. Clinton seeks to double funding for Early Head Start; pledges to work to ensure that every 4-year-old in America has access to high-quality preschool over the next 10 years; to ensure cost won’t be a barrier for college; and to improve health care access for rural Americans by further integrating telehealth, remote patient monitoring and other information technologies into a broader health system.