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Opinion | Fighting for rural America

Bradley Byrne

By U.S Rep. Bradley Byrne

Approximately 46 million people call rural America home, according to information from the Department of Agriculture. These rural communities make up the backbone of our state and play a substantial role in the overall American economy.

Unfortunately, rural communities are facing some serious challenges. For the first time on record, the rural population in our country is shrinking. Job growth since 2011 has been below that of urban areas, and the economic recovery has been much slower for rural areas.

There are several reasons for the challenges facing our rural communities, but I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump to make life better for those in rural America.

Just last week, President Trump became the first sitting U.S. president since 1992 to address the American Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau serves as a leading voice for our nation’s rural communities and farmers.

Agriculture is the top industry in rural America, and it remains the number one industry in Alabama. In his speech, President Trump declared that “our farmers deserve a government that serves their interest and empowers them to do the hard work that they love to do so much.”

This year, Congress will need to pass a new Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is critical because it sets the federal policies that govern our nation’s farmers. As a strong champion for agriculture, I have already started working with Alabama’s farmers to ensure the bill is good for them and our rural communities.

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Farming is unlike most other industries and dependent on so many external factors, like weather, that are outside the control of the farmers. It is important farmers have the certainty they need to provide the American people with a safe and reliable food source.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the major tax reform legislation that passed in December, includes several provisions that will help farmers in rural America. In addition to lowering individual tax rates, the bill allows farmers to deduct 100 percent of the cost of new equipment in the year you make the investment. Farming is a very capital-intensive industry, so this is a real victory for farmers.

Another significant issue facing our rural communities is a lack of broadband access. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 39 percent of rural Americans lack sufficient broadband access. Without access to broadband and internet, individuals struggle to keep up in an economy that is increasingly dependent on technology.

In an effort to expand broadband access, President Trump recently signed two Presidential Orders to help get faster and better internet coverage to rural America. The goal is to cut back on some of the government regulations and processes that make it harder to expand broadband access while also increasing the overall investment from the Department of Agriculture.

One other key to boosting rural America is to focus more on career and technical education programs to ensure individuals have the skills that they need to excel in today’s economy. By putting more money toward these workforce training programs, I believe we can help revitalize rural America and increase access to high-paying jobs.

I firmly believe the investment in these programs is well worth it in the long run because it helps keep people off government welfare programs, improves the overall economy and makes the individual’s life better.

These are just a handful of ways we can help restore rural America and revitalize our rural communities. Our nation is strongest when rural America is strong, and I am committed to that fight.

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Bradley Byrne is the president and CEO of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce and a former Republican congressman who represented Alabama's 1st Congressional District.

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