Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg unveiled his plan Tuesday to boost rural communities, starting with a pledge to spend $80 billion on an “Internet for All” initiative that would expand high-speed broadband coverage to underserved areas.
Buttigieg also said he would pour more federal funding to programs that provide data, tools and support to rural communities where farmers are struggling with climate change.
The plan would double the funding for anti-trust enforcement efforts, expand an entrepreneurship program for returning U.S. veterans and boost a private-public initiative that helps train smaller-scale manufacturing businesses.
And Buttigieg proposes a new “community renewal visa” to encourage legal immigration to rural communities that have struggled to keep pace with more populated areas. Visa holders would have to commit to living in the area for three years, then would be eligible to obtain a green card.
“This is a make or break moment in our nation’s history, and we need to meet this moment with the urgency it requires,” said Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind. and one of roughly two dozen Democratic White House hopefuls.
“With a renewed dedication to rural communities, smart investments, and innovative ideas, rural America can not only meet our national challenges—rural America can lead the way in tackling them.”
He’s expected to highlight the proposal at a campaign stop Friday in Atlanta, where he and four other 2020 hopefuls will address a forum of black church leaders and thousands of young voters.
It’s the second piece of a rural package he rolled out on Friday, when he introduced a healthcare plan that proposes to expand coverage to all rural Americans by offering them the option of government-financed Medicare coverage, which he calls “Medicare for All Who Want It.”
The costliest part of Buttigieg’s plan is the $80 billion broadband piece. It calls for more accurate mapping of which communities lack high-speed Internet access, direct funding to communities that lack online infrastructure and a federal “Broadband Innovation Incubator” to help guide the process.
To spur quicker broadband expansion, he also said he supports legislation that blocks states from prohibiting communities from developing municipal broadband or rural co-ops. At least 20 states now have those prohibitions on the books.
His plan aims to encourage rural communities to curb climate change by doubling the Department of Agriculture’s research and development funding and to $5 billion a year. He also would spend another $5 billion a year for “Resilient America Grants” to help communities prepare for disasters.
Other parts of the plan:
- He supports a new $50 million grant program to create community “hubs” in rural areas where students at community colleges and public universities can attend classes and access services.
- He would double the Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s funding to $3 billion a year, and would direct the program to train rural workers in fields ranging from cybersecurity to logistics.
- The plan aims to expand a national network of apprenticeships, with a goal of ensuring an apprenticeship in a growing industry is available within 30 miles of every American.
- Buttigieg would set aside $500 million to develop “regional innovation clusters” in about 1,000 areas around the nation and another $200 million to support state and local redevelopment plans.
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