Delgado, Torres Small, Klobuchar Lead Bipartisan Letter Urging the Administration to Establish “Rural COVID-19 Task Force” to Identify and Address Rural Issues During Pandemic

April 17, 2020
Press Release
Letter to Secretary Sonny Perdue calls on Administration to establish task force that would help to identify rural challenges, develop strategies and policy recommendations, and provide oversight on the distribution of funding

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representatives Antonio Delgado (NY-19) and Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02), and Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN) along with colleagues in both the House and Senate, wrote a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, urging the Administration to establish a “Rural COVID-19 Task Force.” The task force would help to identify rural challenges, develop strategies and policy recommendations, assemble a guide of available Federal programs and resources, consult with the Department and Congressional Committees, and provide oversight on the distribution of funding.  
 

“Our upstate communities are facing unique challenges from the COVID-19 outbreak that exacerbate existing challenges for our rural populations. As the representative from the eighth most rural Congressional district in the country, I’ve heard from leaders across NY-19 about the strain on our rural communities and the need for urgent and immediate action to support our schools, businesses, rural economies, and local food systems throughout the Coronavirus pandemic,” Delgado said. “I join my colleagues today in urging the USDA to establish a Rural COVID-19 Task Force to emphasize our specific needs and make sure we have the resources – including health care protections and broadband access – needed to address this public health emergency.”
 

“All of America is hurting right now, but many rural communities are hurting in silence.  Since the start of this public health emergency, I’ve fought for funding in rural areas, support for our nation’s farmers, and aid to our struggling rural health care facilities.  However, much of this relief still hasn’t reached rural residents or their communities. Rural hospitals fight tooth and nail to keep their doors open to serve patients, dairy farmers are running out of money to feed their cows, and kids are trying to homeschool with no internet access. Today, I join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to demand federal accountability to our rural communities and call on USDA to establish a Rural COVID-19 Task Force,” Torres Small said.
 

“We’re facing a national crisis -- it affects every American, no matter where they live,” Klobuchar said. “Communities across the country don’t have the capacity to deal with this pandemic, so the Administration needs to take immediate action to make sure we’re getting our rural communities the resources they need to prepare and address the growing challenges.”
 

“The COVID-19 pandemic affects every American no matter where they live, but its gradual spread to rural areas has led many to misjudge both its severity and rural America’s capacity to deal with it. As of April 6, at least one confirmed case of coronavirus has been confirmed in more than two-thirds of rural counties, and one in ten of these counties have reported at least one death. The virus has reached rural areas and it has now become clear that they are less equipped to handle the consequences,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to the Administration. 
 

“These challenges require Congress and the Department of Agriculture to take immediate action. That means – first and foremost – listening to rural leaders and citizens about the challenges they face, allowing them a forum to raise the issues that they have identified as being the most pressing. Second, it means providing administrative flexibilities and resources to address those challenges. And lastly, it means making certain that the resources provided are being distributed in an equitable way to meet rural needs.”
 

In addition to Delgado and Torres Small, the letter was signed by Representatives Juan Vargas (D-CA-51), Troy Balderson (R-OH-12), Joe Neguse (D-CO-02), Peter Welch (D-VT-AL), David Scott (D-GA-13), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-02), Darren Soto (D-FL-09), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC-01), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01), Alcee Hastings (D-FL-20), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ-01), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-02), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-08), Ben McAdams (D-UT-04), Ann Kuster (D-NH-02), and Deb Haaland (D-NM-01). 
 

In addition to Klobuchar the letter was signed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
 

Full text of the letter can be found here and below:
 

Dear Secretary Perdue:
 

We write to express concerns about the disproportionate impact that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having on rural America. As you know, rural areas already face unique challenges, including with respect to access to broadband coverage, health care, and economic opportunity, and the COVID-19 pandemic will further strain limited resources as it continues its spread outside urban centers. It is for this reason we urge you to establish a “Rural COVID-19 Task Force” to help identify rural needs and tailor the allocation of resources to address them.
 

The COVID-19 pandemic affects every American no matter where they live, but its gradual spread to rural areas has led many to misjudge both its severity and rural America’s capacity to deal with it. As of April 6, at least one confirmed case of coronavirus has been confirmed in more than two-thirds of rural counties, and one in ten of these counties have reported at least one death. The virus has reached rural areas and it has now become clear that they are less equipped to handle the consequences. 
 

People living in rural America are more likely to be uninsured, advanced in age, and have pre-existing medical conditions. Rural hospitals and health systems often have fewer ICU beds and resources to handle an increased demand on our health care infrastructure during a pandemic. One in five Americans living in rural areas are people of color, who have been disproportionately affected by the current crisis. Rural parents and students struggle to work or attend school remotely without reliable internet access. Agricultural producers and processors have less cash flow due to price declines, lack of market opportunities, and an already stretched workforce being squeezed by positive COVID-19 tests.
 

These challenges require Congress and the Department of Agriculture to take immediate action. That means – first and foremost – listening to rural leaders and citizens about the challenges they face, allowing them a forum to raise the issues that they have identified as being the most pressing. Second, it means providing administrative flexibilities and resources to address those challenges. And lastly, it means making certain that the resources provided are being distributed in an equitable way to meet rural needs.   
 

We believe that these goals can be advanced by the Department of Agriculture establishing a Rural COVID-19 Task Force consisting of a diverse group of experts and representatives from all sectors of rural areas, including agriculture, health care, and the private sector. The Rural COVID-19 Task Force would help to identify rural challenges, develop strategies and policy recommendations, assemble a guide of available Federal programs and resources, consult with the Department and Congressional Committees, and provide oversight on the distribution of funding.
 

The only way to beat this pandemic is to fight the virus together, and that means making sure that no person or community is left behind and that they all have the resources, support, and access they need to respond to and recover from this crisis. Rural America cannot carry the burden of addressing this public health emergency and economic crisis alone, and we urge you to establish a “Rural COVID-19 Task Force” that will ensure their priorities are met in an expedited manner.
 

Thank you for your consideration of this request. We look forward to your response.
 

Sincerely,

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