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Alex Gonzalez, Producer
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
A new report highlights policy actions it says could benefit people living in rural Arizona.
Sherri Jones, a governing board member for the Florence Unified School District, calls this year’s Rural Action Policy Report a “guiding tool” for elected officials and service providers to better understand the lives of rural Arizonans.
Economic development, food supply, education, health and overall safety all play a part in rural communities’ vitality. Jones added she appreciates the federal government’s recognition that federal dollars are not only for big cities – but she says rural towns have a harder time making federal programs work.
“When you overlay the rigor of what it means to not only apply for federal dollars but the actual implementation of those programs, you really need to have infrastructure and capacity already on the table. And that lack of consideration does not feel developmentally appropriate,” she explained.
The report, from the Rural Democracy Initiative, recommends federal agencies invest at least 10% of their program funding in historically lower-income counties, and do more to fund rural small businesses and infrastructure needs and keep small hospitals open. It also suggests strengthening the U.S. Postal Service, as what it calls an “essential part of rural life.”
Jones added people feel the need to leave rural areas for better opportunities when they no longer see the value in staying. The report suggests ways to diversify these local economies. Jones said the findings are crucial for exposing the reasons behind the economic declines in small towns – not only in Arizona, but across the country – and suggesting ways to turn them around.
“Particularly thinking about the ‘copper corridor’ in Pinal County, these communities are hard hit in terms of survival and sustainability because the mines aren’t as active as they were 30, 40 years ago, where that was industry that people depended on,” she continued.
Jones added it is also important to acknowledge that all rural communities across Arizona are unique, and said tribal communities in particular face their own set of challenges, so there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
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