Georgia’s rural communities have always been the treasures of our state, but too many rural Georgians lack access to the jobs, digital technology and health care they need to thrive in the 21st century. Since coming to the Senate, I have fought to ensure that every rural community in our state can succeed.
Here in Georgia, rural communities continue to be an economic driver in our state, with agriculture contributing more than $73 billion to our state’s economy every year.
Growing up on my family’s farm in middle Georgia, I saw first-hand how fulfilling life on a farm can be. However, I also saw the challenges that farmers face, particularly when it comes to natural disasters. When Hurricane Michael devastated many south Georgia farms in 2018, I immediately went to work with President Trump to break the political logjam and ensure our farmers got the relief they needed to stay afloat. In addition, I recently cosponsored the Forestry Recovery Act to help offset losses of timber due to unforeseen disasters.
The COVID-19 crisis has been especially challenging for our farmers, as they have had to adapt to new safety measures while keeping our supply chain stocked with produce and other goods. As a part of the bipartisan CARES Act, which I worked on directly, we provided $14 billion to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) for direct aid to farmers, as well as $9.5 billion that Secretary Sonny Perdue can use at his discretion. As a direct result of the CARES Act, USDA implemented the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which has provided $30 billion to offset losses for producers due to the pandemic.
These steps provided critical aid for agriculture producers to continue feeding our country and creating opportunity for rural Georgians.
For rural businesses, communities, and families to continue to thrive, they need access to high-speed internet, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Right now, however, 1 million Georgians across more than 500,000 locations lack access to high-speed internet, 70 percent of which reside in rural areas. This makes it more difficult to run farms and small businesses, connect kids with online education tools, and access important telehealth programs
The first step to solving this problem is mapping which areas need better internet access. Recently, I led an effort to update the federal government’s internet access mapping program so that providers can start helping the areas that need it most.
After identifying where the problem lies, we have to help internet providers reach those areas. I worked with the USDA to implement the ReConnect Program, which has provided more than $836 million to build critical internet infrastructure in Georgia and across the country. In addition, I sponsored the Keeping Critical Connections Act, which gives internet providers in rural areas some help as they provide critical connection for rural Georgians.
Another problem uniquely affecting rural Georgians is access to health care. In fact, during the COVID-19 crisis, one in four rural Georgians couldn’t get the care they needed. This problem is driven mainly by a serious shortage of nurses, doctors, and other health care workers.
Nine of Georgia’s 159 counties have zero physicians. Sixty counties have no pediatrician.
Nationwide, our country needs as many as 139,000 physicians by 2033 and more than 1.1 million new nurses by 2022, primarily in rural areas.
I recently visited a community health care center in south Georgia and saw first-hand the incredible impact they have on their community. I’ve helped secure funding every year for community health care centers, but these folks need even more backup so they can continue serving our communities safely.
To ensure every community has the health care workers they need, I introduced the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act this summer. This bill will clear bureaucratic red tape and get 25,000 more nurses and 15,000 more physicians working in hospitals across our country. In addition, I worked with the Trump administration to provide 240 rural health care providers with more than $328 million in additional funding to combat COVID-19 this year.
Georgia’s rural communities are some of the most incredible in the entire country. During my time in the United States Senate, I have made it a top priority to support our rural communities as they adapt to the 21st century. No matter what, I will always fight for our farmers and rural communities to ensure every Georgian has access to the critical resources they need to thrive.