Biden plan seeks to boost rural America through investments

MANNING, Iowa (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday sought to build on his appeal to rural voters with the release of a broad plan to revitalize rural America through investments in agriculture, rural economies and infrastructure.

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"We have to ensure we bring along everyone," the former vice president said in Manning, an Iowa town of about 1,500 residents. "Doesn't matter if you live in skyscraper in Manhattan or here in Manning, your child is entitled" to every benefit America has to offer.

The plan builds on policies Biden has already released on health care and climate change and expands on a number of policies first introduced in the Obama administration. It sets the ambitious goal of making America's agriculture industry the first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions, by expanding a program that incentivizes farmers to engage in conservation and by allowing farmers to participate in carbon markets in which companies can essentially pay them to offset their own emissions. The plan pledges to invest in "bio-based manufacturing" to bring jobs back to rural America by using agricultural byproducts in manufacturing.

It also includes a $20 billion investment in rural broadband infrastructure, a commitment to prioritize the poorest rural counties for federal investments and a promise to create a federal working group to help rural communities figure out how to apply for federal funds and resources. And it features a raft of policies aimed at bolstering rural health care access, including doubling the funding for community health centers and expanding the use of telehealth services and rural medical residency programs.

Biden's plan is one of a series of rural-focused policy proposals released by 2020 Democratic presidential contenders. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have released policies focused specifically on the agriculture industry, while Klobuchar has also released a proposal to invest in rural infrastructure. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper have all released broader rural-focused plans that, like Biden's, include planks aimed at an array of rural issues.

Biden is aligned with a number of other candidates in pledging to enforce antitrust laws to crack down on agriculture monopolies and bolster small family farms and to negotiate U.S. trade laws to help American farmers. But his plan already has one major backer in former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who called it a "clearly-stated and comprehensive vision" for rural America.

Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, remains beloved in the state, and his endorsement would be influential in the state's caucuses, where Biden needs to make a strong showing if he hopes to have a shot at the nomination. But while he praised Biden's plan — and hosted an event at his home for the former vice president on Monday night — he stopped short of endorsing Biden outright because he wanted to see more of the candidates' plans.

"I think it's a good solid plan, however, I think other candidates no doubt will come out with their plans," he said in an interview. "Hopefully, what comes from all of this is a Democratic Party that is now perceived by people in rural areas and small towns as a party that is once again reengaging with rural folks."