Guest Opinion: Congress again overlooks rural businesses during critical time

Published 12:20 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2021

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By Johnathan Hladik

As they continue to face challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, rural small businesses and communities with loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program find themselves on the outside once again.

Provisions of the Rural Equal Aid (REA) Act, a measure with bipartisan support in the House and Senate, were left out of the latest round of stimulus funding approved recently by Congress.

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Our elected officials have again let these rural entrepreneurs down and have forgotten the pandemic has been just as severe, if not more so, in many rural communities.

Under the REA Act, businesses with loans through the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program would have their principal, interest and associated fees covered for a six-month period. It also included loans through the Intermediary Relending Program and those made to public and nonprofit organizations for community facilities, and to businesses, cooperatives and nonprofits expanding in rural areas.

Those provisions were given to businesses with loans through the Small Business Administration as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved in March and in this latest round of funding, relief was extended a second time.

Similar support would have provided parity for rural communities. These are the loans that keep Main Street vibrant, making it possible for small community financial institutions to grow local economies with local dollars.

As the pandemic continues to impact our economy, we urge Congress to treat rural entities equally by including them in upcoming stimulus legislation.

Johnathan Hladik is a policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs.