US Congress considers bill to boost rural areas through co-op investment

The bill is backed by NCBA CLUSA, the national apex for co-ops

A bipartisan bill to support rural communities by investing in co-operatives was introduced in the US Congress on 8 December.

Introduced by Congresswoman Yadira Caraveo (Dem, Colorado) the Strengthening Rural Cooperatives and Communities Act is co-sponsored by Representative David Valadao (Rep, California).

The bill is expected to strengthen co-operatives in rural communities by reauthorising the  Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) programme, which provides grants to co-op development centres to improve the economic condition of rural areas by helping communities start, expand or improve rural co-operatives through technical assistance.  

Provisions include reauthorising funding for RCDGs at US$40m a year from FY24 to FY28; implementing multi-year grants to reduce regulatory burdens; prioritising grants for socially vulnerable, underserved, or distressed communities; introducing measures to ensure scoring for grants does not disadvantage under-resourced organisations; and requiring the Interagency Working Group on Cooperative Development to submit an annual report detailing their activities to Congress.

“Co-operatives provide a lifeline for rural Colorado communities,” said Caraveo, “helping hardworking families scale their businesses, reach more consumers, and access utilities like water and electricity. Unfortunately, years of underinvestment have put the future of this unique support model at risk. Rural co-operatives in Colorado and around the country need more support.

“I’m proud to be joined by Rep Valadao in introducing the bipartisan Strengthening Rural Cooperatives and Communities Act, which will provide desperately needed relief to rural co-operatives and invest in underserved rural communities who need it most.”

“Rural areas like many in the Central Valley rely on co-operatives to provide some of the most important services to our communities, including healthcare, housing, and childcare,” said Valadao. “Rural co-operatives throughout the country, including here in the Valley, need more federal support to stay afloat. I’m proud to introduce the Strengthening Rural Cooperatives and Communities Act with Rep Caraveo to ensure our rural communities have the resources they need to thrive.”

Caraveo announced the bill during a tour of electric co-op United Power, which provides electricity to tens of thousands of members in Colorado’s 8th District. She was joined by representatives of local co-operatives, including the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union; the Colorado Farm Bureau; CoBank; Tri-State Generation & Transmission; and the Historic Splendid Valley Commission.

The bill was welcomed by Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of national co-op apex NCBA Clusa. “As the only federal programme solely dedicated to co-operative development,” he said, “the improvements within this bill will allow co-operative development centres to create better quality jobs while preserving small businesses and co-ops at the heart of rural economies.”

“The RCDG programme has been a vital impetus for growth in the worker co-operative sector, leading to strong businesses and good jobs in local communities,” said Esteban Kelly, executive director of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and chair of NCBA Clusa. “We applaud Representatives Valadao and Caraveo for recognising the importance of co-operative business to strengthen our economy through collective ownership and worker voice. The reauthorisation of this programme will prioritise businesses that best serve Americans, and we are proud to support this effort.” 

“Co-operative businesses directly contribute to the success of their members and communities by increasing economies of scale, creating meaningful jobs, and growing income opportunities all while keeping that money in the communities and helping them thrive,” said Chad Franke, president of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “USDA’s RCDG programme provides critical support for organisations like Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s Cooperative Development Center to continue being a resource for developing and maintaining co-ops throughout rural America. We thank Representative Caraveo for bringing this bill forward that will further improve the programme.”

“We appreciate the leadership of Representatives Caraveo and Valadao to enhance the RCDG programme,” said Brian Cavey, senior vice president of the Government Affairs and Knowledge Exchange Division at CoBank, which provides loans and financial services to co-ops. “Co-operatives have a unique ability to serve every industry and advance shared goals of individuals and businesses. We applaud the work to support rural co-operatives and are committed to working to help create a healthy and thriving rural America.” 

NCBA Clusa is encouraging co-ops to support the Strengthening Rural Cooperatives and Communities Act by filling out this endorsement form.