Daines offers bills to bolster rural areas’ accessibility to federal grants

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) recently introduced two bipartisan bills aimed at ensuring that America’s rural communities have an equal opportunity to apply for federal agriculture and transportation grants.                                    

“This legislation will help ensure Montana’s rural counties have better access in competing for, and securing, federal resources that are important to help grow their local economies,” Sen. Daines said.

On March 9, Sen. Daines signed on as an original cosponsor of both the More Opportunities for Rural Economies (MORE) from USDA Grants Act, S. 647,  and the MORE from DOT Grants Act, S. 649, which are sponsored by U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). 

If enacted, S. 647 would improve the process for awarding grants under certain programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to certain counties in which the majority of land is owned or managed by the federal government and to other units of local government and tribal governments in those counties.

S. 649 would do the same for grants under certain U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) programs, according to the congressional record bill summaries.

Because the federal government manages roughly 28 percent of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States, including in many counties in Montana, according to Sen. Daines’ statement, such localities have a limited ability to generate tax revenue. 

The bills would define new High-Density Public Land Counties by the acreage of an individual county or local jurisdiction greater than 50 percent owned or managed by the federal government in any form and where the population is less than 100,000. 

The designation would allow applicants to reduce federal match requirements, receive greater technical assistance support, and be prioritized for financial support if they haven’t recently utilized the program, information from the senator’s office says.

Specifically, S. 647 and S. 649 seek to increase access to specific USDA and DOT grant programs, such as the Rural Business Development grant program; the Economic Impact Initiative grant program; the Telemedicine and Distance Learning Services grant program; the Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program; the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation discretionary grant program; the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program; the Airport Improvement Program; and the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program, among many others.

The National Association of Counties last week endorsed the package.