Spotlight Exclusives

Focus on Rural America: Poverty and Tightening Federal Budgets

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A majority of rural Americans believe the federal government has a role to play in helping the working poor advance economically, according to a recent bipartisan poll by the Center for Rural Affairs. This finding comes as federal legislative debates, regarding the farm bill and automatic budget cuts, or sequestration, focus attention on programs intended to help rural working poor families achieve self-sufficiency.


The poll, conducted by a nationally respected bipartisan polling team including Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group, showed 59 percent of rural Americans believe  the federal government has a lot or some responsibility to help the working poor advance economically. When asked about specific efforts or programs, rural Americans showed even greater support for helping the working poor: 89 percent of respondents support job training, 80 percent support providing Medicaid and 79 percent support payroll tax refunds like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In addition, 85 percent support providing pre-school programs to lower-income children.


Because Congress has not reauthorized the farm bill, rural economic development programs as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly food stamps), continue unchanged. SNAP, which faced significant reauthorization cuts in both House and Senate farm bill proposals, is a major low-income assistance program that, along with the EITC, Medicaid and several other programs for the working poor, is protected from cuts under sequestration. However, other programs relevant to the rural working poor, including job training and early care and education for young children, already are experiencing sequestration cuts.


A recent article in The Nation۪s This Week in Poverty blog provided a glimpse at what۪s happening with some of these programs on the ground in rural America as sequestration cuts begin to prompt reductions to early childhood education services in southeast Kansas. Journalist Greg Kaufmann reported on the challenges facing rural low-income families after the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program (SEK-CAP) closed its Head Start center in the small town of Neodosha to meet new federal budget constraints.


The SEK-CAP Head Start center was one of only two licensed early childhood education programs in Neodosha. SEK-CAP staff expressed concern that families now would start to rely largely upon unlicensed childcare facilities, which may not provide the same level of developmental support and family services. SEK-CAP employee Becky Gray cited the closure as demonstrating the particular vulnerability of rural areas to sequester cuts, as services are often more sparsely distributed than in more dense urban areas.


To stay on top of reports, news and other information on opportunities and challenges in rural America, use Spotlight’s issue page as your go-to resource.


Posted by Katherine


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