Stewart introduces legislation to protect Utah’s rural counties

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT) and U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Steve Daines (R-MT) have introduced the More Opportunities for Rural Economies (MORE) Grants Package. This bipartisan and bicameral legislative package helps level the playing field for rural communities in areas with large amounts of federal land.

The federal government manages roughly 28 percent of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States, the majority of which is found in western states.  Federal land makes up the majority of land in most of Utah’s rural counties.

“Too many counties in Utah and throughout the West face education, infrastructure, and housing shortages due to the amount of untaxable federally controlled land,” said Representative Stewart. “By providing technical assistance in obtaining grants and lowering the cost share requirement, these two bills will help ease the burden for rural counties with low populations.”

“With over eighty five percent of land in the Silver State managed by the federal government-the highest of any state in the country-we need to do more to ensure that our western rural communities are able to compete fairly with other parts of the country,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “With limited ability to generate tax revenue, many communities are left without the resources to leverage federal investments in infrastructure that supports our Nevada schools, small businesses, and health care facilities. Our MORE legislative package aims to change that by expanding access to economic development, broadband programs and transportation grants to communities to build a stronger rural Nevada.”

“Nearly 62 percent of America’s counties – mostly rural – have untaxable federal public lands within their boundaries. These counties’ ability to secure federal infrastructure and economic development grants is too often hindered by federal matching requirements,” said National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase. “Challenges in qualifying for these grants limit economic opportunities at a time when the economy needs a shot in the arm. Counties support the MORE USDA Grants and MORE DOT Grants Acts, which will expand access to much-needed investments in our communities. We applaud Senator Cortez Masto and Representatives Stewart, Cook, Simpson and Lamborn for their leadership and call on Congress to swiftly pass both pieces of legislation.”

More about this legislation:

The More Opportunities for Rural Economies (MORE) Grants Act is endorsed by the National Association of Counties. The legislative package would create a definition of High-Density Public Land Counties defined by the acreage of an individual county or local jurisdiction greater than 50% owned or managed by the federal government in any form and where the population is less than 100,000. The legislative package is broken down in two sections:

The first legislation, the More Opportunities for Rural Economies (MORE) from USDA Grants Act, seeks to increase access to:
  *   Rural Business Development grant program;
  *   Economic Impact Initiative grant program;
  *   Telemedicine and Distance Learning Services grant program;
  *   Community Connect Grant Program;
  *   Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program or the “ReConnect Program”; or
  *   Any other discretionary grant program of the Department of Agriculture Rural Development divisions under which grants are awarded to- (i) counties; (ii) other units of local government; or (iii) Tribal governments.

 The second legislation, the More Opportunities for Rural Economies (MORE) from DOT Grants Act, would increase access to:
  *   Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation discretionary grant program;
  *   Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program;
  *   Public transportation innovation grant program;
  *   Public transportation safety program;
  *   Federal lands access program;
  *   Airport Improvement Program (AIP);
  *   Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (CRISI); or
  *   Any other discretionary grant program of the Department of Transportation under which grants are awarded to- (i) counties; (ii) other units of local government; or (iii) Tribal governments.