Beginning farmers and ranchers benefit from act introduced this week in Congress

Do you support beginning and aspiring farmers and ranchers? Your voice is needed!

This week, a bill supporting beginning and aspiring farmers and ranchers – the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (BFROA) – was introduced in Congress by Reps. Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE). 

The Center for Rural Affairs understands the challenges beginning farmers and ranchers face, and has endorsed BFROA. You can learn more about the bill here.

A quick call to your representative expressing your support for this bill will make a big impact! Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202.224.3121.

The average age of today's farmer is 58 years old. Over the course of the next five years, nearly 100 million acres of farmland are predicted to change hands. We need to support policies that ensure beginning farmers and ranchers have the necessary tools and resources to be successful in the future. The 2018 farm bill is the perfect opportunity to address the challenges beginning farmers and ranchers face, and provide solutions to overcome these barriers.

In order to keep our agricultural economy strong, we need to support policies that help beginning farmers and ranchers in four key areas:

  1. Access to affordable land;
  2. Education to develop necessary farming skills;
  3. Sound financial management tools, such as credit and crop insurance; and
  4. Conservation and land stewardship.

In brief, BFROA helps support beginning and aspiring farmers and ranchers by:

  • Expanding beginning farmer and rancher access to affordable land;
  • Empowering producers with the skills needed to succeed in today's agricultural economy;
  • Ensuring equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance; and
  • Encouraging commitment to conservation and land stewardship.  

In order for Congress to include this bill in the 2018 farm bill, representatives need to hear from you. If you care about the next generation of farmers and ranchers in your state, now is the time to let them know!

Want to show your support for beginning and aspiring farmers and ranchers? Here’s how you can get involved:

Call your representative expressing your support by dialing the Congressional Switchboard at 202.224.3121.

Not sure what to say? Here is an example:
“Hello, my name is _________, and I live in [town where you live, so they know you are a member of their district]. I’m calling to let Representative/Senator _________ know I support the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. To keep our agricultural economy strong, our beginning farmers and ranchers need support in the 2018 farm bill. Thank you!”

If you're looking for more information:

Since this bill was just introduced, the legislative number has not yet been assigned. You can follow BFROA updates HERE to stay in the know.

Did you call? Let us know!
Contact me at or 402.687.2100 x 1012. Read more about Beginning farmers and ranchers benefit from act introduced this week in Congress

  • Farm Policy
  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
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Demand for small business capital is strong

Note: This is the third in a series from our small business program, Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), highlighting activities from Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2017. Our staff placed 124 loans totaling $2,541,952 in that time period. To apply for a microloan, click here. Click here for the first story and here for the second story.

The unexpected passing of Jeff Reynolds, long-time director of the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), made 2017 a year of change and transition for our small business development work. 

Jeff was committed to rural small business development, and to each and every small business owner we ever worked with. Since becoming program director in 2000, Jeff led a dramatic expansion of our small business lending, training, and technical assistance work. 

He fundamentally believed in small business development as a strategy for small towns. He helped design, campaign for, and win both state and federal programs that now provide resources to other small business development organizations. His impact extends far beyond Nebraska.

We miss Jeff’s dedication, his good spirit, his can-do attitude, and his uplifting presence, and we dedicate our work with Nebraska small businesses this year to him.

Lending for the year

Demand for small business capital is strong in rural Nebraska. When traditional lenders aren’t meeting the need, we do our best to serve rural entrepreneurs. 

From Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2017, our staff placed 124 loans totaling $2,541,952. Total outstanding loans have climbed to $6 million. Just five years ago, that number was $2.6 million. Our small business loans range from $1,000 to $150,000. The growth is a reflection of demand from the field and dedication of the staff.

One area of growth is from Latino entrepreneurs. Latino borrowers now account for 30 percent of our loan portfolio. As the demographics in rural Nebraska shift, we are dedicated to ensuring that new immigrants can become full participants in their communities, including as small business owners.

Our clients are everyday, rural people

Borrowers include individuals such as Ana Gonzalez, who always dreamed of starting her own business. Her dream became reality when she opened The Enchanted Bakery in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Previously, Ana operated a home-based bakery, but with growing demand, she knew she needed a storefront. Our staff was able to assist Ana not only with a loan, but also with training and hands-on help to get the business up and running.

The training and hands-on assistance we are able to offer small business owners are a hallmark of our program. We offer trainings on QuickBooks, online marketing, financial literacy, and other topics to business owners across the state. We also work one-on-one with clients to help them develop business plans, and provide business coaching.

Business ownership remains one of the key ways for individuals to build assets over time. Across the nation, there is a significant, unmet need for alternative financing such as ours.

Mission-driven and community-oriented control of capital will be a key strategy to help everyday rural people build a future for themselves and their communities in the coming decades.

Feature photo: REAP clients include individuals such as Ana Gonzalez, who always dreamed of starting her own business. Her dream became reality when she opened the Enchanted Bakery in Grand Island. Our staff assisted Ana with training, hands-on help, and a loan. | Photo submitted

Photo: Rachel Pittner, owner of the Groomin’ Room in Minden, Nebraska, has always loved dogs. She opened her business in Minden in 2013. REAP helped Rachel with a loan in 2015 to purchase a building after her existing location, which she rented, was sold. | Photo submitted Read more about Demand for small business capital is strong

  • Small Business
  • Small BusinessREAP
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Iowa's fight for water quality continues

Iowa’s 2017 legislative session ended without a bill to create a long-term, stable funding source for water quality. Hard feelings amassed all around, between the House and Senate, and between the legislature and the public at large. The stalemate on funding, dismissal of the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, and retaliatory effort to dismantle the Des Moines Water Works in the statehouse has kept the debate alive, well, and as charged as ever.

Should Iowans expect a change of course in 2018? Gov. Kim Reynolds could make a difference. Reynolds told a crowd in Altoona, Iowa, last summer that she wanted water quality to be “the first bill [she] signs as governor.” She also participated in field days that promoted soil organic matter. However, she has been quiet on proposals she would like to see from the Republican-led legislature. Key committee leadership in the House and Senate will need to take care of the details.

The frail state of the budget will dominate discussions at the Capitol this session, and any bills addressing water quality will have to fit within this debate. State revenue projections continue to decline, with the latest projections indicating a $133 million shortfall from last year. Last session, we participated in Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy coalition urging for a ⅜ cent raise in the sales tax to fund a dedicated trust for natural resource protection. A sales tax raise is still possible, as it is known to have broad public support, but not likely without other tax revenue offsets.

All eyes will be on House Republicans to make a deal. The quickest path to the governor’s desk would be to pass the Senate bill from last session and allow the House to make amendments. All members of the House are up for reelection in 2018, adding to the pressure. The Senate bill from last session allowed for increased funding from an excise tax on drinking water and gambling revenues. Compared to the House bill from last session, it places more emphasis on administering projects through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship in a direct contract to landowners.

No matter what is decided at the state house this session, the fight for water quality will continue. It’s estimated an investment of $5 to $6 billion is needed to adequately address water quality in Iowa. With our state’s land value assessed at more than $200 billion, that figure represents a 2 to 3 percent investment in infrastructure protection. The Raccoon River, providing water for the Des Moines metro, is estimated to require $300 to $500 million alone. It will take a sustained effort of thousands of projects, hundreds of people, and, yes, millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Many water quality initiatives currently active in the state are funded through federal sources, or privately. And, a number of outreach efforts are underway to engage farmers in implementing cover crops and other conservation practices. We will explore these topics, and more, in our ongoing series on water quality.

Share your thoughts with us around Iowa water quality by completing our brief survey here. Read more about Iowa's fight for water quality continues

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Small business staff present, collaborate, and lead

Note: This is the second in a series from our small business program, Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), highlighting activities from Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2017. Our staff placed 124 loans totaling $2,541,952 in that time period. To apply for a microloan, click here. Click here for the first story on business accomplishments.


Monica Braun received the Association of Women’s Business Centers 2017 Advocacy Award for efforts on behalf of the women’s business centers.

Juan Sandoval received the Nebraska Entrepreneurship Outstanding Service Award from NET-Force and Nebraska Enterprise Fund in recognition of sustained and outstanding leadership and advocacy for entrepreneurship education and business development services.


Braun presented “What’s in Your Business Plan?” sessions at the AgCeptional Women’s Conference in Norfolk, in November.

Nancy Flock presented at a college and career fair in Cambridge, in October, to students who want to return home after college to start businesses.

Janelle Moran and Griselda Rendon were the featured speakers at the October Nebraska City Small Incubator coffee.

Dena Beck was the special guest speaker at the Sutton Area Chamber’s annual meeting.

Gene Rahn spoke to the KBR Leadership Academy in January.

Conference attendees

Beck, Brian Depew, Rhea Landholm, and board member Jay Hall attended the Opportunity Finance Network Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in October 2016.

Braun, Kim Preston, and Dongwen Wang attended the annual Women’s Business Center Conference in September, in Alexandria, Virginia.

Braun and Beck attended the Governor’s Economic Summit in July.

Moran, Braun, and Beck attended the 2017 Nebraska Economic Developers Association (NEDA) conference at Nebraska City and set up a booth. Beck presented in a preconference session.

Beck, Flock, and Braun participated in the Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities Conference in McCook, in April; and the Nebraska AgriEco-Tourism Conference in Broken Bow, in February.


Flock worked with an Intensive Business Development Project for Dawson County. Through this project, it was identified that one business was ready to expand into a larger restaurant and REAP was able to provide financing.

Braun was a member of the planning team for the annual GROW Nebraska MarkeTECH Conference; and was a part of the planning and implementing team for the EntrepreneurShip Investigation Camp in Seward, in June. 

Flock was a judge in the Hormel Business Plan Competition at McCook; and Beck was a judge at Big Idea Kearney, in November. 


We collaborate with many organizations to better serve entrepreneurs and communities. 

Staff participate in resource network meetings in their regions to keep abreast of what other resource providers have to offer. They inform others about REAP services to keep referral networks current and to assist our clientele.

The Nebraska Small Business Collaborative (NSBC) consists of REAP, Community Development Resources-Lincoln, Catholic Charities-Omaha, and Nebraska Enterprise Fund.

REAP participates in NEDA, an association of professional economic developers dedicated to the prosperous growth of Nebraska’s business climate.

The Center is a part of NET-Force, an organization made up of entities that facilitate entrepreneurship. Each community college is represented, as well as the University of Nebraska and Nebraska Enterprise Fund.

Staff Training & Networking

Braun participated in the NET-Force Entrepreneurship Best Practices Summit, in October; Nebraska Financial Education Coalition meeting in Lincoln, in October; and Small Business Administration (SBA) speed mentoring session in Lincoln.

Moran and Braun attended the SBA district office informational day for lenders in Lincoln, in May.

Flock attended the Community Reinvestment Act for Workforce Workshop in Broken Bow, in June.

Survey Work

Beck completed the fifth biennial “Small Business Needs Assessment Survey.” The survey, administered every two years, helps determine the needs of rural entrepreneurs in Nebraska. In 2017, the survey was conducted in Kansas and South Dakota; data analyzation is in progress. If you would like a program delivered to your community or organization, contact Beck at 308.528.0060 or

Photo: Monica Braun (center) received the Association of Women’s Business Centers 2017 Advocacy Award for efforts on behalf of women’s business centers. Read more about Small business staff present, collaborate, and lead

  • Small Business
  • Small BusinessREAP
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That's Impressive: A sample of business accomplishments

Note: This is the first in a series from our small business program, Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), highlighting activities from Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2017. The below features a select number of businesses, our staff placed 124 loans totaling $2,541,952 in that time period. To apply for a microloan, click here.

Penny Mulder of West Anna Designs is movin’ on up, out of her basement, into a larger space, and now has a retail space located at 558 South Stuhr Road in Grand Island, Nebraska. Recently, she added three employees, and also acquired contracts from both Grand Island High School and Grand Island Northwest Public Schools. The business specializes in embroidery, screen printing, and press and vinyl signage. West Anna Designs also specializes in products for school booster clubs and other sports teams with no minimum orders. 

Norma and Humberto Avalos recently expanded their restaurant, Taqueria Max, in Lexington, Nebraska. The restaurant serves tacos, and other traditional Mexican food, and needed a space which would allow more seating. The previous location of the restaurant had a capacity for four tables (16 total sit-down customers). The owners began working through an intensive consulting session that led to a business plan and financial projections for an expansion. REAP provided financing to purchase a building. Space in another section of the restaurant is available to rent for small to mid-sized gatherings.

Roger White and Cara Anderson opened “R” Tire & Alignment, LLC, a full-service tire shop, in Ogallala, Nebraska. They provide tires for vehicles of all sizes, including semis, large equipment, and specialty tires. Roger brings more than 15 years of experience to their business. They employ one full-time tire tech and are actively looking for another full-time tire tech and a full-time alignment tech.

In August 2013, Jennafer Glaesemann, D.V.M. applied for financing to help acquire a second veterinary clinic. Jennafer owned the Blue Valley Vet Clinic in Beatrice for one year and was looking to purchase the Pickrell, Nebraska, veterinary clinic. REAP assisted her with financing, and she was able to expand her services. Since 2013, Jennafer has also been recognized by her peers for her achievements. She received the Early Achiever Award from the Nebraska Alumni Association, in 2014; Outstanding Young Veterinarian of the Year from the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association, in 2014; and an Alumni Master Honor from the Nebraska Alumni Association, in 2016.

“Your encouragement and perseverance in the loan application process, as well as the approval (and vote of confidence) by the Center for Rural Affairs has been invaluable to me. I can’t thank you enough!” –Jennafer Glaesemann


Photo: An appreciation for nature, herbs in particular, led to a lifelong passion and career for Rachel Liester, owner of Red Road Herbs Retreat & Learning Center, LLC, near Stanton, Nebraska. She teaches classes, offers tours, and sells fresh and dried herbs, as well as handmade herbal products. REAP has provided Rachel with one-on-one counseling and microloans for training, marketing, repairs, gap financing, and ongoing business expenses. | Photo by Kylie Kai  Read more about That's Impressive: A sample of business accomplishments

  • Small Business
  • Small BusinessREAP
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Bloomfield, Iowa, on track for energy independence by 2030

Note: This blog is a follow-up to a piece we had on Bloomfield last December.

When it comes to rural development, the town of Bloomfield in southeast Iowa is holding its own.

After a study concluded Bloomfield (population 2,643) could become energy independent in its use of electricity by 2030, the city council is pursuing a combination of efficiency upgrades and investments in clean, renewable energy.

Bloomfield’s expanding list of projects has inspired Iowa Wind and Solar, a company founded and headquartered in Fairfield, Iowa, to recently open an office in the southeast Iowa town.

The study was conducted by the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities and funded through the Iowa Economic Development Authority (view it here). In the study, six strategies are summarized to achieve energy independence. The first strategy focuses on implementing a comprehensive set of energy efficiency programs that would reduce electricity use by 23 percent over 10 years. The next set of strategies would use diesel generators and other equipment to help reduce peak loads. The remaining strategies outline how Bloomfield could achieve 50 percent, 75 percent, or 100 percent of its electricity through solar and wind.

For 100 percent independence, Bloomfield would need to add 11,400 kilowatts (kW) of solar power, two large wind turbines, and 130 kW of microturbines over 10 years.

Bloomfield should be one of the first municipalities to take advantage of the credit. Iowa’s solar tax credits have a great record of success. Tax credits in Iowa were expanded in the last legislative session to include projects with 10 megawatts (MW) of solar power owned by municipal utilities. From 2012 to 2016, Iowa invested approximately $16 million in solar tax credits to leverage $123 million in private investment in solar energy systems.

In Bloomfield, the installation of wind and solar power generation to achieve 100 percent independence would bring an estimated $35 million of investment and new jobs in the construction and maintenance of projects. Successful projects can act as a model for Iowa’s 136 other municipal electric utilities, and together these efforts will lead to more rural jobs.

Bloomfield offers an alternative to rural development compared to efforts made to lure big tech companies to invest in Iowa, like the recent state incentives provided to Apple for a data center in Waukee (population 19,284). The two efforts differ not only in skill, but also in strategy. Bloomfield’s strategy combines community engagement with investments that lead to broad savings and environmental benefits for the public, including property owners, residents, and schools. By 2030, Bloomfield should offer all the benefits of small town living and being off-the-grid. Read more about Bloomfield, Iowa, on track for energy independence by 2030

  • Clean Energy
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DREAM Act 2017

23 million rural Americans are without broadband access

Disparity in rural high-speed internet access has recently garnered national attention.

The internet is now one of the most basic modes of how people find employment, attend college, work, handle their finances, and receive medical care. However, especially in rural areas, the internet is not available to be utilized in its full capacity.

Earlier this summer, Microsoft released a report outlining strategies to eliminate the rural broadband gap by 2022 for the more than 23 million rural Americans without access. Beyond funding and the leveraging of innovative and cost-efficient technologies, public-private partnerships are key to the strategy.

In order to bring in public sector participation, citizens will need to remain actively engaged in state and local internet access conversations.

Rural residents need to draw attention to the limitations that slow or non-existent internet speeds impose upon access to everyday educational and economic opportunities. Demonstrating the magnitude of the digital divide places pressure upon local and state governments to update policies and leverage collaborative funding streams for the benefit of all citizens.

Funding opportunities and legislative changes are key to the extension of internet access to all residents. The ability to expand broadband access in rural communities expands social and economic opportunities for Americans. But, it will take partnerships, community action, and citizen participation to help close that divide. Read more about 23 million rural Americans are without broadband access

  • Small Towns
  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Bridging Nebraska's digital divide through funding and legislative opportunities

The expansion of internet access for rural Nebraska is the focus of a recently released grant funding opportunity and upcoming legislative hearings.

The internet is now one of the most basic modes of how people find employment, attend college, work, handle their finances, and receive medical care. However, especially in rural areas of the state, the internet is not available to be utilized in its full capacity. Nebraska’s Legislature and agencies are seeking to address the issue.

To provide opportunities for expanded, rural internet access, Nebraska’s Public Service Commission is accepting pre-applications for grants from the Nebraska Internet Enhancement Fund (NIEF). The application deadline is Nov. 10. Counties and municipalities are encouraged to apply for funding to deliver broadband internet where adequate service does not exist. The NIEF pre-application form and more information on project requirements are available at

Increasing the provision of high speed internet in rural areas of the state will also be a topic addressed by members of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee during three hearings to be held across Nebraska later this month. Field hearings will be held in McCook on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at McCook Community College; Central City on Thursday, Nov. 30, at the city council chambers; and Lincoln on Friday, Dec. 1, at the State Capitol, Room 1113.

Hearing meetings are open to the public, and testimony is welcomed. Rural residents and community representatives are encouraged to participate. More information can be found on the Nebraska Legislature’s website,

Funding opportunities and legislative changes are key to the extension of internet access to all residents. The ability to expand broadband access in the state’s rural communities expands social and economic opportunities for Nebraskans. But, it will take partnerships, community action, and citizen participation to help close that divide. Read more about Bridging Nebraska's digital divide through funding and legislative opportunities

  • Small Towns
  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Artist, craftsman, historian: one carpenter, many passions

“Right man, right place, right time,” said Al Leal, president of Al’s Old House Repair, LLC.  

His historic carpentry and renovation business landed him in the “right place” of Red Cloud, Nebraska, a town with fewer than 1,000 people, and at the former home of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Willa Cather, and the internationally known Willa Cather Foundation.

Leal has come a long way since returning to his hometown of Clear Lake, Iowa after serving in the military. He joined the business with nothing more than a borrowed saw and a pair of pliers.

Clear Lake, Iowa, to Corpus Christi, Texas, to Red Cloud, Nebraska was the route Armando "Al" Leal’s family took to find a place rich in history. His business include his sons in their fourth generation carpentry business which began in Madrid, Spain.

Al's Old House Repair is not your typical carpentry business. "Restoring history one board at a time," is their motto, and Leal stays true to that statement.

Extensive research goes into each project. For various projects, he has made many visits to the Nebraska Historical Society and the Willa Cather Foundation archives.

Last year, Leal reached out to Dena Beck, senior project leader with Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), for assistance.

“Working with Al was different than the clients I had worked with in my 10 plus years with REAP,” Beck said. “His work not only supports his family and creates jobs, but also preserves a living history of Willa Cather and her time in Red Cloud. Seeing his work in varying stages is amazing and inspiring to me.”

Leal received a microloan from REAP to expand his business. Al and his wife have also worked through the REAP Women’s Business Center to utilize bookkeeping assistance to help streamline operations.

In 2016, Leal began work on the Matthew R. Bentley/Wick Cutter House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of Red Cloud’s Seward Street Historic District. The house is also separately listed as an important Cather site, as it is the former home of a man Cather based a villainous character on.

Leal once again dove into research by reading a literature review relating the significance of the structure to Cather.

In My Ántonia, Cather wrote about Wick Cutter murdering his wife and then committing suicide. The crime actually did occur, but not in this house, as Cather portrayed it. Bentley shot his wife to death then killed himself in 1912, but that happened in Arkansas, where Bentley moved to in 1904.

Leal mentioned having the privilege to put together a group of craftsmen, valuable to his team. One honorable mention member of Al’s team is David Lovejoy, local farmer/rancher/wood shop craftsman. Plans are to complete the Bentley house in summer 2018.

“Red Cloud saw many immigrants when the town was formed, and you can appreciate that fact with the architecture found in the town: Italian, Victorian, Gothic, Spanish, and German,” Leal said. “Salvage is the ultimate goal, followed by replacing pieces from the same period, then painstaking, but rewarding, recreation, which few, if any, people can differentiate from the original.”

Though the historical significance of the Wick Cutter House hits close to home, Leal found his passion for this work 20 years previously.

“In 1997, I was offered the opportunity to collaborate with the Texas Historical Society in a long and complex process restoring The Murphy Ranch House, a historic stagecoach stop, in Mathis, Texas,” Leal said.

Leal discovered how restoration work tapped into his professional carpentry skills and complemented his interest in research, history, and replicating the fine craftsmanship of early immigrants. The work revealed a talent and a passion for historic restoration that, until then, he hadn’t discovered about himself.

“Houses tell a story,” Leal said. “I sometimes think these beautiful, yet neglected, homes and buildings speak to me and tell me what they need to be revived to their former glory. These pieces of history need to be saved.”

See more of Al’s work at his website

At a Glance

Al’s Old House Repair
804 North Seward Street
Red Cloud, NE 68970

Feature photo: Al Leal, owner of Al's Old House Repair, points out features of the Matthew R. Bentley/Wick Cutter House in Red Cloud, Nebraska. He began work on exterior and interior restorations in 2016.

Top photo: Al showing original wood at Kaly House, a bed and breakfast in Red Cloud, Nebraska. He completed exterior and interior restorations from 2010 to 2013.

Bottom photo: Dena Beck, REAP senior project leader and loan specialist, stands on the front porch of the Kaly House with Al. REAP provided Al's Old House Repair with a microloan.  Read more about Artist, craftsman, historian: one carpenter, many passions

  • Small Business
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Behavioral and mental health access lags in rural areas

Note: On Sept. 8, this was offered as testimony in support of LR 238 in Nebraska, an interim study to examine the feasibility of acquiring funding for behavioral and mental health internship programs at the doctoral level in rural Nebraska.

The demographic challenges that try rural communities in nearly all aspects of health care delivery are also prominent in the delivery of behavioral and mental health care services. Rural populations as a whole are older and have fewer financial resources. On average, this population possesses higher uninsured and Medicaid rates and more health concerns.

The rural population in Nebraska also follows these trends, as the median age of rural Nebraskans is 44 years of age compared to the urban population median age of 38. In 2015, rural Nebraskans earned $9,400 less in median income than the urban cohort’s median income. Rural Nebraskans also lag in self-reported health status. The rate of uninsured rural Nebraskans is 13 percent compared to 10 percent of urban residents.

The health care landscape is shifting. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the inclusion of mental health care as an essential benefit some financial barriers to care have been broken down. Availability is limited, however, and many of our most vulnerable residents continue to live without needed care.

Availability of behavioral health care in rural Nebraska

Referring to an analysis of 2012 statistics of the behavioral health care workforce in Nebraska, workforce shortages in this health care sector are unique to rural areas.

It was found that the state ratio of psychiatrists for every 100,000 residents was 8.4. This far exceeds the ratio of 3.3 psychiatrists for 100,000 which qualifies as a health professional shortage area (HPSA) as defined by the Health Services and Resources Administration. However, when broken down by the geographical distribution of psychiatrists, this ratio fell to 3.8 for rural areas and 2.2 for frontier counties, the latter of which falls into a defined shortage area.

The scope of this shortage is further affirmed by the Nebraska Rural Health Advisory Commission, which reported that of the 90 counties under the commission’s jurisdiction, only two counties, Lincoln and Thurston counties, have adequate psychiatry and mental health staff. These compounded staffing concerns place severe limitations on rural residents’ ability to access the mental health care they may need.

Moreover, the 2016 Nebraska Behavioral Health Needs Assessment identified 78 Nebraska counties with high needs for mental health services on the basis of population and age ratios. Only two of these high needs counties fall within the state’s metro areas. Within these high needs counties there are often greater demands upon services that are left to fill the void of behavioral health services, such as law enforcement, child welfare, and foster care systems.

Impetus of the rural workforce challenges

Efforts to build and maintain an adequate behavioral and mental health workforce are not immune from the circumstances which plague general rural workforce development and retention initiatives. Concerns such as compensation, spousal employment, housing, extended commutes, and limited community amenities stand as barriers to the recruitment and retention of employees to rural areas in general. These barriers are heightened when consideration is given to the specificity of the behavioral and mental health professions.

A report published by the American Psychological Association outlines a number of unique factors contributing to the detraction of doctoral level behavioral and mental professionals from considering or exiting rural practice. These factors include but are not limited to:

  • Scope and variety of client needs;
  • Being quickly moved from working directly with patients to supervisory or administrative roles;
  • Competition with public sector services and providers;
  • Cultural barriers and lack of respect for the profession from patients and community members;
  • Reliance upon informal sources of care, such as neighbors and religious organizations;
  • High rates of professional burnout and emotional exhaustion;
  • Social stigma and denial of need for care;
  • Dual relationships, where the lines between patient and doctor are blurred with social and business relationships; and
  • Limited integration with primary care services.

While complex and situational, solutions are offered to address the challenges of building and maintaining a rural behavioral and mental health workforce; key among the proposed solutions is addition of practicum and internship opportunities in rural settings. Previously, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Clinical Psychology Training Program was noted for its moderate success of placing psychologist in rural service as a result of a rural specialty track. This specialty track has since been eliminated, but similar programs have been adopted in other rural states facing similar workforce challenges. Yet practicum and internships opportunities offer only a limited solution to a broader challenge.

When times are tough, there is an increased need for behavioral health services

As prospects for Nebraska’s agricultural economy remain bleak, the need for behavioral health services in Nebraska’s rural counties will continue to increase. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that workers in the agricultural occupational group have the highest suicide rate of any group. While the reasons for suicide vary, factors and stressors such as “financial losses, social isolation, and unwillingness to seek mental health services” may contribute to the suicide rates of those in the agriculture industry.

While these developments will exacerbate the current shortage of licensed psychiatrists and psychologists, there is further strain on the behavioral health sector due to the lack of trained nursing staff to assist with inpatient and substance abuse treatment stays. The reasons for these staff limitations range from recruitment and retention, reimbursement rates and licensure issues for those in rural practices.

The legislature has a responsibility to respond. In addition to the considerations explored in this interim study, we recommend that further opportunities for the integration of care between primary care providers and specialized mental health care professionals be pursued. Doctoral prepared behavioral and mental health professionals offer only one level of care. By leveraging the capacity of these mental health professionals through stronger integration with primary care physicians, physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses and even the utilization of telehealth services, a broader network of care can be established and more Nebraskans with mental and behavioral health needs will be served.

We need to serve the behavioral and mental health needs

While all of Nebraska is reeling from the downturn of the agricultural commodities market, we need to continue to seek opportunities to serve the behavioral and mental health needs of rural residents by encouraging the further integration of these specialized services. We ask that further budget consideration be given to increasing behavioral health and funding opportunities to match the growing needs across the state. Read more about Behavioral and mental health access lags in rural areas

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