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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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Numbers don’t lie: Women’s Business Center stats add up to success

October is Women’s Small Business Month, a perfect time to reflect on the growth and success of Women’s Business Centers all over the U.S.

The Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project Women’s Business Center is in its 16th year of funding. Between Sept. 1, 2016, and May 31, 2017, business specialists and contractors have offered:

  • 2,548 hours of business counseling (including preparation hours)
    • 584 clients served
  • 143 training opportunities
    • 1,048 clients
    • 68 percent of the trainees were women

Let’s take a look at stats from Women’s Business Centers in Nebraska.

  • 51,936 women-owned businesses; an increase of 10,936 businesses, or 26.7 percent, from 2007
  • 32.5 percent privately-held businesses owned by women; up from 26.8 percent in 2007
  • 7.6 percent revenue is generated by women-owned businesses, or $6.9 billion of receipts
  • 86.9 percent of women-owned firms are sole proprietorships, with receipts of $619.2 million
  • 44,915 people employed by the remaining 11.2 percent of women-owned firms, in addition to the owner
  • $1.3 billion paid to employees by women-owned employers; a $88.6 million, or 7.3 percent increase, since 2007

Nationally, growth has been seen in Women’s Business Centers:

  • Over 100 centers opened in the U.S. and its territories
  • 38 languages offered
  • 145,415 clients served
  • $229,771 is the average revenue of in-business clients
  • $658 million of total revenue growth
  • 96 percent is the average revenue growth rate
  • $31,293 of average revenue growth
  • 23,471 total new jobs
  • 9 percent is the average employment growth rate
  • 12 percent obtained new financing (totaling an estimated $429 million)
  • 37 percent of pre-ventures started their businesses
  • 17,435 new businesses

Clients’ thoughts on Women’s Business Centers:

  • 60 percent changed business practices as a result of working with providers
  • 91 percent would recommend Women’s Business Centers
  • 37 percent increased sales as a result of assistance

Join us in celebrating Women’s Business Centers this month. To learn more about our Women’s Business Center, click here. For training opportunities, click here. Read more about Numbers don’t lie: Women’s Business Center stats add up to success

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America's family farmers and ranchers let down 

Family farmers and ranchers have waited years for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to institute basic fairness protections in the poultry and livestock industries.

However, last week, officials announced a rollback of two rules of the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA); decided not to move forward with an interim final rule of the Farmer Fair Practices; and said they will take no further action on a proposed regulation of the Farmer Fair Practices Rule.

Poultry and livestock production is an important source of jobs and income for many in rural communities. A healthy and stable community depends not on the number of livestock produced, but on the number of livestock producers living and working there.

The rolled back rules would have made the marketplace more friendly to family farmers and ranchers, allowing for more small businesses in our communities.

The Center for Rural Affairs works hard for genuine opportunity for family farms and ranches, beginning with our organization’s inception in 1973.

In 1997, we had a seat in Washington when our executive director was nominated to the National Commission on Small Farms. Together, members produced a report, “A Time to Act,” calling for livestock market reforms.

Two years later, we asked the agriculture secretary to utilize his authority and write a rule providing a definition for what constitutes an “undue or unreasonable preference” as prohibited by the Packers and Stockyards Act. He declined to act.

During both the 2002 and 2008 farm bill debates, the Center called for the inclusion of a livestock market competition title. In 2008, those efforts were rewarded with a provision. As a result, USDA published a proposed rule in 2010 after hearing concerns raised by family farmers and ranchers across the country regarding fair livestock and poultry markets. Last October, the rule was submitted to the White House.

Last week, this rule was shut down, alongside two GIPSA rules.

Farmers, ranchers, and consumers would have benefited from the competitive, transparent markets these rules would help protect. Our fight for fairness has not ended. Call your lawmakers today and urge them to reconsider. Read more about America's family farmers and ranchers let down 

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NE Property Tax Question Looms Ahead of 2018 Session

By Mary Kuhlman, Nebraska News Service

With the state unicameral legislature out of session until 2018, policy advocates are using the downtime to drum up conversations about imbalances in the state's tax system, particularly agricultural property taxes. 

Jordan Rasmussen, a policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, says shifts in land values resulted in an annual property tax increase of about 11 percent on agricultural land from 2005 to 2014. 

And that's resulted in an over reliance on local funding for counties and education. 

While there's no one size fits all solution, Rasmussen maintains rural and urban leaders need to work together to address the problem.

"Something has to happen in this session, because the rural populations are just really struggling to come away with any income when the property tax bill is so high, and revenues are so low when you're selling corn as cheaply as it is going for right now," she stresses.

The Center for Rural Affairs is holding community conversations around the state to get input from property owners and local leaders. 

Several are scheduled for November, including a town hall in Genoa with Sen. Curt Friesen (D-34) on Nov. 7.

Rasmussen says the imbalance is felt particularly by school districts, with their primary funding source as local property taxes. 

She says Nebraska's education funding formula leaves a number of districts without state money, backing them into a corner. 

"Even though they don't want to, they have to continue to go back to the ag land property owners and those homeowners in their districts, to secure the resources that they need for everyday functionality,” she says. “Paying the teachers, keeping lights on, making sure the boilers are working, things of that nature."

While some argue that schools are spending too much money, Rasmussen disagrees. 

She explains many rural areas are seeing spending increases of just 2 to 3 percent each year, which is quickly absorbed by operating costs. Read more about NE Property Tax Question Looms Ahead of 2018 Session

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Rural Red Alert: Tell your representative to vote no on tax cuts for the wealthy

Both the U.S. House and Senate have passed their versions of a budget resolution, including “reconciliation” instructions to cut spending and pave the way for Congress to pass sweeping tax cuts for the wealthy with only 51 votes.

While the Senate and House bills differ greatly, the latest reports suggest the House is looking to accept the Senate version and vote on the bill TODAY.

The Senate budget resolution proposes $5.8 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade. Rural communities will bear the brunt of funding cuts. Will you call your representative today?

All of this is on a fast track, which is why we need you to call your representative today and tell them to vote NO on tax cuts that will benefit the wealthiest and force huge funding cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, education, and more.

The bill includes $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy, but does not include how that revenue will be made up.

Tax cuts of this magnitude will certainly impact how much the Agriculture Committees can invest in beginning farmers and ranchers, as well as farmland conservation programs, once they begin to reauthorize the federal farm bill.

Call your representative TODAY! Tell them to vote NO on tax cuts, and that rural Americans shouldn't have to pay the price of a tax cut for the wealthy.

After that, call both U.S. Senators and tell them the same thing.

Please let us know what you hear! Thank you for taking action TODAY! Read more about Rural Red Alert: Tell your representative to vote no on tax cuts for the wealthy

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