Rural America and Immigration Reform

The impact of immigration reform on rural America has not been at the forefront of the debate in Washington, D.C.

The Center for Rural Affairs urges passage of comprehensive federal legislation to reform America’s fundamentally broken immigration policy. It is crucial that Congress understands that immigration reform is vitally important to rural America.

Immigration reform should create opportunities for undocumented immigrants who fulfill the requirements for obtaining citizenship to remain in the U.S. as citizens, while creating a more robust process for legal immigration that shortens the waiting list for future immigrants.

Also, limits on the number of manually skilled workers allowed to immigrate into the U.S. each year should be practical and appropriate and determined by an independent commission, free of partisan rancor. The U.S. admits only 10,000 manually skilled workers on work visas each year, about one for every 100 immigrants who enter without a visa and find work. The door to legal immigration used by earlier generations is today largely closed for all but the wealthy.

Moreover, we need more effective enforcement of existing wage and labor laws and the prohibition on hiring undocumented immigrants and falsely classifying them as independent contractors.

The Center for Rural Affairs stands ready to encourage and participate in efforts to fully engage immigrants in rural communities through support for minority business development, voter registration, leadership development and other means. These approaches bring people together and build community - things we work for every day.

  Read more about Rural America and Immigration Reform

Weekly column

Energy Fellow Works on Alternatives to Eminent Domain

My name is Brandon Gerstle, and I’m the new summer energy fellow at the Center. As an environmental law student at the University of Oregon, I was drawn to the Center because of their drive to find practical solutions to our nation’s environmental challenges.

I’ve been in Lyons for 3 weeks, and, while it’s different from my hometown of Los Angeles, I feel like I’m living the good life: buying locally produced food, attending a rodeo, and even making my own butter.

My big summer project is to investigate alternatives to eminent domain for development of new transmission lines. This is a really interesting and important project. Development of new transmission lines will:

  • Increase competition in the energy market, reducing consumers’ energy bills. 
  • Reduce greenhouse emissions by connecting renewable energy resources (i.e. wind) to the grid and linking surplus generation capacity to areas of need. 
  • Generate good paying jobs for hardworking Americans. 

You might be thinking why not use eminent domain? The simple answer is many states deny eminent domain authority for siting interstate transmission lines. Some critics also dislike eminent domain because it under-compensates landowners and causes economic waste through excessive administrative and legal costs.

From the landowner’s perspective, I’m considering land acquisition approaches that result in more equitable outcomes. These include public and private arrangements that allow landowners to accept cash buyouts or share in the profits of the transmission project.

From the developer’s perspective, I’m considering factors to assist developers in assembling land without the use of eminent domain. These include using government land, public financing, tax incentives, and wise strategies to build landowner consensus. Ultimately, the goal is to inspire projects that benefit the public at large, landowners, and developers.

I’m here in Lyons all summer, and encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the development of new transmission lines. My number is 402.687.2103, ext 1021, or email brandong@cfra.orgTalk to you soon! Read more about Energy Fellow Works on Alternatives to Eminent Domain

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Democracy Shouldn’t Be All Greek to Us

Ancient Greece, the original seat of democracy, placed a high value on wide ownership of land and distribution of wealth. Great numbers of small farms provided decent livelihoods for families and a wide berth to societal wealth sharing. This structure nurtured political institutions of law and liberty and formed a rock-solid foundation for democracy.

Widespread wealth and political power strengthened Greek society by fueling pursuits and advances in science, philosophy, art, literature, and a social environment that valued progress for people from all walks of life.

Political observers have noted that a republic cannot long survive when land and wealth concentrate in too few hands. When this is allowed to happen in the rural/agrarian domain (and it most definitely is happening), it imperils more than healthy stewardship of land, water and soil ecology, and community life. It also undermines the age-old principles of economic and social justice upon which democracy thrives.

When political process and Supreme Court decisions value the influence of money over diverse human aspiration and the advance of civilization, the nation is traveling down a troublesome path. The exact nature of that path may be hard to discern, but it will certainly not favor the common good.

Narrow-based power produces narrow-based policy founded on the premise that “what’s good for the elite is good for the country.” This is patently wrong. Diminishment of the middle class and increases in the ranks of the working poor, no matter how creatively or disingenuously you paint it, is not a good thing for liberty, democracy, or civilization.

What kind of society do you want your grandchildren to inherit? One that places ultimate value on the special interests of those who have amassed their fortune, or one that invests widely in human potential? Read more about Democracy Shouldn’t Be All Greek to Us

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Opinions Wanted: Would You Grow Trees to Capture Carbon if Paid?

Iowa State researchers are recruiting for farmer/rancher focus groups to offer opinions on appropriate use of 'marginal lands' for biofuel crops, agroforestry (windbreaks and more), and carbon sequestration in the Great Plains. Experience with trees on your farm or ranch is desired (yes, cedars are trees!).

Researchers want to know what you think about diversifing your farm income and enhancing environmental quality by producing biomass from agroforestry practices. They'll also ask how you would decide to participate in such practices.

Two focus groups per state will meet with researchers in August and September; locations and times determined by the participants. A stipend of $100 is offered. Four states are part of this project: NE, SD, ND, KS.

Additional information on the project is here. Or you can contact Ashley Hand to learn more, amhand@iastate.edu or 515.294.9845.

  Read more about Opinions Wanted: Would You Grow Trees to Capture Carbon if Paid?

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A Balanced and Fair Tax System for Nebraska

Fourteen Nebraska lawmakers are about to embark on an important assignment. As members of the Tax Modernization Committee, they will be reviewing and debating the state tax code. Fortunately, the Center for Rural Affairs can offer some help.

We remind everyone of our 1992 report, A Balanced and Fair Tax System for Nebraskans. This report was commissioned by the CFRA Board of Directors. They created a task force to take a comprehensive look at Nebraska’s tax structure.
 
The task force’s report offered three broad goals:

  • Reduce the share of state and local revenue coming from property taxes.
  • Broaden the sales tax base and lower rates.
  • Make the overall tax system less regressive.

 
These goals echo 21 years after the report’s release. In fact, they all played a major role in the 2013 legislative debate on proposals by Governor Dave Heineman to eliminate the state income tax and numerous sales tax exemptions. That debate resulted in the creation of the Tax Modernization Committee, which will conduct the first comprehensive legislative review of Nebraska’s tax system since 1967.
 
The Tax Modernization Committee will hold hearings across the state and offer other opportunities for public participation during 2013. We will provide information how you can offer your ideas for a fair, competitive and stable state tax system. Read more about A Balanced and Fair Tax System for Nebraska

Weekly column

Rockin’ Rural and Spreading the Word

When you know something is great – whether a product or a place – you tell people about it. Likewise when you are trying to sell a product, you usually do some advertising.

The average person is exposed to as many as 5,000 advertisements a day (according to Yankelovich Consumer Research). But how often do we hear or see advertisements for small towns and rural communities? These places have great things to offer including jobs, natural amenities, and the ideal atmosphere to raise a family. Yet many of these communities are suffering from a decrease in population (the 2012 census estimates that 1 in 3 US counties are dying off) and are desperate to attract new residents.

Aging and dwindling populations are synonymous with rural areas. These areas need skilled labor and educated people. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and people to take over small businesses are needed as older generations retire.

Yet many college grads bypass rural areas and flock to cities to pursue work. We assume they are drawn by the allure of a big city lifestyle. But maybe they would be drawn to the charming lifestyle/ way of life rural America has to offer, especially if they knew what they were missing.

My hometown recently launched a contest to promote the community on one of the most popular online sites – YouTube. Contestants will create videos promoting the positives of the small town and what life is like in the community. Videos will showcase the town’s attributes, activities that are unique in and around the area, and the good life the town has to offer.

The video with the most “hits” or views during a specific time period will win a cash prize. If the “hits” reach a million or more, the prize money will double. The prize money will come from city sales tax dollars.

Is promoting your town on YouTube a magic bullet for the “brain drain” so many of our towns experience? Probably not, but it could be an important piece. A concentrated ad campaign that entices college grads and other potential residents to rural areas is a great antidote to the rural exodus. Why not shine a bright light on all that is good in rural America? Read more about Rockin’ Rural and Spreading the Word

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Connecting Small Renewable Generators to the Grid

The Center recently joined with 24 other organizations to support changes to federal regulations that will make it easier for small and midsize solar and wind systems to connect to the electric grid.

Proposed changes will increase transparency and reduce wait time when generation systems producing 20 megawatts or less seek to connect to the grid.

Falling capital costs and public policy changes are already leading to a boom in grid-connected distributed generation. A large share of this is from home and farm based solar. The proposed regulatory changes supported by the Center will further support small grid connected systems. Read more about Connecting Small Renewable Generators to the Grid

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Poll Finds Rural Voters Support Investment in Small Business, Education

Most Rural Americans strongly believe the rural and small-town way of life is worth fighting for and support government action to strengthen the rural economy and communities.

Those findings come from a poll of rural voters in the Great Plains, Midwest, and Southeastern US by the nationally respected bipartisan polling team of Celinda Lake and Ed Goeas. You can see the full report here.

Rural voters think for themselves and don’t neatly fit an ideological stereotype. Most agree that America’s future is weakened by a widening gap between the rich and families struggling to make ends meet.

And nearly half say it’s time for government to play a stronger role in strengthening rural communities and making the economy work for the average person in rural and small-town America. But almost as many worry that “turning to big government to solve our problems will do more harm than good.”

Rural voters support several specific measures to strengthen rural opportunities and communities:

  • Over half said that “owning my own business or farm is a big part of the American dream for me,” and most agreed with helping small business through less government (cutting taxes, spending, and regulation) and strengthened government (loans, tax credits, training, and antitrust enforcement).
  • Three-fourths support tax credits and investment in new transmission lines for development of wind, solar, and other renewable electric generation in rural areas.
  • Eight-in-10 support grants and loans to revitalize small towns through critical upgrades to water and sewer systems and roads and bridges.
  • Six-in-10 say government has some or a lot of responsibility to help the working poor advance economically (versus a little or none). Eight-in-10 support job training to improve earnings, Medicaid for health coverage, and helping the working poor afford the necessities of life through payroll tax refunds like the Earned Income Tax Credit. Eighty-five percent favor preschool programs to prepare lower-income children to succeed in school.

To pay for such measures, rural voters support cutting farm subsidies to big mega farms, while opposing general cuts in farm subsidies. They oppose across the board tax increases, but favor repealing the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000.

The poll also asked voters to identify the most convincing of several statements that might be made by a candidate for office. They chose: “Making rural America stronger is good both short term and long term. It will offer our children and grandchildren the opportunity to stay here, maintaining our way of life and protecting our values. By creating a stronger economy, investing in small businesses and schools, we can help working and middle class families get ahead. We can create stronger communities so young people can choose to stay and make a life in rural and small-town America.”

View the poll results as a pdf here. Read more about Poll Finds Rural Voters Support Investment in Small Business, Education

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Land Link Sneak Peek: Small Acreage in Washington Seeks Growers

We have a great opportunity for you in western Washington! The owner of a small, certified organic, established mixed vegetable/herb farm seeks a new grower(s) to continue the direct sales operation.

The 4.7 acre farm includes two houses (where the grower(s) could live), three greenhouses, a barn, and miscellaneous sheds. The owner would lease to the right beginners for several years.

Interested in the Center for Rural Affairs Land Link program or this opportunity? Contact me, Virginia Meyer, at 402.687.2103 ext. 1014 or virginiam@cfra.org. Read more about Land Link Sneak Peek: Small Acreage in Washington Seeks Growers

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Reflections on a Founding Father

What would Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and 3rd President of the United States, make of today’s move toward wealth and power concentrating in fewer and fewer hands? Both in terms of land ownership and large corporations, would Jefferson show a cavalier laissez-faire attitude? Doubtful!

Jefferson held a firm vision of the ideal citizen. He steadfastly believed that farmers especially fulfill that vision. Why did he believe this? For three main reasons:

  1. Because farmers toil in the earth, bringing forth nature’s harvest to earn their livelihood, Jefferson believed they will respect the integrity of the land with an eye towards the long term. They would see themselves as faithful stewards of a limited natural resource to be used not only to support their own family, but to be nurtured and protected for future generations as well.
  2. Farmers hold a strong belief in family and community. They profoundly understand the inter-connectedness of nature’s design for relationships among people, as well as the ecology of the soil, water, and air. They understand and will uphold the ideal of the common good, even when it may place some boundary on personal interest.
  3. Farmers will stand up and fight, if necessary, for their common good way of life. They are concerned citizens who will give voice to the ideals of democracy, standing up for economic justice and opportunity for all to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Thomas Jefferson had his shortcomings as does any person. But his belief in the cornerstone values of America is still spot on, whether you are a citizen of rural or urban orientation. So I wonder what Jefferson would think of today’s government policies that betray the common good, overtly favoring the interests of large corporations and the concentration of wealth in fewer hands. What would he make of policies fashioned by big money interests and implemented at the expense of small farmers and ranchers, and other small businesses?

Unlike Marie Antoinette’s famous words of indifference to the common citizens of France struggling to afford bread, I doubt Jefferson’s refrain would be: “Let them eat cake instead!” Read more about Reflections on a Founding Father

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Shelved Genetically Modified Wheat Discovered in Oregon

Last month, an unapproved variety of genetically engineered wheat was discovered growing in an Oregon field, creating a cascade of disconcerting, if not unforeseeable, consequences of Monsanto’s previous efforts to develop a Roundup resistant strain of wheat.

Tests confirmed the wheat growing in the Oregon field was a genetically modified strain developed by Monsanto to resist Roundup herbicide (glyphosate) tested by Monsanto between 1998 and 2005. According to the US Department of Agriculture, Monsanto field tests were conducted in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.

Monsanto shelved their genetically engineered wheat in large part because of stiff resistance from farmers and their customers. Our good friends at Dakota Resource Council in North Dakota led that state in providing some of the most effective resistance in the nation.

Those North Dakota voices predicted what would happen if such an uncontrolled, unapproved release of genetically modified wheat occurred, all too prophetically. Japan quickly suspended some imports of US wheat, while the European Union and several Asian nations announced US wheat imports would undergo more rigorous testing. On May 31, South Korean millers announced that imports of US wheat were on hold.

While biotechnology has undeniably become a part of American agriculture, those farmers from North Dakota, Montana, Oregon and other wheat producing states also raised the undeniable fact that wheat is, in many fundamental ways, a different crop than corn and soybeans.

American wheat is far more likely to be used as a primary ingredient in human food and is far more likely than other crops to be exported to countries that have different attitudes than many Americans about the use of genetically modified crops in food.

Lawsuits in Kansas and Idaho and outspoken farmers are lighting a fire under Monsanto to put the genetically engineered wheat genie back in the bottle. We sincerely hope they can.

And we think listening to farmers just makes sense. I remember when Todd Leake, a wheat farmer and Dakota Resource Council member from Grand Forks County, North Dakota, told me, “We have no business commercializing or developing genetically modified wheat until our customers tell us that’s what they want.”

I’ve always tried to avoid disagreeing with Todd, especially when he’s right. Read more about Shelved Genetically Modified Wheat Discovered in Oregon

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Community Inclusion: What’s the Point?

The national conversation is focused on immigration reform. Couple that with the significant demographic shift we have experienced in Nebraska and elsewhere, and it seems like a great time to talk about the value of inclusion in our towns.

With an influx of New Americans, we have a real opportunity to embrace not only the changes that new folks create, but also the knowledge that an inclusive community is stronger economically and socially. An inclusive community tends to attract new people to your town. Research shows one of the reasons youth leave and don’t return is a lack of diversity.

So many folks tell me their grandparents were immigrants. My grandparents were farmers who wanted to make a better life here. My grandfather was foreign born, and while he spoke some English, he was never comfortable with the language. He didn’t speak English very often. But people knew of his kindness, generosity, and that he was a very good farmer. He raised a large family, loved them dearly, went to church, and contributed to the community. 

That’s no different from immigrants today. If you look around you will see strong people with strong family values and commitment to family. You will see people who work hard, start new small businesses, go to church, bring a fresh perspective and new ideas, and are trying to make a better life for their children. 

If you look a little harder you will learn their stories and hear immigrant youth say they plan on going to college to start a career that will help their community when they go back to live and raise a family. These young folks want to and plan to return to their community. 

The economic contribution made by New Americans is significant. A University of Nebraska Omaha study found immigrant spending in Nebraska resulted in $1.6 billion of production to our economy, generating approximately 12,448 jobs. Take immigrant employment away, and state production would fall by $13.5 billion, or about 78,071 jobs.

So, what’s the point to inclusion? A stronger community economically and socially. Diversity of thought and experiences, innovative ideas, new small businesses, full schools, youth who want to return and contribute to their community, and great new neighbors! Read more about Community Inclusion: What’s the Point?

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Poll Finds Rural Voters Support Investment in Small Business, Education

Most rural Americans believe the small-town way of life is worth fighting for and support government action to strengthen rural communities.

A poll of rural voters, conducted by the nationally respected bipartisan polling team of Celinda Lake of Lake Research and Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group, found that rural voters think for themselves and don’t neatly fit an ideological stereotype.

Over half said “owning my own business or farm is a big part of the American dream for me,” and most agreed with helping small business through cutting taxes, spending and regulation as well as through government loans, tax credits, training and antitrust enforcement. Three-fourths support tax credits and investments in new transmission lines for development of renewable energy generation in rural areas.

Eighty percent of rural voters polled support grants and loans to revitalize small towns through upgrades to water and sewer systems, roads and bridges. The same percentage support job training to improve earnings, Medicaid for health care coverage and other assistance to help the working poor afford necessities of life such the Earned Income Tax Credit. Eighty-five percent favor preschool programs to prepare lower-income children to succeed in school.

Rural voters support cutting farm subsidies to big mega farms to pay for some of these measures, while opposing general cuts in farm subsidies. They oppose across the board tax increases, but favor repealing the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000.

Thank you rural America, for speaking up, we’re listening.

A full copy of the report and polling data can be viewed and downloaded at: http://www.cfra.org/news/130625/rural-poll-released-today

  Read more about Poll Finds Rural Voters Support Investment in Small Business, Education

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Rural Poll Released Today

As Congress argues over farm subsidies and food stamps, Rural Americans complain that elected officials ignore small communities and fail to invest in their future. So found a unique, comprehensive poll of Rural Americans on the role of federal policy in creating economic opportunity for rural people and a future for their communities. The poll was conducted by the nationally respected bipartisan polling team of Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and released today by the Center for Rural Affairs of Lyons, NE.  It surveyed rural voters in the Great Plains, Midwest and Southeast.

The poll found Rural Americans united in their commitment to their way of life.  Nearly 9 in 10 believe the rural and small-town way of life is worth fighting for. “But they sadly believe the rural way of life may be fading and they want to stop it, reverse it, and revitalize rural America," said pollsters Lake and Goeas.  “And they believe they are being ignored by politicians and government and blame them for the state of the rural economy.”

Nevertheless, the poll found divided views about the role of government and populist views about the economy and big institutions.

Three fourths agree that America’s future is weakened by a widening gap between the rich and families struggling to make ends meet.  But they split evenly on whether it’s time for government to play a stronger role in strengthening rural communities and making the economy work for the average person in rural and small-town America; or whether “turning to big government to solve our problems will do more harm than good.”

“Neither the conservative nor progressive ideological perspective has it right,” said Lake.  “On the one hand, the language around lower taxes, smaller government, and fewer regulations is one of the highest testing messages. On the other, they support policies that call for more job training, increased infrastructure investments, more technology, and better preschool – all requiring a role for government in making things better.”

Goeas said “It is too simplistic to believe rural America is anti-government and that there is nothing for progressives to say, nor is it possible to say that rural America wants bigger government and more spending. They want tax breaks but they also support increased loans and grants to help people gain skills and open small businesses.  They want more efficient and effective government and view much of public policy as a fairness issue in which rural America has not received fair treatment."

Among the results:

  • Over half said that “owning my own business or farm is a big part of the American dream for me” and most agreed with helping small business through less government (cutting taxes, spending and regulation) and strengthened government (loans, tax credits, training and antitrust enforcement).
  • Three fourths agree that too much of federal farm subsidies go to the largest farms, hurting smaller family farms.
  • Three fourths support tax credits and investment in new transmission lines for development of wind, solar and other renewable electric generation in rural areas.
  • Eight in ten support grants and loans to revitalize small towns through upgrades to water and sewer systems and investments in roads and bridges.
  • Six in ten say government has some or a lot of responsibility to help the working poor advance economically (versus a little or none).  Eight in ten support job training to improve earnings, Medicaid for health coverage and helping the working poor afford  necessities through payroll tax refunds like the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Eighty five percent favor preschool programs to prepare lower-income children to succeed in school. 

Rural Americans are frustrated that the economy has grown stagnant, feel they have too little control over their own economic situation and feel worse off now than four years ago, said Lake. “But rural Americans are somewhat optimistic that things will get better”, said Goeas, “and younger rural Americans are most optimistic.”

Center for Rural Affairs Executive Director Chuck Hassebrook said the optimism of the upcoming generation reflects the new entrepreneurial opportunities in rural America and growing appreciation for the rural way of life.  “They get it," said Hassebrook, “and that gives them the capacity to lead their communities to a better future.”

“Politically,” said Hassebrook, “the poll reveals openings for candidates of either party willing to fight for federal policy that supports genuine opportunity for rural people and a better future for their communities.”

He pointed to the question asking voters whether they would find it convincing if a US Senate candidate made certain statements.  Eighty seven percent said they would find it convincing for a Senate candidate to say:  “Small-town America is a big and important part of what makes America go. We are hard working, patriotic, faithful, and skilled. Making sure our families, our small business owners, and our workers have the same chance as everyone else is fair and smart. That means supporting policies like investing more in helping our small businesses get started and bringing technology to our areas so we can be connected to the new economy.” Read more about Rural Poll Released Today

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Center’s Board Calls for Action on Immigration

At our June meeting, the Center’s Board of Directors backed a proposal to fix the broken immigration system. Board president and Fullerton, Nebraska, farmer Jim Knopik noted that immigration reform is at the top of the national agenda. Given that, it is important to emphasize that rural communities have much to gain from fixing current immigration policy.

The Center’s policy calls for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who fulfill the requirements. Noting that it is important to resolve the current challenge of undocumented immigrants already here and provide for a more robust system of legal immigration in the future, the board’s proposal calls for an independent commission to set practical and appropriate limits for future legal immigration.

The board’s policy also called for stricter enforcement of existing labor laws and of the prohibition on hiring undocumented immigrants and falsely classifying them as independent contractors.

Under current law, the United States admits only 10,000 manually skilled workers on work visas each year. That is only about 1 for every 100 immigrants who enter without a visa and find work. The door to legal, documented immigration used by earlier generations is today largely closed for all but the wealthy and well-educated.

Reforming this system and more fully engaging immigrants in rural communities and American democracy through support for minority business development, voter registration, leadership development, and other means will bring people together and build community.

You can find the Center’s statement on immigration here. Read more about Center’s Board Calls for Action on Immigration

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