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Survey: Rural Areas Feel Growing "Government Disconnect"

PHOTO: A new poll of rural residents in about 20 states indicates rural communities want and need economic help from the government. Photo by Joseph Massie.
PHOTO: A new poll of rural residents in about 20 states indicates rural communities want and need economic help from the government. Photo by Joseph Massie.
July 19, 2013

SEATTLE – As the debate over the purpose and programs in a new $500 billion Farm Bill drags on in Congress, a survey of people in rural areas shows most believe the federal government isn't paying much attention to their needs.

A poll commissioned by the Center for Rural Affairs says eight in 10 rural voters believe the government ought to be backing infrastructure projects to revitalize small towns, investing in better water and sewer systems, roads and bridges.

Executive Director Chuck Hassebrook says rural communities want and need economic help from the government.

"Rural people believe their communities are worth fighting for,” he says. “They strongly support government investing in small business development, in renewable energy, community development and other initiatives to create good jobs and a better future for rural communities."

Three-quarters of those polled also said they support tax credits and investment in new transmission lines to encourage development of wind, solar and other renewable power generation in rural areas.

About 16 percent of Washington residents are considered rural, but 96 percent of the land is rural, based on the U.S. Census definition.

Hassebrook says the poll summarizes the frustrations and values of rural communities in Washington and nationwide, and he thinks the current Farm Bill debate proves Congress isn't listening.

"We surveyed 800 people across close to 20 states, so it's a good-sized sample,” he says, “and, I think, important findings that inform the entire nation about what rural people have to say about what's important to their communities."

Three-fourths of those polled also said they believe too much federal farm subsidy money goes to the largest farms, hurting smaller family farms.

The subsidies are part of the latest Farm Bill passed by the House that stripped out food stamps and other federal nutrition programs, leaving the House and Senate far from a compromise.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA