Community Development

Recent Learnings from (and for) the Rural Field

March 1, 2023  • Community Strategies Group

New opportunities with potential value to rural and Native nation communities are being generated across fields, from public health to environmental justice and beyond. Aspen CSG wants to help communities and organizations to take advantage of as many as possible – that’s part of our mission.

Here are a few ideas and recently posted opportunities you may want to think about to help spur equitable prosperity in your community:

  • Public Health: As our co-Executive Director Chris Estes recently showcased, the Thrive Rural Framework centers health equity as a major part of any rural community or economic development endeavor, and each building block offers resources connected to health policy. Groups and leaders nationwide are also working hard to promote public health in politically polarized communities. Just this week, our partners at County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and ChangeLab Solutions hosted a webinar exploring non-partisan ways to promote health equity to policymakers. They shared ways to develop effective, equitable health policies and discussed “preemption,” when state law alters or eliminates a local law and opportunities to address it. Visit the event resource page to watch the recording and download useful tools on this topic.
  • Environmental Justice: As communities work to grow equitable rural prosperity, more are learning more about how environmental justice issues shape their regions. As the authors of a recent Thrive Rural brief explain, we are at an unprecedented opportunity to act at the intersection of health, economic development, equity, and environment. Effective stewardship of natural resources requires action that should center the interests of rural and Native communities – and one that major national funders and federal agencies like the EPA are interested in supporting. Want to learn more? On March 9, ReImagine Appalachia’s Faith in Action working group will host a virtual conversation with the Black Appalachian Coalition (BLAC) and the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) to explore what Environmental Justice is and the White House’s new Justice40 Initiative.
  • Community Development: As we learn more about new and increased federal funding opportunities through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) are growing in importance. CBAs have typically been used in urban areas for community improvements and to slow gentrification, but they are also increasing in popularity in rural areas, for instance, in Appalachia. Not only because they foster strong coalition building, but one new opportunity is that the Department of Energy (DOE) will require a CBA to be in place to be eligible for many of its new infrastructure programs, including the Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment Program. Communities interested in seeking the flexible infrastructure funding provided by DOE should learn more about this community-building tool.
  • Federal Resources: USDA Rural Development recently announced $262 million to improve access to jobs, health care, and infrastructure for people in historically underserved communities across the Rural Partners Network (RPN). RPN is a new effort by the White House and USDA to intentionally direct resources to rural communities with a history of disinvestment and persistent poverty. Aspen CSG and all our Thrive Rural partners are watching closely to see how much of this funding reaches its target of lower-capacity places. For more federal opportunities, check out our federal resources page.