Voices from Rural America on COVID-19

We shared topline findings in Rural Frontlines and COVID-19: Report from the Field. Here is a beginning selection of quotes from community and economic development practitioners working in and for rural America about their experience, concerns, ideas and thinking as COVID-19 crisis has been unfolding. This set of quotes was collected by Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group staff via email or phone conversations from March 30th through April 8th. We will continue to collect and add to these quotes as the situation evolves. In addition, we will soon start sharing some of the innovation and useful approaches that rural places, organizations and people are implementing to address the effects of COVID-19 in their communities and regions.

Click on a link to jump down – or scroll down to read all the quotations.

On Information and the Media

 “I want a 24-hour news channel that only reports the facts. This switching between CNN and their blatant anti-Trump bias and Fox News with their blatant Trump-can-do-no-wrong leaves viewers unable to sort through the propaganda.” (KY)

 “Some rural municipalities do not have websites or even Facebook pages. Now more than ever, they need one or both, in order to communicate with citizens or share other critical messages.” (IA)

“We have been challenged to keep up with the information coming to us, to ascertain what is worth attention and what can wait or even be tossed.” (MI)

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On the Rural Health Care System and Coverage

“We have only one case to date, but the PPE supplies are running critically low and cause concern for the spread – the projection is that we will be short by 259 beds at the peak of the virus.” (MI)

I believe the gap in health care services will be the critical factor in rural communities as the pandemic roars on. The lack of hospital beds, ventilators, equipment are already stressing urban areas; the closure of rural hospitals and the lack of equipment mean sick people will die at a higher rate in rural America. And the pandemic is a bit delayed coming…will urban sites free up ventilators to be sent to rural when urban numbers are still so high?” (Multi-State)

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 On Rural Businesses

 “Small Businesses have always been the backbone of our economy, and in rural America that means those small mom and pop stores and retail outlets. How is America going to help them get through this crisis and then at some point begin recovery?” (MI)

 “Retail, food and accommodations, and smaller manufacturers are being hammered. Smaller health facilities, primary care, for example, are also in grave danger. Keeping rural small businesses afloat, or at least supported in an ‘induced economic coma’ is essential until conditions are benign enough for them to relaunch.” (NC)

 “2020 was already shaping up to be a challenging year for our farmers, and this will greatly exacerbate the situation. Trade wars and extreme weather events have already taken a toll. It’s spring calving season, and veterinarians are not on the list of essential services!!” (MN)

 “We worry that the billions funneled through the stimulus bills will not reach many small, very small, low resource businesses without the capacity to navigate the applications. Small and low capacity businesses need intermediaries to amp up to help them access these new tools. But the bills did not really provide for that. In a true ‘disaster capitalism’ sense, businesses with more reserves and more capacity will come out ahead. We may see more market consolidation, and more pain for those already on the margins.” (NE)

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On Rural Child Care as a Business – and Essential Service

 “Child care providers are financially struggling to stay open. Many parents have pulled their children out of care because they are at home. Other parents are essential workers and so need the providers to remain open. Providers have been challenged to find needed cleaning supplies. We previously had a child care shortage, and many providers who are shutting down because of COVID19 may never reopen and our shortage will be even greater. The failure of the child care business model was apparent before but is now glaring. It doesn’t work and we need an infusion of money and public policy to change this system, so it is workable for all.” MN

 “We opened an emergency child care fund to give providers immediate relief while they wait for state and federal funds. Within 72 hours, we had nearly 600 requests totaling more than $650,000. Our original budget was $150,000.” MN

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On Rural Households, Workers and Populations

 “I am very concerned about rural America.  Especially those who are poor, especially persons of color, especially those who are older…and all of rural, actually. I cannot overstate my concern for rural communities and the lack of health care sites….” (National)

 “We expect a large influx of persons seeking economic supports and benefits resulting from high unemployment. The need will likely extend well beyond the time frames established under CARES and other federal stimulus legislation. We also anticipate that many of the small marginal businesses will not reopen. Expanded unemployment eligibility and funding must provide a more long-term and systematic protection for the unemployed.” (MD)    

 “We are interested in better understanding the impact on indigenous, new immigrant, and marginalized communities so we can focus resources on the helping them come through the crisis without falling further behind. Economic mobility for those hardest hit will be top of mind, and we’ll need good data to inform decision-making.” (MN)

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On the Rural Digital Broadband Divide

 “We have to find a way to deploy internet access reasonably across the middle and last mile. People have to work from home, kids needing to access lessons – shows us again about inequity for our poor. (MI)

“Rural Broadband is nonexistent in most of our rural areas and therefore rural schools cannot continue to educate. In a lot of areas where broadband is available the speeds are so slow that when you have a majority of the population trying to work from home and stream programming at night, the entire system almost fails.” (TN)

“Two – three years from now, our economy will be structured differently. Perhaps location will matter less as we rely on technology…we need to have rural places and people able to participate in that. The digital divide must end. We must invest to help rural communities be able to thrive in whatever the economy looks like in a few years.” (Multi-state)

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On the Public Sector and Rural

 “Sales tax bases are going to be much lower than local budgets considered. Most small rural towns do not have the access to funds to provide services without their sales tax base.” TN

 “The federal system is archaic in nature and is woefully inadequate to distribute assets quickly to remote communities across our state and the nation.” (KS)

Rural potential will only be met through a civic contract where the roles of the Federal, State, and local governments are clearly outlined, understood and agreed upon. This will have the greatest likelihood of success in a regional framework. Regional institutions, councils of governments and/or nonprofit civic hubs are central to success.” (NC)

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