Happy 2023, KIR subs! I hope your holidays were restful and you spent little to no time in airports.

New Year, New Rural Legislative Roundup

Today, the 118th Congress begins with both the U.S. House and Senate convening in D.C. The House voted today on a Speaker of the House, but the ballot is going to a second vote for the first time in 100 years because Republicans failed to unite behind Rep. Kevin McCarthy. A new Speaker must be elected before new members can be sworn-in. New Senators will also be sworn in today before taking a break until their work period begins January 23. The full 2023 congressional calendar can be viewed here, courtesy of the news organization Roll Call.

Post-midterms, policy experts expect any legislative successes for Republicans or Democrats to be an uphill battle in a highly divided Congress. Republicans narrowly won the House – 222 to 213 seats – and Democrats won a small majority in the Senate (51 Democrat or Democrat-sided Independents to 49 Republican Senators).

Still, decisions will be made on a few pieces of legislation that could have big implications for rural.

Most obvious is the Farm Bill — the current version expires September 30, 2023 and Congress will need to make decisions on funding allocations and new policy for agriculture, rural development, and food assistance programs by early fall of this year. If Congress does not meet this deadline, extensions will be passed to ensure funding for programs like SNAP continues while Democrats and Republicans debate over the bill’s contents, which, when decided, will be set for another five years.

Another upcoming five-year deadline is the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The administration was last authorized by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which terminates October 1, 2023.

Right now, 50% of grants from the Airport Improvement Program – paid for by appropriations from the 2018 reauthorization bill – must go to “small hub and non hub airports and airports eligible for non-primary entitlements;” aka, rural airports. Decisions made by Congress regarding 2023 FAA reauthorization will likely affect the Airport Improvement Program, whose grants need to be executed by fall of 2023.

Recently passed legislation may also bring progress to rural areas this year.

Key rural provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed in 2021, include investments in rural transportation systems and more expansive electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

On December 21, 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration announced that $273.9 million was awarded to the new Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program, made possible through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The program provides money to rural communities for local transportation projects in order to increase connectivity throughout the U.S. and support rural economic growth.

The Inflation Reduction Act, passed in 2022, marked the largest monetary investment to fight climate change in U.S. history. The law also builds on the Affordable Care Act and American Rescue Plan by expanding health care coverage and lowering costs of prescription drugs and health care.

Some specifically rural investments include expansion of the Rural Energy for America Program, more money to programs that support farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, and a funding extension for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. Progress made from the Inflation Reduction Act is ongoing, but operates under a timeline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a billion metric tons by 2030. 

Phew, that’s a lot. (Did you fall asleep yet?) We’ll be covering progress made on this news and more throughout the year, so keep an eye on us over here at the Yonder for all your rural legislative needs.

Rural Reading List

Individual Tragedy and Collective Trauma From Covid

This is a fantastic, and heartbreaking, article about rural New Mexicans who are organizing to create the nation’s first statewide Covid memorial in honor of those who died during the (ongoing) pandemic. One factoid in particular stayed with me: “For every person who has died of Covid, there are, on average, nine bereaved family members left behind. But those studies aren’t accurate for New Mexico, Nuñez del Prado said, because of New Mexicans’ extended networks of kinship and care.”

GIS Techniques Help Native Tribes Identify Land for Restoration to Its Original Custodians 

GIS meets the Land Back Movement in this Deesmealz article, which reports on a new policy brief exploring ways to identify U.S. lands available for reunion with their Indigenous stewards.

Telehealth Brings Expert Sexual Assault Exams to Rural Patients

Rural survivors of sexual assault may soon have better access to sexual assault nurse examiners thanks to telehealth. 

Tribal Nations Receive Relocation Grants to Escape the Effects of Climate Change

Some funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act has been allocated to tribal communities in Alaska and Washington to help them relocate due to climate change.

One More Thing: Time Is Mutable

Are you, like me, still processing the year 2020? Did the end of 2022 slip from your fingers like water, all your great plans for self-reflection and reminiscence sailing away in the wind?

Well, fear not – you can reflect on how well your year went any day of the year when you realize that time is a human construct. In fact, it’s not even 2023 in the non-Gregorian Calendar-observing parts of the world. In Nepal, the year is officially 2079 or 1143, depending on which calendar you recognize. 

Some communities observe different calendars simultaneously for practical reasons: stellar calendars for agriculture, lunar calendars for religious practice, and Gregorian Calendar for governmental interaction, according to this BBC article. As rural people well know, “official” dates can be a moot point when the more pressing concern is how much daylight is left to drive home before the deer start headlights-fixating or before it’s too cold to bring the firewood in from outside.

All this to say, if you missed your end-of-year or beginning-of-year goals, it is quite literally never too late to meet them. What is “late,” anyway?

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