IOWA -- In a push to win over rural voters, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a wide-ranging plan Tuesday aimed at reinvigorating rural America, pledging investments in rural entrepreneurship and technological investments.
The plan comes on the heels of a new health care proposal for rural America he released last week. Buttigieg on Tuesday is also making his ninth trip to Iowa since declaring his candidacy, which will include a stop at the Iowa State Fair.
Rural voters, Buttigieg writes in the new plan, have been harmed under the Trump administration "in an unnecessary trade war that treats farmers like pawns and thinks they'll be satisfied with a subsidy rather than their life's work."
Buttigieg's plan for rural revitalization -- much like his previous plans for minority outreach, labor and rural health care -- is tied to his record as mayor. He has cited $850 million in investments into South Bend since he took office in 2012, but he's been criticized for his focus on the revitalization of downtown and has been accused of forgetting the city's low-income suburbs, which have struggled in recent years.
"Just as my own hometown rose up to start a new chapter and meet the future with a fresh approach and new ideas, we can tackle this moment of urgency head on to create opportunity for rural Americans if we empower our communities rather than overlook them," Buttigieg writes. "This plan unleashes the potential of small towns across America with good jobs, an opportunity to grow a business, and the infrastructure to raise a healthy and happy family."
In an attempt to "revitalize America's rural economy and catalyze job creation," Buttigieg wants to provide $500 million in federal funding for "Regional Innovation Clusters," allowing state and local governments to take the lead on developing economic projects based on the specific needs of individual rural communities through a grant program judged by a panel of entrepreneurs across the country.
Buttigieg also pledges up to $5 billion to expand apprenticeship networks across the country in an attempt "to ensure an apprenticeship program in a growing industry is available within 30 miles of every American," including underserved rural areas. Similar to his rural health care plan to attract immigrant doctors, Buttigieg seeks to create "Community Renewal visas," with the aim of attracting high-skilled immigrants with the promise of attaining a green card at the end of a three-year residence in rural communities.
Buttigieg's plan would double funding for antitrust enforcement and lower the reporting threshold for mergers in an effort to improve oversight.
In addition, the plan reiterates his call for a $15 federal minimum hourly wage and paid family leave for rural workers.
Investing in technology
The plan also looks to deal with climate change. Rural communities, he writes, are the "frontlines of climate change," and can "become the engines of innovation for addressing climate change and economic growth" under a Buttigieg administration. He called for doubling the $2.5 billion in research and development funding from the US Department of Agriculture on providing solutions to climate change, with an additional $50 billion investment over the next 10 years in farming technology, food safety and natural resources. Buttigieg calls for increased incentives for conservation, paying farmers to maximize land conservation and biodiversity in rural areas while reducing bureaucratic barriers to accessing said programs.
The plan calls for technological investments in rural broadband expansion. In a nod to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's investment in the national highway program, which expanded rural transportation access to underserved rural areas, Buttigieg's plan calls for "Internet for All," pledging $80 billion in expanded internet services by the end of his first term in office.
In addition to expanding broadband access and increased funding for apprenticeship programs, Buttigieg's plan aims to reduce the teacher shortage in rural areas by 50% by increasing salaries and instituting student loan forgiveness for rural teachers. While many of his Democratic competitors have called for free college tuition, Buttigieg instead has instead pushed for subsidies for those Americans who are in need. The plan details free tuition for low and middle-income students, targeting rural areas "where students are more likely to be low-income and college is often more out of reach."
Increased grant funding for satellite hubs within community college networks will allow rural students to access college education where they live, as will increased funding for historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and minority-serving institutions.