Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) joined Congressman Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) in introducing the bipartisan Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which allows member-owned cooperatives and small broadband and voice providers the ability to refinance specific Rural Utilities Service (RUS) loans and waive all associated fees, resulting in saving providers millions per year in debt payments that can be passed on directly to consumers, invested in quality rural broadband networks, or used to upgrade aging electric infrastructure.
Companion legislation in the Senate has been introduced by Sens. Tina Smith (D-MN), Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), John Boozman (R-AR), and John Hoeven (R-ND).
“In our ever-growing connected society, the need to expand rural broadband in Missouri and across America continues to be one of my top priorities in Congress,” Rep. Hartzler said. “Nearly 30 percent of rural Missourians still lack vital access to highspeed internet. The bipartisan Flexible Financing for Rural America Act will jumpstart these communities, allowing them the same essential telecommunications resources urban areas routinely enjoy in our digital age. I am proud to see strong support for our legislation and its potential benefits for Fourth District families, schools, farms, healthcare providers, and businesses.”
“It’s crucial that we address the needs of our long-overlooked rural communities, who too often encounter barriers in accessing quality, affordable utilities,” said Rep. O’Halleran. “Our Flexible Financing for Rural America Act will extend a lifeline to hundreds of electric cooperatives serving rural families and businesses.”
“Rural electric cooperatives are critical to economic success in small towns and rural areas across Minnesota,” said Sen. Smith. “We ought to support them so they can continue to boost our infrastructure, all while supporting jobs and improving Minnesotans’ quality of life. I successfully pushed to make rural electric cooperatives eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program during the pandemic. And my bipartisan RURAL Act was signed into law to fix a mistake in the 2017 tax law that put the tax-exempt status of cooperatives at risk if they received government grants to expand broadband or recover from a disaster. Now, I’m focused on making sure electric cooperatives are able to refinance their Rural Utilities Service debt at lower interest rates.”
“Our legislation provides the opportunity for electric and telecommunication cooperatives to refinance their Rural Utilities Service debt at current market rates without penalty,” said Sen. Hoeven. “This is about reinvesting in our rural communities, passing savings on to consumers and further supporting efforts to continue overcoming challenges from COVID-19. Families and businesses living and working in rural communities across North Dakota and the country depend on these cooperatives and the critical services they provide.”
“COVID-19 has presented ongoing challenges for members of Missouri’s electric cooperatives, with the pandemic and related economic crisis hitting our communities hard,” said Caleb Jones, CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. “We are grateful to Rep. Hartzler for championing this legislation, which could save Missouri co-ops millions annually as they continue to support the communities they serve.”
“Many electric co-ops and their consumers are hurting as COVID-19 continues to bring health and financial hardships to rural communities,” said Jim Matheson, CEO of National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). “Congress can provide substantial relief to millions of electric co-op members simply by letting co-ops do what other businesses already can do—refinance their debt at today’s low interest rates without a prepayment penalty. Every dollar co-ops save means more money in consumers’ pockets.”
“Small, community-based broadband providers have answered the call to keep their neighbors connected in the face of a global pandemic and the economic challenges that have followed,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. “Allowing providers who use RUS loans to take advantage of low interest rates is a commonsense step that will make a big impact and give providers the flexibility to continue to support their communities as they recover from the pandemic. On behalf of NTCA’s members, I thank Senators Smith and Hoeven and Representatives O’Halleran and Hartzler for reintroducing the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act.”
Hartzler serves on the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees the RUS. In 2020, she introduced this legislation alongside 126 cosponsors.