Blue Dogs Launch Virtual Rural Opportunity Roundtable Series with Local, Tribal Leaders

Aug 31, 2020
Press Release
WASHINGTON—Today, the Blue Dog Coalition launched its first-ever virtual Rural Opportunity Roundtable series starting with a discussion with local and tribal leaders about the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on rural and tribal communities.
 
The Blue Dogs are developing a forward-looking plan to strengthen rural America by building a strong economic foundation and creating good-paying jobs. As they develop their plan, the Blue Dogs want to hear not just from policy experts, but also from those who are experiencing the issues of our time on the ground. That’s why the Blue Dogs have launched the Rural Opportunity Roundtable series, which will include virtual discussions on several issues important to rural and tribal communities, including rural broadband, health care, small business and entrepreneurship, the outdoor economy and many others.
 
Rep. Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), the Blue Dog Coalition’s Co-Chair for Policy, and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02), Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on Rural Opportunity participated in today’s discussion with rural and tribal leaders. They were joined by the following special guests:
 
  • Gov. Brian Vallo, Acoma Pueblo
  • Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma, Hopi Tribe
  • Chairwoman Liz Archuleta, Coconino County Board of Supervisors
  • Matthew Chase, CEO and Executive Director, National Association of Counties
 
To watch the full discussion, click here.
 
Key excerpts below:
 
“There’s no better place to start these discussions than with those who best know these communities and who are leading the fight against the crisis: our local and tribal leaders,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), the Blue Dog Coalition’s Co-Chair for Policy. “Rural communities make up the very fabric of America; their success is our nation’s success. In Washington, I’m fighting to make the voices of rural Arizona families heard.”
 
“I came to Congress to address the lack of accessible health care in rural communities, to find ways to leverage the unique assets of rural life to build our best opportunities close to home, and to create a border policy that reflects the reality on the ground,” said Rep Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02), Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on Rural Opportunity. “Many of these challenges have only been heightened with the pandemic, highlighting the lack of resources and the digital divide that exists across much of rural America. For example, my constituents often have to drive hours to see the nearest specialist, whether that person is a veteran who picks up other veterans along the way to the VA in Albuquerque, or an expectant mother trying to navigate a pregnancy without a hospital close to home, or folks in Indian country working to make sure that their grandparents and their children have access to the best care possible in the midst of the pandemic. The pandemic has moved much of our health care to telehealth, but in a district that still needs that good, reliable internet access, even those innovations leave many residents struggling to keep their businesses afloat, their kids connected to online schooling, and to meet with doctors. And that’s why, early on in the pandemic, I fought to have Medicare cover services provided over the phone, so that seniors could continue to receive their prescriptions. And now, as we enter the sixth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to make sure Congress doesn’t lose sight of America’s rural needs.”
 
“There’s a great need throughout Indian country, as we know—and certainly here in the Southwest and here in my own pueblo,” said Gov. Brian Vallo of Acoma Pueblo. “As you know, our tribal governments are sovereign nations, and we continue to maintain a rich culture and language. Though the pandemic has presented a number of challenges for us. Both on the cultural front, but also where our operations and economic development activity are concerned. But we embrace the challenge. We must make light of our situation. And as has been prophesized by our ancestors, there will be these times—times of pandemic, times of great challenge. That we are equipped culturally to maneuver through and come out of these situations still strong, still focused, and optimistic for better futures for the future generations of our Acoma people. So I want to commend the Coalition on reaching out to tribal leaders and to gain perspectives of our situations, especially in light of the impacts COVID has had on our communities.”
 
“With the way COVID-19 has presented itself to us, it’s definitely brought to the surface a lot of the challenges that not only Hopi faces, but across Native America. It really is no different,” said Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma of the Hopi Tribe. “Some of the issues we are running into out here of course is the adequacies for the health care component of things, because first and foremost, when the pandemic hit, it was all hands on deck to provide for the health and safety of our community. And I know it’s no different for our other relatives out there in the different nations and tribes. We also have experienced water infrastructure problems, technological infrastructure problems. And as we move along, we know we still have these challenges out there and how we’re going to get around this is something we’re hard at work at. But I am really thankful for the Blue Dog Coalition for inviting us to at least bring some of these issues to light.”
 
“As home to the Grand Canyon and other national landmarks, we have largely a tourism-based economy, and our local revenues have been decimated by this pandemic. Our fiscal year that ended on June 30 reflects over $3 million in lost revenue and expenses to COVID. And we anticipate a nearly $9 million loss this current fiscal year,” said Chairwoman Liz Archuleta of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors.  “Unlike large cities, we did not receive direct CARES Act funding. Our governor did provide $6 million of CARES Act funding to the county to be utilized for the direct response to the COVID pandemic. But today, my message is clear: we need Congress to provide direct and flexible funding to counties. We’re on the front line of this fight. Additional dollars are necessary as we provide PPE, testing, care of patients, preparation for the flu season, and an unknown future. Direct funding is what we need. Not funding that goes to states and then trickles down to counties, but funding that goes directly to county governments…Counties are America’s public health agencies, so we bear the double burden of leading the response to the pandemic.”
 
“What we really like about the Blue Dogs is that you’re problems solvers and you’re willing to reach across the aisle. One of the toughest issues we’ve been facing with COVID-19 is that, unlike other historic events in this country, this has become a partisan exercise,” said Matthew Chase, CEO and Executive Director of the National Association of Counties. “And what we really need is the help of the Blue Dogs and others to come across the aisle. For some reason,  aid to local governments has become partisan. And we really want to make sure that it’s a nonpartisan or a bipartisan issue…What we’re looking for is investment. We’re not looking for spending for spending’s sake. We are looking to help stabilize those that need our assistance today, which we think is really important in a moral society. While at the same time, we should be making strategic investments that help the United States compete in the global economy for years to come. And if rural areas are left behind, the United States will never reach its full potential. Rural areas provide the food, the fuel, the fiber, and many important things for this country. And they’re really being left behind with the growing of haves and haves not. So we encourage bipartisan problem solving.”
 
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