Rural Georgia is home to about half the state’s population and a favorite talking point of politicians. But infrastructure issues continue to be one of the most pressing problems rural areas face, and both state and federal leaders need to prove they are committed to doing more than just talking about our rural communities.
The rural hospital crisis has been ongoing for years, leaving rural communities with fewer and fewer options for accessing healthcare. Currently, changes to policy the Affordable Care Act had set to go into effect in the coming years. This will leave many rural hospitals with fewer sources of federal dollars, unless Congress can actually work to improve our healthcare system instead of playing politics with it. This policy change will only compound the financial troubles many rural hospitals face.
But that’s not the only infrastructure issue rural communities face. Rural Georgia will be impacted by a Trump administration ruling on an international commerce issue: tariffs on imported solar panels. The lack of broadband access also poses great challenges to rural communities in Georgia, one that the Senate Rural Georgia Study Committee is investigating.
Rural Georgia communities are going to be impacted by a Trump administration ruling on adding tariffs to solar panels. As WABE’s Johnny Kaufman has reported, many farmers in rural communities and rural municipalities are adding solar panels to their land, allowing them to generate income by selling that energy to Georgia Power. However, some American solar panel manufacturers are calling on the Trump administration to impose a tariff on solar panels imported from Asia. Overseas manufacturers have been able to produce the panels at a lower cost, making it difficult for American manufacturers to compete.
In this case, protectionist policies could help support American solar panel manufactures, while driving up the costs of solar panels for the people, businesses, and energy companies that deploy them.
The U.S. International Trade Commission is holding hearings about the tariff issue, however the power to set tariffs ultimately lies with the president.
Having reliable access to the internet is also important for rural Georgia communities facing rates of unemployment that are double the unemployment rates in urban areas. It is important to schools, healthcare facilities, farmers and families in rural Georgia.
The Senate Rural Georgia Study Committee is tasked with, “an examination and identification of policies and ideas to enhance the delivery of services to individuals and businesses in rural areas so that they are provided with similar health, social, and economic opportunities as are individuals and businesses in other areas across this state.”
This seems like a promising first step to policy changes to improve rural infrastructure, however, study committees notoriously produce little in the way of substantial policy changes. Instead, study committees often give state legislators an easy way to claim they are doing something — studying an issue — without actually following through.
Last year, there was a Joint Study Committee on High Speed Broadband Communications Access for all Georgians. Joint study committees allow both members of the state House and Senate to hold joint hearings on a matter. Last year’s joint study committee made 26 recommendations to improve broadband access in rural communities. This year’s Senate study committee will also be looking at rural broadband — again — after the state legislature failed to pass or enact any policies to substantially address rural broadband access.
State Senators Steve Gooch and David Lucas served on both study committees. Perhaps this year’s study committee findings will do a better job sticking, and actually lead to substantial policy change.
Healthcare, broadband and energy are just a portion of the infrastructure issues rural communities need help with. And it’s going to take a real commitment from policy makers to change the trajectory many rural communities are on. The talking points and study committees are nice, but they are not enough. So, what will rural Georgia actually get from politicians this year?