Agenda answers: 'What do Michigan's rural voters want?'


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There's a new blueprint for how candidates in 2020 might be able to sway rural voters from Michigan and other states. People's Action, a coalition of grassroots organizations, has released a "Rural Relief, Recovery and Reimagination Agenda."

Shawn Sebastian, senior rural strategist with People's Action, explained it as a vision of how investments in healthcare, housing, clean energy, and a fair farm economy can spur an economic recovery for rural communities and small towns.

"These are not policies that are coming from D.C. lobbyists. These policies come from the people most directly affected, who are living in rural areas, who can't drink the water because it's been poisoned by corporate agriculture, who have to drive two hours to deliver a baby," Sebastian said.

The agenda says a swift response is needed to address the challenges for the 1.8 million rural Michiganders in the pandemic, including expanding unemployment insurance, increasing food assistance, affordable child care, and broadband access — and putting a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs.

To address immediate health care needs, the agenda calls for free testing, treatment and vaccines for COVID-19; the elimination of out-of-pocket costs during the pandemic; and emergency funding for rural health care systems.

As an organizer with Michigan United, college student Katie Pulaski has heard from folks about how the pandemic is affecting their physical, mental, and financial well-being.

"They can't see their parents right now, or they can't see their family because they're worried about spreading it and getting them sick. Or they're unable to pay for their food, or apartment or basic living expenses, because they lost their job or they were laid off," Pulaski said.

Once COVID-19 has passed, Sebastian said a longer-term recovery is needed — beyond another relief check.

"This is the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, and we need the equivalent of a New Deal for today," Sebastian said. "Rural America was devastated by the 2008 financial crash. There were not job gains in the last 10 years. And then, there's the second blow of the COVID-19 crisis."

The Rural Relief agenda also recommends such policies as a postal banking system, paid sick leave for all workers and a food and agribusiness merger moratorium. Sebastian noted recent polling reveals wide support by rural communities for what he terms "anti-corporate" policies.

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