Conservatives Have Failed Rural America

“West Virginia Home” taken by Richard Elzey

When I drive through the rural routes of Augusta County, Republican campaign signs bombard me from every angle. These same places displayed the same signs four years ago. Four years before that, the same signs were in their yards. Time and time again, these rural counties vote for the conservative candidate. Yet, these same rural routes have always looked poor. Many of the houses are tiny and in disrepair and the cars rusty. The roadside businesses are fewer and further between on every drive. On every trip, I see a new abandoned building that used to be a general store or an auto repair shop or a local diner. Rural areas keep electing conservatives to local government and state legislatures. Their financial struggles continue, no matter who is President. Is it time to consider that the GOP has failed them?

“Countryside” taken by MaxiuB

As someone who has spent a lot of time searching for affordable housing in small towns, I know how hard it can be. There are few vacancies and finding something good for under $800 is impossible. I spent hours making calls and combing search results only to settle for something that was still too expensive. Of course, I would prefer a place of my own. But it’s not that easy. For those without the funds to cover the initial cost of purchasing a home, options are few and far between. The government has traditionally played a major role in smoothing over this problem. Programs such as the Community Development Block Grant help rural communities house people by repairing crumbling buildings or finding homes for veterans and seniors. NeighborWorks America also supports communities that build and maintain affordable housing. This organization relies on the government for its funding, and two-thirds of the areas it supports are rural towns. There is also a large unsheltered homeless population in rural America. I know they’re here; I see the panhandlers off the exit every day. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that 40% or more of homeless in rural areas have no shelter. Vast spreads of countryside often contain homeless camps that go uncounted. More affordable housing could decrease rural homelessness. An investment into affordable housing would also help hard-working Americans make ends meet.

“Finklea Grocery” taken by Gerry Dincher

During my time working at a small-town grocery store, I saw firsthand how many people rely on EBT cards to get by. On the first of every month I would help dozens of customers figure out how much was on the card and what they could afford. I spent years poring over WIC checks before they replaced those with cards too. The Republican Party’s plan to cut food assistance is also damaging to rural communities. Rural counties and small towns make up one-third of the users in the SNAP program, mostly seniors and children. Only 13% of the program’s users are from big cities. Since many of the program’s users are seniors or are in rural areas, they often don’t have access to physical offices or reliable Internet. By slashing the budget for the SNAP program, the GOP cuts food access for rural and small-town America. This same budget plan makes cuts to Meals On Wheels and WIC, which both also do most of their work in rural areas. When the Republicans push these cuts through, it is rural America and small towns that suffer.

“Old School Bus” taken by Ian Chapin

During college, I spent a lot of time at rural schools in Augusta and Rockingham County. I saw the oversized classes. I saw the outdated textbooks. I saw the dedication from lifelong teachers who spend their own money to provide for their students. Trump’s plan to cut funding for public schools and provide private school vouchers doesn’t work for rural America. According to a study by the Center for American Progress, 68% of districts have four or fewer schools. A whole 85% of districts in the U.S. have nine or fewer schools. This number is typical for many and rural states: Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota. It also applies to swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and my own home of Virginia. Rural areas like upstate New York suffer from the same issue. Places like these rely on public schools for education because there are almost no viable alternatives. When there are other options, they are more expensive than the average resident can afford. Trump’s plan, like the plans of many Republicans before him, hurts education in rural areas. Vouchers only help a select few. Rural Americans would be better served with an aggressive investment in public education.

“Shenandoah Skyline Drive — Autumn Gold” taken by Nicolas Raymond

The GOP courts small-town America with their advertising and enjoys the support of rural counties. Yet their policies often put the very people who support them the most at risk. This is not to say the Democrats are perfect. I understand the temptation to choose the party that remembers you exist. The Democrats have done a poor job of reaching out to rural America. But this does show that conservatives have not earned the support of rural America. They cut funding that provides rural communities with housing, food, and education. In return, they promise tax breaks that in reality are enough to buy groceries for two weeks if I’m being generous. These drives down backroads haven’t changed in over a decade. The businesses keep closing. The potholes keep appearing. The GOP has had many chances to help, and has failed again and again. The houses keep crumbling and the cars keep rusting. It’s time to stop giving them that chance.

Sources:
Food Research and Action Center
Department of Housing and Urban Developement
Center for American Progress

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JMU English grad. Socialist Rifle Association member. Writer and activist.

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Branden Meyers

Branden Meyers

JMU English grad. Socialist Rifle Association member. Writer and activist.

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