President Joe Biden’s historic investments in infrastructure and climate will require building rural capacity

Over the past year, Congress has delivered on President Joe Biden’s vision, making potentially transformative investments in the workforce, energy systems, infrastructure, competitiveness, and resilience of American communities. However, passing laws and allocating funds are only the beginning. States, local governments, and rural leaders will need to prepare plans, apply for funding, and manage complex construction and restoration projects. All of this requires the capacity – the staff, expertise, financial resources and networks, including political influence – to follow up on funding opportunities.

Rural areas are often stretched. A natural disaster can easily overwhelm a small town’s response capacity. Infrastructure in rural areas is often already in relatively poor condition, and rural areas have fewer assets and resources to deploy before or after a natural disaster.1

The Center for American Progress recently released two reports that assess the ways in which missed opportunities in the implementation of federal resilience programs illustrate the challenges facing rural communities. Through interviews with various federal, state and local experts and officials, the reports explore how resilience funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, also known as the Bipartisan infrastructure, can better serve rural areas facing significant climate risk. While this research is based on case studies of specific programs, the reports also offer broadly applicable recommendations to policy makers when designing and implementing programs to include rural communities in climate change adaptation and recovery efforts. effects of climate change.

Read the reports in this series

Some initial solutions may include:


  • Invest up to 20% of grants in sustainable capacity building, such as hiring local and long-term staff; providing technical and leadership training; and supporting planning, outreach and peer networks so that rural communities are not isolated.
  • Target more non-competitive project funding to low-capacity rural communities using metrics that measure physical and social vulnerability and capacity.
  • Increase rural competitiveness for national grants by making small, well-designed projects eligible; allow non-governmental organizations to apply on behalf of communities and coordinate regional projects; allow states to opt out of program implementation; and waive requirements that are barriers for underfunded venues, such as matching funds, benefit-cost analyzes and certain mandates.

Coordination and alignment

  • Harmonize grant eligibility criteria and application requirements among federal agencies and programs. Move to a single federal application, kept on file, to streamline the application process and eliminate duplication of effort.
  • Coordinate and bundle federal grants for resilience and rural development to leverage the economic benefits of climate and conservation investments.
  • Shift the burden from communities to agencies to perform certain application tasks such as compiling data needed to determine eligibility and reviewing compliance with federal rules.

Technical support and advice

  • Provide agency assistance to help rural communities navigate the complex process of obtaining federal grants.
  • Use different eligibility and reporting measures that capture vulnerability and capacity, such as demographic and local capacity.
  • Build the capacity of regional agencies and centers to better assess needs and help communities access appropriate resources; the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Partners Network is a good example.2

The opportunity presented by recent federal investments should not be underestimated: these resources will inspire and fund the best climate resilience projects across the country to prepare communities for disasters before they strike. The bipartisan infrastructure law also prioritizes equity in grantmaking, invests in the rural workforce, and includes programs and resources to build capacity. The recommendations offered here can improve the implementation of these historic investments by ensuring that federal assistance reaches the communities most at risk from natural disasters and least able to prepare for and respond to them. i.e. communities with limited capacities.

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