Yet small towns in Massachusetts and across the country are in trouble. A lack of good transportation has led to declining populations and shrinking economies. In other small towns, populations are actually increasing too quickly, causing a strain on public schools and local resources. For many small towns in Massachusetts, access to quality education, healthcare, and jobs remains an issue.
Our small towns have so much to offer — from natural beauty, to a quieter way of life, to a more environmentally sustainable way of living. As we work to recover our country from the covid-19 pandemic and economic recession, and as we work to create a cleaner, fairer economy, those in small towns must not be left behind.
Pass a multi-trillion dollar stimulus bill to keep our beloved stores and restaurants open. Businesses in small towns have been hit especially hard by this pandemic. That’s why I support a multi-trillion dollar stimulus plan to keep them open and operating safely. I also support using the Opportunity Zone Program and Community Development Finance Institutions to help small businesses get the loans and capital they need to do business after this pandemic has passed.
Reopen Schools Safely. The safe reopening of schools is the other immediate top priority. My “Horace Mann Plan” for education details how we can achieve universal pre-K, how we can close funding gaps in K-12 education, and how we can reopen schools safely in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic.
Invest in better roads. Small towns in Massachusetts need about $650 million to repair their roads, but they only have $200 million available to them through Chapter 90 funding. As your representative in Congress, I will prioritize federal funding for infrastructure programs in the fourth district in order to fill this gap so that our small town roads are safe and well-maintained. As we work to get more electric cars on the road, we must make sure we are investing in adequate charging infrastructure for these vehicles. We must also invest in “complete streets,” which allow for walking, biking, and busing, all on the same roadway.
Invest in regional bus transit authorities and South Coast Rail to connect small towns to larger transportation and economic hubs. The federal government subsidizes airline travel to small airports, and it should do the same for bus service that connects towns and cities. That’s why I will advocate for additional funding for the state’s Regional Transit Authorities so that they can expand bus services to those who would not otherwise have access. I will also advocate tirelessly for the expansion of South Coast rail, which will provide transportation links to major cities. I will fight for this new infrastructure to be electric so that we are also actively addressing climate change.
Expand 5G access to small towns. In today’s connected world, and especially during the covid-19 pandemic, access to broadband is a civil rights issue. The federal government, through the FCC, must invest in broadband infrastructure for small towns.
Health care is a human right. But people can’t fully exercise that right in communities lacking access to basic services like primary, emergency, and maternity care. While Boston is a globe hub of world-renowned hospitals and doctors, non-metropolitan areas in Massachusetts lack access to these resources, and the result is worse health and worse outcomes.
To make sure that rural healthcare remains strong, I support:
- Increase funding for community hospitals through Critical Area Hospitals Funding.
- Student loan forgiveness to encourage doctors, and especially primary care physicians, to start rural practices.
- Federal support for telehealth programs, which are especially vital for mental health support.
- Passing my “ONE” plan for dealing with the opioid epidemic to help those in small towns. struggling to access vital addiction recovery treatment.
The housing market is especially tough for seniors and first-time buyers. We must expand affordable housing using community development block grants and Federal Home Loan Bank grants. At the same time, we must make sure that the expansion of housing stock does not become unchecked, eroding the rural character of small towns. This can be achieved by building affordable housing in areas that are more suited for development, such as the abandoned Draper factory in Hopedale, or the Mount Hope Mill complex in North Dighton.
In many small towns, local government is run on a volunteer basis. Yet because of aging populations and population decline in rural areas, volunteers are retiring with no one to take their place.
To address this, Congress should must:
- Offer grants to young people and entrepreneurs to move to rural areas–an approach pioneered already by several state governments. Work with community colleges and states to offer coursework in municipal governance.
The rural character of small towns is what makes them great places to live. As we seek to improve access to jobs, housing, and transportation, we must always make sure that we are preserving the natural beauty and character of small towns from overdevelopment. Congress should invest in regional approaches to sewage and agricultural land management to make sure that small towns have affordable and sustainable access to these resources. The federal government should also offer grants to promote innovation in newer, more sustainable, and more resilient ways of creating land and water management infrastructure.