Rural areas in Georgia are looking for ways to strengthen their communities with policies that address the climate crisis, infrastructure, and opportunities for workers.
The 2023 Rural Action Policy Report by the Rural Democracy Initiative contains input from about 50 organizations, making recommendations to help small towns thrive.
Brandon Byrd, lead organizer of the New Georgia Project, participated in the report and said one challenge that remains prominent for rural Georgia is the lack of healthcare infrastructure.
“There were multiple towns when I was growing up, where our hospital was on the verge of closing. And then, learning more about economic development and seeing how losing your hospital could affect different businesses and industries wanting to come into your town,” he explained. “Because it’s just a testament to, ‘The health care in your area isn’t — that means your infrastructure isn’t — where it’s supposed to be.'”
The report proposes federal laws supporting access to rural health care, including virtual visits. It also emphasizes the need to reduce the distance people have to travel to get care in rural areas. And it stresses the importance of democracy and voting access in fostering rural growth.
The report also cites the need to restore voting rights for people after their release from jail or prison, who often reside in rural areas. Byrd said by ensuring people’s freedom and protection against discrimination, rural areas can actively participate in conversations that benefit them.
“We know democracy is a basic building block of society,” he continued. “So, if you’re taking away these certain rights and not allowing people to express themselves and actively participate in democracy as they have the right to, then change is really hard to create.”
The report also calls for policies to create more jobs, safeguard small businesses, and take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to build better futures for families. The full report is online at ruraldemocracyiniative.org.
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This article originally appeared on Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.