Analysis and recommendations to improve the effectiveness, coherence, and relevance of U.S. federal rural policy

Illustration of rolling hills

The Reimagining Rural Policy initiative provides analysis and recommendations to improve the effectiveness, coherence, and relevance of U.S. federal rural policy.

Federal development assistance for rural and tribal communitiesCurrent federal policy is ill-suited to successfully enable U.S. rural communities to meet the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. Rural America is diverse: racially, demographically, geographically, and economically. Federal policy must modernize and evolve new approaches if it is to leverage the unique assets of different rural communities, maximize its support for local leaders and local solutions, ensure decisionmaking and economic benefits are equitably shared, and measure and improve community-level outcomes.

Through analysis, convenings, and direct engagement with policymakers and rural stakeholders, the project shapes a new policy discourse on federal leadership to promote equitable rural development. It advances targeted, evidence-based policy solutions to create the conditions for improved resilience, well-being, and equity in rural communities.

  • Background and evolution

    Twenty-first century shifts in the national and global economy, demographics, and the climate are challenging rural and small-town America. These shifts also offer opportunity, but the capability of rural areas to strengthen their resilience and prosperity is often hampered by lower levels of community capacity, poor connectivity to regional partners and markets, and a history of marginalization due to race and class.

    Bright spots across the country suggest that achieving equitable, healthy rural communities is possible. Realizing this renewal at scale requires flexible, consistent, place-based investment customized to local contexts and solutions, especially given the diversity in rural populations, geographies, and economies.

    Current federal resources for equitable rural development are fragmented and incoherent, spread across more than 400 programs, 13 departments, and 50 offices and suboffices, making it difficult for rural communities to identify and access the resources appropriate for their needs. No overarching national rural policy or strategy currently exists.

    Federal resources offer limited support for pre-development activities, technical assistance, and capacity-building, and are not easily packaged to effectively support holistic, locally led development. The dominant reliance on financing rather than grants, and requirements such as matching funds, put many programs out of reach of the most vulnerable communities.

    These core themes have guided the analysis and recommendations of the initiative’s launch report and its subsequent analysis on new federal initiatives and proposals such as the Rural Partners Network, the Recompete pilot program, and the Rural Partnership Program, as well as other opportunities available through the American Rescue Plan Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPs and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act.

    The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and policy solutions. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations for policymakers and the public. The conclusions and recommendations of any Brookings publication are solely those of its author(s), and do not reflect the views of the Institution, its management, or its other scholars or co-authors.

    Support for this research was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

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The Reimagine Rural podcast, launched in November 2022, provides a fresh perspective on the story of rural America—a story not of disempowerment and dependence but of innovators and collaborators helping their communities adapt to social and economic shifts.

From Shamokin, Pennsylvania to Sunflower County, Mississippi, each episode highlights the story of a rural community that is experiencing renewal and strengthening its capacity to succeed. These stories provide the chance to explore the role of federal policy and how it can broaden, deepen, and accelerate the ability of rural communities in the U.S. to thrive.

Reimagine Rural podcast builds upon themes originally explored in the 3-part series “Reimagining Rural Policy” done in conjunction with Rural Matters podcast, broadcast in the spring of 2021.