By Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
This past November I completed my tour of every county in Nevada. Each year, I make it one of my top priorities to visit many of our state’s rural towns and hear from you about the challenges and opportunities confronting local communities. These conversations help me identify the best ways to fight for Nevadans, and especially for our rural residents. It is your voices I bring to Washington, D.C. when Congress considers legislation that addresses the unique challenges Nevada’s rural communities face.
This year, the number one issue I’ve heard from Nevadans, whether it was in Las Vegas or Elko, was health care. In July, I met with the dedicated health professionals at Grover C. Dils Medical Center in Lincoln County to discuss the importance of funding and supporting rural hospitals and community health centers. These rural hospitals and community health centers are crucial to seniors and hardworking Nevada families. That is why I have fought hard in the Senate to protect the Medicaid expansion and pass the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act and the Rural Hospital Access Act, which would help address the physician shortage facing many small towns, and would permanently extend Medicare payment programs that help small rural hospitals keep their doors open.
Nevadans are also focused on the health of the economy and the creation of good paying jobs in the Silver State. Part of creating the jobs of the future is improving rural broadband and infrastructure. In November, I was in Winnemucca meeting local entrepreneurs, public safety officials, educators, health care providers and community leaders. I heard about the importance of increasing funding for broadband and infrastructure development throughout rural Nevada. Residents in Winnemucca and across the state need strong transportation infrastructure and reliable internet access so that small businesses can thrive, people can gain access to telehealth services and e-learning opportunities, and families can keep in touch. I have supported numerous bills encouraging broadband infrastructure investment and innovation, and I’ve also introduced a bipartisan bill, The Moving FIRST Act, to create opportunities for more communities to compete for federal money to fund efficient, creative and innovative technology projects that improve transportation services, support telecommunication access partnerships and create economic growth. In addition, I introduced two bipartisan provisions included in the final Farm Bill, which will create a permanent interagency rural council to address the unique infrastructure needs of rural communities and a working group dedicated to expanding broadband access in rural areas.
Protecting health care and fostering economic growth are crucial to Nevada families, as is ensuring that these hardworking Nevadans can find and afford housing in their communities. During my rural visits in November, I hosted a meeting to discuss the rural affordable housing crisis in Fernley. At this roundtable, it was clear that supporting rural infrastructure also includes improved access to affordable housing in rural areas. In Fernley, a town of fewer than 20,000 people, the Fernwood Meadows apartment complex for seniors and residents with disabilities has more than 100 people on its waiting list. Community members echoed concerns I’ve heard all across the state about the high cost of rental housing, which is why I supported the appropriations bill which provided an increase in federal funds for affordable housing for seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and families with children. I also supported the Affordable Housing and Credit Improvement Act. This bill would provide 1.3 million more affordable rental homes nationwide in the next ten years and would also expand the Low Income Housing Tax Credit by 50%.
Supporting affordable housing initiatives, creating good paying jobs, and protecting your health care are some of my top priorities in the United States Senate. These issues touch every single American. Yet, as Nevadans, we also know that our state has a unique relationship with the federal government and that our residents and our economy are deeply connected to the land. I continue to fight to strengthen protections for our public lands, and to ensure federal coordination and support for wildfire response as well as better land management practices. In October, I sat down with the Nevada’s Cattlemen’s Association and toured the Maggie Creek Ranch in Elko, and the Horseshoe Ranch in Beowawe as well as surveyed the fire damage to Lamoille Canyon. I discussed the importance of the federal government’s role in making sure ranchers and cattlemen have the resources they need to raise their cattle, improve land management and conservation in the region and fight wildfire devastation by developing a coordinated plan with the federal government to combat and prevent deadly and costly blazes. In Nevada, our fire season continues to get longer, hotter and drier, causing more fires like the recent South Sugarloaf Fire, which scorched over 237,000 acres of land in Northeastern Nevada. I will continue to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure Nevadans have the support they need to recover and rebuild. And that’s why I fought to set aside a $2 billion contingency account for the Forest Service, and free up over $100 million for federal fire prevention projects in partnership with local firefighting agencies to make sure the federal government is doing all it can to support the brave firefighters in Nevada, and all throughout the West.
Over the past two years, I’ve had the privilege to speak with Nevadans throughout our rural counties. I continue to be inspired by the fierce independence and entrepreneurial spirit of the people of the Silver State, whether it be the ranchers who’ve rebuilt after catastrophic wildfires, the immigrant culinary workers in Las Vegas working to provide for their family, or the young tech entrepreneurs in Reno looking to jump start their first small businesses. Though the Silver State is full of a wide variety of people from all walks of life, one trait ties us all together: we work hard. As we begin 2019, I look forward to continuing my work for Nevada’s rural communities.