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Gillibrand: $50 billion push for rural infrastructure would boost NNY

WATERTOWN — In front of local leaders and elected officials at the Watertown Family YMCA on Rand Drive, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., announced her Rebuild Rural America Act, which is legislation that would invest $50 billion in rural economic development across the country. The $50 billion could go to infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and small businesses.

The senator and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announced last week that the Development Authority of the North Country is to receive $14.5 million in funding to expand almost 350 miles of broadband fiber across Upstate New York.

Denise K. Young, CEO of the Watertown Family YMCA, said that they are thankful for the investment being made. “We appreciate the thoughtful possibilities that Sen. Gillibrand is bringing to rural communities to promote partnerships that create future growth like ours,” she said.

Sen. Gillibrand said small, rural communities are vital to the state overall. She said the YMCA that is currently being built in downtown Watertown is one that the federal government should support. “This center will serve as an anchor for downtown Watertown and beyond,” she said. Sen. Gillibrand also said the $14.5 million being received by DANC will help close the “digital divide” in the state. “I look forward to seeing the extraordinary impact I know this funding will have on Watertown and I will keep working to make the federal government a more effective partner for rural areas like this one in the Rebuild Rural America Act,” she said. “I hope that we can bring even more federal investments to this community and others like it moving forward.”

Executive Director for Development Authority of the North Country, Carl E. Farone, Jr., called the north country getting $14.5 million “fantastic news.” He thanked Sen. Gillibrand as well as the elected officials that helped move this project forward. “The COVID pandemic certainly highlighted the critical need of broadband throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties,” he said.

He added that he believes that they will be able to provide additional broadband capacity throughout the north country. “Our project highlights what we can achieve through the public, private partnership,” he said. “If it were not for the grant funds that were made available through the NTIA, $14.5 million, as well as the partnership with National Grid, who is actually putting in 40% of the project cost, this wouldn’t be possible.” The project will allow for 2,500 residents that currently don’t have broadband to have access. “That’s huge,” he said.

Residents could start seeing access in the next three years. “This is one piece of the puzzle and we will continue to seek out grant funding,” Mr. Farone said.

Denise K. Young, CEO of the Watertown YMCA, speaks Tuesday alongside Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand about the Rebuild Rural America Act and $14.5 million going to the Development Authority of the North Country to expand broadband access. Jonathon Wheeler/Watertown Daily Times

Sen. Gillibrand said projects like this are “essential.” “Rural America, and particularly throughout Upstate New York, (are the) heart and soul of our communities,” she said. “It creates enormous jobs, enormous opportunities. Watertown is one of the most important communities to support Fort Drum and the families that serve our nation…. Rural America helps America thrive.”

A news release from Sen. Gillibrand states that the Rebuild Rural America Act would put in place a Rural Future Partnership fund that establishes a $50 billion block grant program to be used for long-term rural economic development projects. It would also make it easier for rural communities to access federal funds and other resources, the news release states.

The legislation would also place AmeriCorps Fellows in rural communities and assist the communities in expanding important services such as child care, health, nutrition assistance, education and job training. The news release states that this would fight population loss and Sen. Gillibrand is calling it the Rural Future Corps. The news release adds that the Rebuild Rural America Act would empower local leaders “to drive regional economic development through a new suite of national capacity and training programs to connect the expertise of national technical assistance providers with rural regions.”

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