Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is always happy to share good news, and the benefits of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to rural America are certainly justified.
Casey spoke to The Era on Friday about recent bills that will bring big bucks to Pennsylvania.
“It’s remarkable that you have so many choices in one bill,” he said. “Of course, when we talk about the law as a whole, one of the best parts is that it’s going to create a hell of a lot of jobs — 30,000 jobs annually in Pennsylvania for 10 years.”
The senator continued, “This is a big moment. To say it’s unprecedented is an understatement.”
Broadband Internet for All is a program Casey was particularly proud of, stating: “I remember talking about this many years ago. It was assumed to be a rural problem.
“We found out during the pandemic that it could be a bigger problem than we thought,” he said. “Even in cities where there are many Internet connections”, the speeds in many places are not sufficient for students to even be able to do homework. “There have been instances where students have had to have someone drive them to a McDonald’s parking lot where they can do their homework.”
In Pennsylvania, $100 million from the law will be used to create the Broadband Development Authority and bring Internet to the 390,000 residents who don’t have it, Casey said.
While federal money has been available for the Internet in the past, “it wasn’t really enough to tackle the problem hard and get that deployment,” the senator said.
The benefits of broadband for most businesses are obvious, and Casey described its benefits for the agricultural industry. “A farmer who relies on GPS technology can be given the tools to better get his goods to market. They can only do that if they can maximize their growing season.”
Agriculture is Pennsylvania’s leading industry.
“If we want to have the most robust industry we can, we need to have the infrastructure to access farming opportunities through GPS and all sorts of other benefits to grow crops and get better harvests and reduce fertilizer runoff “, he said.
Own initiatives accompany the broadband promotion. The senator said one is a $30 monthly grant for low-income residents to pay for the Internet, another is creating a program fund for middle-mile infrastructure. That would add and expand infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas to the “Internet backbone,” according to a statement on BroadbandUSA’s website.
Digital equity programs are also included. “That’s inclusion and equity, to make sure we don’t leave anyone out — that includes rural communities.”
Casey said as he traveled through McKean, Elk, Potter and Cameron counties he saw potential. “They have good schools, strong small businesses, healthcare infrastructure and potential for a highly skilled workforce. You can see where rural communities aren’t getting the help they need,” he added.
He touted the combination of America’s bailout plan and infrastructure bill as a boon to small town America.
“It’s helping many of these counties balance their budgets because they’ve had their legs knocked out with COVID,” the senator said.
“If we stopped with this bailout bill, those wouldn’t be the results we want. We need to make sure the investments continue,” he said. “That’s why infrastructure accounting is so important.”
Some counties are using their bailout funds for infrastructure projects because there are always more projects than money to fund them.
“These infrastructure funds can be transformative,” Casey said, and it would create high-paying jobs.
Turning to the Bailout Act, Casey said, “It’s not good enough to say we’re going to fix the bridges and the road, you need to invest in the people who are going to power tomorrow’s economy.”
He said: “There was a lot in the Rescue Act that focused on people, like the child tax credit. It has reduced child poverty by 40% across the country.”
While this particular form of tax credit is ending, Casey said another will be available in April. “There is another tax credit that you can use to pay for childcare. People won’t see that until April when they file their taxes. In addition to low-income families, many families from the middle class will also benefit from this.”
In some cases, it could be as high as a few thousand dollars, he said.
“Inflation is high and people are paying more for gas and groceries,” the senator said. “One of the costs that has skyrocketed over the past 10 years is childcare.”
It’s not often that people see bills that can have such a huge impact on so many facets of life.
“We all criticize the government at some point,” Casey said. “It is important for the country that people see that not only the government is working but also at the local level where people in their community are seeing a bridge being repaired and seeing better connectivity. It is important that the country sees that the government is effective.
“We also need to lift when things are working,” he added. “If it’s categorically bad news, that’s going to undermine people’s confidence.”