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Sen. Smith teams up with Republican colleagues to tackle rural broadband, healthcare

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Making sure rural communities get quality access to health care can be a real challenge.

It’s why Democratic U.S. Senator Tina Smith is teaming up with her Republican colleagues in Wyoming to introduce the Rural Health Clinic Modernization Act of 2019.

According to Smith, regulations that govern rural health clinics haven’t been updated in decades, and aren’t in line with modern health care standards.

She says this bill, if passed, would update those governing rules, strengthen the rural health care workforce, and improve upon what the clinics can offer.

“For example, they can offer better tele-health,” explains Smith [D – MN], “which is a really good way of helping to expand [healthcare] access for people without having to drive 100 miles or so to get the specialty health care that they need.”

Meanwhile, Smith is teaming up with Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman in the effort to expand rural broadband access.

Smith says local electric co-ops are considered an excellent partner. However, lawmakers say an error in the massive 2017 federal tax reform puts them at risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

According to Smith, the error makes it difficult for the co-ops to accept grants to expand broadband access. The error also makes it difficult for rural co-ops to accept FEMA emergency relief since they’d be counted against their member income limit.

Smith’s bill aims to fix that issue.

“We want to make sure that the rural co-ops can accept FEMA grants if they have been impacted by a disaster, and it doesn’t make any sense that they wouldn’t be able to,” says Smith, “or if they did they would lose their tax-exempt status. So, it’s a classic example of a mistake that was made that… we ought to be able to fix.”

Smith says the bills will be introduced in the next day or two.

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Billy Wagness

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