Challenges Facing Rural Communities


image of a rural town


Rural America is undergoing changes, and state legislatures are responding. Legislatures in ten states have initiated rural commissions and committees, dedicated to improving rural areas of their state. 

NCSL has resources for state legislatures on rural policies, including rural economic development, rural broadband, rural education, rural health and agriculture. These resources highlight research on rural America, and provide insights into the policy options states have undertaken to address the challenges facing rural communities. 

U.S. States with Rural Development Committees

The interactive map has been designed to compare state rural development committee legislation.

Select the state on the map to view the rural development committee.

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CA flagCalifornia Rural Caucus | The bipartisan, bicameral Rural Caucus was formed to address policy issues and concerns of rural areas and communities in the State of California.




GA flagGeorgia House Rural Development Council | This House Council is studying the conditions, needs, issues and problems and any action or legislation which may be necessary to promote economic development in the rural areas of the state.




KS flagKansas House Rural Revitalization Committee seeks to sponsor policy responses regarding concerns of rural areas and communities in their state.



New Hampshire

NH flagNew Hampshire’s HB 5163 determines that the state food code does not apply to residential care homes.



New Mexico

NM flagNew Mexico Economic & Rural Development Committee | Interim Committee of the New Mexico Legislature.



New York

NY flagNew York Legislative Commission on Rural Resources |  This commission is a bipartisan office of the State Legislature that provides information and insight on rural initiatives sponsored by the state or federal agencies.




PA flagCenter for Rural Pennsylvania | Bipartisan, a bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly.




VT flagVermont Rural Development Initiative (SB 34 2017) | This initiative would help rural small businesses locate available funding, as well as provide technical assistance, such as grant writing; the law will help identify what types of businesses are suitable for small towns, industrial parks, or rural areas.



West Virginia

WV flagWest Virginia Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee reviews state policies regarding rural developments in the state.




WI flagWisconsin Legislature Rural Initiative | Rural Wisconsin Initiative provides focus and leadership to the discussion of how we can build our future in rural Wisconsin. It bridges the gap in education, healthcare, technology, and the workforce by including ideas from rural Wisconsin.


  • AB 912 (2017) | Relates to rural economic development programs administered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, grants to other authorities and state agencies for purposes of rural economic development.
  • AB 794 (2015 | Relates to student loan reimbursements for certain individuals domiciled in rural counties.
  • AB 797 (2015) | Relates to funding for the rural physician residency assistance program.
  • AB 799 (2015) | Relating to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics grants for rural school districts, providing an exemption from emergency rule procedures, requiring the exercise of rule-making authority.
  • AB 793 (Act No. 359 2015) | This bill modifies the teacher loan program to provide for loan forgiveness to certain teachers employed in school districts in rural counties.
  • AB 820 (Act No. 278 2015) | Relates to the duties of the Public Service Commission under the broadband expansion 5grant program and certification of political subdivisions under that program. 

Select a topic (at left) to see states enacting laws about each topic below.

U.S. States with Rural Legislation 2019

Enacted Bills by Topic Map

U.S. States with Broadband Legislation

State legislatures introduced 103 bills on rural broadband in 2019. Of those, 23 were enacted or adopted.  See the complete list of Broadband 2019 Legislation here.

Alabama enacted two bills—H 400 and S 90. H 400 authorizes the placement, construction, installation, operation and use of broadband and other advanced communication capabilities within electric easements by electric providers. It authorizes electric providers to engage in providing broadband services through advanced communications capabilities within electric easements. S 90 changes the definition of an unserved area, increases the percentage of project costs that may be funded and broadens the permitted use of federal support, including loans and grants, in projects receiving grants.

California’s A 488 adds the secretary of food and agriculture to the state’s broadband council. Colorado S 107 authorizes an electric utility to install and maintain above ground broadband internet service infrastructure for internal use, for external use in providing broadband internet service, or for the lease of any excess capacity to a broadband internet service provider. Iowa enacted the Empower Rural Iowa Act H 772 to provide incentives for broadband development.

Indiana S 460 provides that a communications service provider that holds a certificate of territorial authority shall be designated as a public utility. In Louisiana, the Legislature created a task force on access to high-speed broadband (SR 77). Mississippi enacted the Broadband Enabling Act (H 366), which provides for ownership or operation of broadband systems by electric cooperatives through affiliates or operators. It also requires an electric cooperative to conduct an economic feasibility study before broadband services may be provided.

North Carolina enacted two companion bills related to rural broadband. H 387 and S 310 remove restrictions prohibiting electric membership corporations and their subsidiaries from seeking federal grant funds to provide telecommunications and broadband services. These bills authorize such corporations to use easements held by the corporations to supply telecommunications and broadband services.

New Mexico’s SM 116 requests the U.S. departments of Interior, Agriculture and Transportation along with the Federal Communications Commission to establish uniform regulations and procedures across federal jurisdictions to facilitate the development of broadband infrastructure and service in Indian and non-Indian rural communities.

Oregon’s H 2173 creates the State Broadband Office within the Business Development Council. The Pennsylvania General Assembly (SR 47) established an advisory committee to study the delivery of high-speed broadband services in unserved and underserved areas of the commonwealth. SR 48  authorizes a review of the compliance of telecommunication carriers with the high-speed broadband deployment mandates of the Public Utility Code.

Texas enacted H 1960, authorizing the governor’s broadband council. H 2422 relates to the coordination of certain broadband projects by the Department of Transportation.

Utah’s H 296 creates the Rural Coworking and Innovation Center Grant Program in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and the Rural Online Working Hubs Grant Advisory Committee to advise GOED regarding the grant program.

Virginia’s S 1618 increases the total membership of the Broadband Advisory Council. Vermont’s H 513 supports broadband deployment throughout the state.

Washington enacted companion bills S 5511 and H 1498 (Chap. 365), expanding affordable, resilient broadband service to enable economic development, public safety, health care and education in the state's unserved communities.

U.S. States with Economic Development Legislation

Bills ranging from a farmer loan repayment program to law school loan forgiveness were introduced in 2019, all related to rural economic development. In all, 121 bills were introduced and 23 were enacted or adopted.

Alabama H 540 adds new tools for the attraction of new and expanding businesses in rural Alabama.

Arkansas enacted three bills on rural economic development. H 1443 amends the law concerning rural development authorities. H 1644 provides for the state Economic Development Commission to fund spay and neuter services within their Rural Services Division, and S 110 allocates at least $500,000 per fiscal year to the Rural Development Set-Aside from the annual Community Development Block Grant.

California provides grants for interim relief to households where private water well has gone dry or has been destroyed because of drought, wildfire or other natural disasters (S 513).

Georgia HR 214 reauthorizes the House Rural Development Council. Hawaii SR 134 requests the William S. Richardson School of Law to convene a task force to study and report on a loan forgiveness program for law students to provide incentives for legal assistance in rural communities.

Iowa enacted the Empower Rural Iowa Act to offer incentives for workforce housing (HB 771). The Illinois General Assembly created the Rural Development Task Force (HJR 17) to study the conditions, needs, issues and problems in the agriculture industry and evaluate any action or legislation that may be necessary to promote economic development in the rural areas of the state.

Kansas enacted two bills related to rural economic development. H 2223 relates to the economic development incentive program evaluations, to the disclosure of economic development incentive program data and to the economic development incentive financing to address rural housing shortages. H 2085 relates to the time required for reinstatement of a forfeited benefit unit of a rural water district. Louisiana’s S 170 also relates to rural water by creating the Rural Water Infrastructure Committee within the governor’s office.

The Montana Legislature enacted two bills related to rural development. H 431 creates a farmer loan repayment program by revising the Growth Through Agriculture program. H 206 clarifies a rural cooperative utility's authority to retain and retire capital credit.

North Carolina enacted the Rural Job Retention Act (S 505), which expands the Job Maintenance and Capital Development Fund to include Heritage Manufacturing project. North Dakota SCR 4013 directs Legislative Management to consider studying the distribution and transportation of food in the state necessary to the lives of individuals in rural communities, and the roles of state entities in facilitating the movement of food to rural areas of the state.

New Mexico’s HM 16 requests the secretary of economic development to convene an economic development innovation task force to spur collaborative and innovative discussions to create new economic development concepts and ideas to enhance the state’s economy. Puerto Rico enacted the Land Authority and Rural Infrastructure Program (S 751) to improve the rural infrastructure program. PR SJR 156 addresses rural infrastructure funding.

The Legislature in Utah enacted S 249 to amend the Outdoor Recreation Grant program. H 296 creates the Rural Online Working Hubs program within the in the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

The Washington Legislature enacted the Rural Development and Opportunity Act (H 1324) requiring the Department of Commerce to accept applications for approval supporting rural development and distressed opportunity zone fund.

U.S. States with Federal Land Legislation

Many states, especially in the West, have federal lands within their borders subject to limited or no state authority. Legislatures often introduce legislation to clarify the responsibilities between federal and state governments over federal land. In 2019, state legislatures introduced 38 bills related to federal lands and enacted 16 of them.

The Arizona Legislature enacted four bills related to federal lands. H 2271 designates the first Saturday in April Public Lands Day. SCM 1002 requests Congress to fully fund the payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) programs to aid in the funding of rural educational programs. HCM 2004 urges Congress to exclude federally reserved water rights from any future designation of federal lands in the state. HCM 2007 asks Congress to prohibit federal agencies from recommending Arizona’s public lands for wilderness designation without express congressional consent.

California’s A 342 prohibits any state agency, department, or commission, or any local trustee with leasing authority over public lands within the state, from entering into any new lease or other conveyance authorizing new construction of oil- and gas-related infrastructure on public lands.

The Idaho Legislature enacted H 169 to establish the Legislative Committee on Federalism to monitor and review federal acts, laws and regulations that may affect the jurisdiction, governance and sovereignty of Idaho. HJM 8 states the Legislature supports scientific management to implement the multiple-use concept of public land use as mandated by the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, to ensure the protection and improvement of forest health, and to maintain and improve the sustainability of federal forests in Idaho. SJM 106 urges the president and Congress to require the secretary of the interior and the secretary of agriculture to recognize valid easements existing pursuant to the 1866 Mining Act on federal lands.

Montana’s HJR 28 requests the U.S. Bureau of Land Management deny the bison grazing proposal submitted by the American Prairie Reserve. Nevada’s AJR 3 expresses support for the Nevada Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Plan and the Nevada Conservation Credit System and urges the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to require compensatory mitigation to offset anthropogenic disturbances in accordance with the Nevada Conservation Credit System. SJR 4 expresses the support for certain federal legislation relating to the conservation of wildlife in this state.

Oregon’s HJM 1 urges the president and Congress to pursue Oregon and California railroad grant land management reforms.

The Legislature in Utah enacted H 78, which amends and enacts provisions regarding federal land designations within the state. The bill requires any governmental entity advocating for a federal designation within the state to bring the proposal to the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee for review. SCR 13 directs state legislative bodies and agencies to work with federal legislative bodies, agencies, and other like-minded states to pursue strategies that outline the state's laws, principles, values, priorities and willingness to work with federal agencies to manage the state's public lands. It also recognizes that state officials should be involved in the creation and implementation of public lands policies. HJR 17 expresses support for a process of forming land use plans for certain federally controlled public lands in the state. It also asserts that the state should form legislatively approved land use plans for federally managed public lands in the state to better ensure that the land management reflects state and local interests. It recognizes the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands as the appropriate legislative entity to oversee the formation of the land use plans.

Wyoming’s SJR 10 requests Congress to take action relating to the management of state and federal lands to promote multiple uses of public lands and state involvement in federal resource management.

U.S. States with Health Legislation

Mississippi SB 2064 authorized Medicaid reimbursement to physicians proving telemedicine medical services. North Carolina’s H 998 Improving Rural Health directed the state to study and report recommendations to create incentive for medication education in the rural areas of the state. H 999 and SB 741 (which were not enacted) sought to appropriate funds for the state loan repayment program to benefit health care providers in rural areas.

New York enacted three bills related to rural health. AB 7203 established the Rural Health Council to advise the Commissioner of Health. AB 8988 and SB 7329 relates to the appointment of members to the Rural Health Council.

Several bills in the state sought to provide loan forgiveness to health professionals. SB AB 8211 and SB 5552 provided loan forgiveness to mental health nurses committed to practice in a rural tract or county. SB 5123 sought to provide student loan repayments for medical professionals working in the rural parts of the state. SB 7377 would have established the State Rural Doctors and Nurse Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program, designed to increase length of employment in rural areas. None of these bills passed.

Legislation introduced in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin also failed. Pennsylvania’s H 2532 and S 1237 sought to establish the Rural Health Redesign Center. Wisconsin AB 222 related to grants regarding the creation of the rural wellness facility.

Rural Community Key Issues

Rural Communities

Rural communities face challenges related to demographic changes, workforce development, capital access, infrastructure, health, land use and environment and community preservation. Compared to their urban counterparts, rural areas have less internet access, fewer educational institutions, see more hospitals close and experience less economic growth. 

NCSL has research and other resources related to state legislative efforts regarding challenges and policy options for rural communities through several program efforts, including agriculture, environment, energy, education and transportation.

  • NCSL LegisBrief on Rural Populations Growing Slowly, Sept. 2019.

Rural Economic Development

Several state legislatures have addressed rural economic concerns through the creation of initiatives, committees, councils, task forces and agencies. Some of these efforts have existed for some time, such as the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and New York’s Legislative Commission on Rural Resources. Other efforts, including the Georgia House Rural Development Council and the Rural Wisconsin Initiative, are more recent.

NCSL has identified ten state legislatures with efforts on rural economic policy: California, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, VermontWest Virginia and WisconsinKansas House Rural Revitalization Committee seeks to sponsor policy responses regarding concerns of rural areas and communities in their state. New Hampshire Commission on Rural Affairs seeks to make recommendations relating to public policy that specifically affects rural areas and rural people. Members of the state House and Senate participate on the commission. 

A 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture report lists several drivers needed for a robust rural economy, such as access to broadband, natural amenities and a strong workforce. Research from Headwaters Economics points to a diverse economy with access to transportation as critical to rural success. A 2018 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce identifies outdoor recreation as one of the foremost drivers of rural economies.

Here are additional NCSL resources on rural economic development:

  • NCSL LegisBrief on Rural Populations Growing, Slowly 
  • NCSL LegisBrief on Jump-Starting Rural Economies.
  • NCSL LegisBrief on Boosting America's Rural Workforce.

Rural Broadband

Broadband is considered by many to be a fundamental vehicle for new services and applications—such as telemedicine, telecommuting and online education—that require high-speed internet connections. State legislative involvement in broadband has been an important factor for the successful implementation of broadband in the states. Rural areas have 37 percent more residents without broadband access than their urban counterparts.  Filling Gaps in Broadband Development, an NCSL LegisBrief discusses state efforts to promote rural broadband. The Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute at New York University Law School has studied state policies regarding rural broadband and worked with NCSL regarding policy options.

The NCSL report Expanding Broadband Access for All Learners discusses broadband access in the classroom, outlines state policy actions and summarizes state policy considerations. 

Rural Education

Fifty-three percent of U.S. school districts are rural. However, rural education faces unique challenges, such as limited resources, a constrained tax base and demographic shifts. The rural population is decreasing, aging and migratory, and, as a result, these communities present unique challenges in providing quality education with limited resources. This lack of access means rural residents are more likely to have lower educational attainment. 

National education challenges, such as broadband access and teacher shortages, are further amplified in rural communities. The NCSL report Expanding Broadband Access for All Learners discusses broadband access in the classroom, outlines state policy actions and summarizes state policy considerations. The NCSL LegisBrief Tackling Teacher and Principal Shortages in Rural Areas discusses the workforce recruitment and retention challenges facing rural schools and how state policymakers are addressing the issues. Two other reports review rural education; the first is a LegisBrief entitled ‘A Snapshot of Rural Afterschool in America’ and the second is a report on postsecondary opportunities in rural areas entitled ‘Planting the Seeds, Working the Land: Postsecondary Programs in Rural Areas.’ 

Rural Health

Residents in rural counties often face difficulty accessing health care services. Those living in rural counties are more likely to be uninsured, live within a health professional shortage area and experience a local hospital closure. In addition to the scarcity of primary care providers and services in rural areas, the people who live there also often lack access to mental health and other behavioral health services, long-term care options for seniors, emergency medical services, and other essential services. To reduce inefficiencies and improve care for rural residents, state legislatures seek innovative ways to address health workforce shortages and to better coordinate care. 

NCSL’s Health Program has several documents related to rural health care. Improving Rural Health: State Policy Options discusses policies states have undertaken to address rural health. The NCSL LegisBrief Tackling Rural Hospital Closures explores innovative solutions to ensure rural residents receive critical health services. NCSL has two resources on telehealth policy. Increasing Access to Care Through Telehealth explores policies related to reimbursement, licensure and provider practice standards. On the NCSL blog, Expanding Access to Care for Rural Residents Via Telehealth discusses how mental health providers use telehealth to improve access to care for their patients.


Agriculture, including food, fiber, fuel and other bio-based products, has been an important economic and social driver in rural communities. Producers, distributors, processors and retailers all play a role

Agriculture, including food, fiber, fuel and other bio-based products, has been an important economic and social driver in rural communities. Producers, distributors, processors and retailers all play a role in the food system to get agricultural products from farm to table in both domestic and international markets. State lawmakers consider policy issues related to farmland preservation, food safety and labeling and innovative crops (i.e., industrial hemp), regulate the use of pesticides and natural resources, and support the next generation of farmers.  

NCSL hosts the Agriculture Task Force which examines state and federal agricultural policy issues and serves as the conduit for state legislative communication with Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies.

NCSL has information regarding industrial hemp, food safety legislation from 2018 and a LegisBrief on the Growing Interest in Urban Agriculture.