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Sen. Martin Heinrich presents rural community report

Forty-six million, or 14 percent, of Americans live in rural communities, and 72 percent of land in the United States is considered rural, according to a new report, "Investing in Rural America."

The report, drafted by the U.S. Joint Economic Committee, was introduced in a teleconference on Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), who is a member of the committee, U.S Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Illinois) and Terry Branner, U.S. Department of Agriculture New Mexico state director and founder of Grow New Mexico.

The reportidentified seven key areas to revitalize rural communities across the United States — family finances, education, infrastructure, public lands, housing, healthcare and agriculture.

"I believe this report can contribute to the national conversation," Heinrich said. "Expanding economic opportunities is vital to our economy as a whole."

When it comes to education, Heinrich said expanding access to early education and post-secondary education is important.

The report stated that improvements could streamline funding and resource access for school district and tribal lands, expand college guidance services, scholarships, professional development and other programs for teachers.

Bustos, who serves more than 700,000 people in 14 counties in Illinois, said her constituents in rural communities want to see improved infrastructure and healthcare.

"Rural communities are paying disproportionately a high price for the nation's failed infrastructure," she said.

For housing issues, the report recommended boosting nonprofit organizations' capacity to access federal capital, invest in critical improvements to Indian Country housing conditions, increase community bank presence for better mortgage access and encourage local businesses to invest in housing stock revitalization.

The report also documented a population increase in rural southeast New Mexico, but a decrease in northeastern and southwestern portion of the state.

"Investment in rural communities is essential," Bustos said.