U.S. Sens. Smith, Jones, Rounds Successfully Create New USDA Post to Improve Health Care in Rural America

WASHINGTON D.C. [02/20/20]—Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), and U.S. Representative Angie Craig (D-MN 2) lauded the USDA for filling the new role of rural health liaison to help improve rural health care—something the bipartisan group of senators pushed to include in the Farm Bill and Rep. Craig advocated for. Sens. Smith, Jones, Rounds first introduced the Rural Health Liaison Act to create a liaison with the USDA to better coordinate rural health resources across the federal government and improve health care delivery for Minnesotans and people across the country living in rural areas.

Last year, Sen. Smith and Rep. Craig, both members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, respectively, pushed both USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to quickly fill the new position and make it a central part of federal health efforts. The USDA has finally heeded that call and designated Betty-Ann Bryce to serve as USDA’s Rural Health Liaison.

“The first issue that comes up when I meet with farmers, rural business and community leaders, is health care,” said Sen. Smith, a member of both the Senate Health and Agriculture Committees. “I fought to create this position because together, the USDA and HHS can do more to help rural communities tackle health care challenges and families access the care they need. As a member of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, I worked to get our legislation in the Farm Bill, and urged USDA and HHS to quickly fill the position. I’m glad we delivered on this and I’ll always work to advocate on behalf of rural health care and infrastructure needs.”

“Over the past decade, seven of Alabama’s rural hospitals have shut their doors and the ones that remain open continue to struggle financially. These hospitals are a lifeline for rural Alabamians and they will benefit from the establishment of the Rural Health Liaison, a position created in the very first bill I introduced. The appointment of Betty-Ann Bryce is great news and I wish her well as she works to streamline federal resources and assistance for our rural health providers,” said Sen. Jones.

“All South Dakotans, including those in rural areas who live far away from a major hospital or clinic, should have access to reliable, high-quality care,” said Sen. Rounds. “The appointment of a Rural Health Liaison, who will be focused on improving health care in rural areas, will help make sure the health care needs of rural Americans are addressed.”

“Addressing mental health is a critical part of keeping our communities healthy, but unfortunately, people living in rural areas often struggle to find available providers and open facilities in times of need,” said Rep. Craig. “I’ve fought for the Rural Health Liaison as a first step to expand critical resources in the Second District and make sure everyone has access to the services they need to stay healthy.”