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Sinema launches Rural Development Working Group

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Friday afternoon the Globe-Miami Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema and community leaders from throughout Gila and Pinal Counties, as Sinema launched her Rural Development Working Group. This new group (Friday’s meeting was its second; the first was that morning) was conceived to give rural community leaders an opportunity to discuss issues and concerns with Sinema in person.

“During the COVID pandemic, I had weekly phone calls with mayors and county supervisors from all over the state,” Sinema said in an interview with the Silver Belt. “It allowed me to hear every single week from rural leaders about what was happening in their community. After the pandemic, when we all kind of went back to normal life, I missed having those phone calls. So my team and I decided this would be the next phase. Rather than just doing a weekly phone call, I would actually get to see people in person.”

In the course of the meeting, area leaders briefly shared their communities’ concerns with Sinema. These ranged from infrastructure needs, such as road repair, forest management, increased fentanyl use, flooding, supply chain issues, the salt cedar problem and federal grant windows. As an example of the last, Gila County Supervisor Tim Humphrey brought up a Natural Resources Conservation Service grant for flood mitigation projects, which came with a 220-day window – a deadline Gila County found impossible to meet and so lost the funding.

“Rural communities have a harder time getting access to federal funding than do larger cities and towns,” Sinema told the Silver Belt. “The rules, the regulations, the requirements of federal grants are skewed against rural communities, so I want to try and fix that. Many grants require matching funds and small towns don’t have those matching funds, so I want to address that for them. One of the things I heard today is that for smaller communities, even when they do get a grant, need more flexibility in times for hiring and contracting to complete the projects for their communities. It all boils down to the same key issue, which is that the federal government’s grant system is not designed to help rural America. I want to change some of those rules so that it’s more friendly for rural communities.”

On another topic of vital interest to local communities, Sinema, an Independent, said she and a bipartisan group of senators had sent the Biden administration a letter requesting the designation of copper as a critical mineral. The letter was co-signed by Senators Mark Kelly (D-Az.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

“Copper already meets the designation according to the description, and [Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, to whom the letter was addressed] has the authority to at any moment designate copper as a critical mineral,” Sinema told the Silver Belt. “The Biden administration is very committed to a clean energy future, but you can’t get there without copper – and we don’t mine enough copper in country to actually meet the needs to build [electric vehicle] batteries. Copper is also really important for defense materials and all the tools we need for national security, and in building microchips. So it is in the interests in the Department of the Interior and the White House to make this designation. We’ve made that case to them.”