Our Rural Communities
We must protect our rural way of life in East Tennessee and across our country. I’ve had many conversations with family farmers, agriculture producers, small business owners, and rural residents about their priorities in Washington. This includes supporting legislation and policies that preserve land, advance responsible conservation, and empower our agricultural communities which provide our vital food supply. I believe that internet connectivity can be made more accessible and affordable and that we can utilize rural connectivity to enhance the personalization of health care serving rural communities.
Currently, millions of rural Americans, many of whom live right here in East Tennessee, lack access to reliable broadband service, telework capabilities, and telehealth services. The COVID-19 public health emergency has further exposed the significant digital divide effecting rural communities like ours.
For this reason, I joined the House Rural Broadband Caucus which works in a bipartisan manner to promote broadband deployment. The Caucus hosts issue-based panels and briefings with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) leadership and over time has secured billions of dollars to expand internet access to rural areas.
To support continued investment in rural broadband, I signed a bipartisan letter that requests robust funding for the ReConnect Program and the Rural Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program in Fiscal Year 2022’s U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Appropriations bill and cosponsored an amendment expanding ReConnect access to additional rural areas by raising the minimum upload and download speeds. The ReConnect Program provides loans and grants for the construction and improvement of rural broadband infrastructure. The Rural Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program provides loans, loan guarantees, and grants for the development construction improvement and acquisition of facilities and equipment to expand broadband access. These programs are an investment in internet service that supports our community in East Tennessee.
One of the problems that rural communities run into when trying to build up broadband infrastructure is meeting the federally required cost matching requirements for grant funding. To help combat this I signed on as a cosponsor to the EBRIDGE Act. The EBRIDGE Act allows for local communities to partner with the private sector to comply with their cost matching requirements.
Earlier this year, I joined a bipartisan, bicameral congressional coalition in signing a letter to then FCC Chairman Ajit Pai about the funding authorized in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction that included $9.2 billion in funding to be awarded with the intention of serving the more than 4.2 million unserved locations across rural America. The letter requested transparency and accountability in those awards, including thorough vetting of the Phase 1 auction winners. More specifically, the letter sought to ensure the FCC validates that each provider has the capacity to deliver the service that they pledged.
One of the many successes of President Trump’s signature tax reform was the development of “Opportunity Zones.” Opportunity Zones are designated localized areas that could achieve economic development with the help of tax incentives. Building off the successes of Opportunity Zones, the idea of “Gigabit Opportunity Zones” was coined by my colleague Rep. Kat Cammack, who authored H.R. 3377, the Gigabit Opportunity Act. I signed on as a cosponsor because I believe that with tax incentives, broadband companies are likely to expand access to broadband in East Tennessee.
After meeting with stakeholders from local rural utility cooperatives and representatives from the Tennessee Broadband Association, I added my name as a cosponsor to H.R. 2244, the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act.
Many of our rural utility and electric cooperatives utilize the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) Electric Loan Program to finance projects. In many instances, rural electric cooperatives took out loans when interest rates were higher and are now paying above market interest rates without the ability to refinance. H.R. 2244 would allow rural electric cooperatives who utilize the RUS Electric Loan Program to renegotiate their interest rates to match the current market, allowing for additional infrastructure investment and savings that can be passed on to Tennesseans.
Tennessee is home to nearly 70,000 farms and 160 farmers markets statewide. As a farm owner, I understand many of the issues affecting this industry and will continue to meet with farmers and our local Farm Bureaus to identify ways to better support this important industry. I will seek solutions in Congress that alleviate burdens and mitigate unintended, broader consequences.
Supporting Tennessee’s Chicken Farmers
Our friends at the Tennessee Farm Bureau and the Tennessee Poultry Association shared with me their concerns about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s delay in providing direct payments to chicken farmers. These direct payments were ALREADY authorized in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2021 that was signed into law by President Trump. For that reason, I joined my fellow Tennessee Representatives John Rose, David Kustoff, and Chuck Fleischmann, among others, in sending a letter to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack to help correct this.
Poultry (chicken, eggs, etc.) production has the largest economic impact of all livestock in our state which highlights the urgency in our letter requesting that the Agriculture Department speed up their rulemaking process to provide this relief to our farmers. This is vitally important as our Tennessee poultry industry has an overall economic impact in the billions and provides more than 27,000 direct and indirect jobs and accounts for over $438 million paid annually in state and federal taxes.
Supporting Tennessee’s Cattle Farmers
In June, I heard from our Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association and the Tennessee Farm Bureau about the importance of ensuring that our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and producers operate in transparent markets, which in turn help feed American families. That’s why I joined my fellow Tennessee Representatives Scott DesJarlais, John Rose, and Chuck Fleischmann, among others, insending a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) about the importance of the DOJ providing timely updates on their findings from President Trump’s civil investigative demands issued last year to the four largest meatpackers due to concerns of anti-competitive conduct within the beef industry.
Market clarity and transparency are especially important for our local farmers given beef cattle are produced in every single one of our counties and ranks as the second highest total source of revenue for our farmers here in Tennessee.
Eliminating Farm-Killing Taxes
As a first-generation small business owner, I know how important it is to be able to pass on a family legacy. I feel immense pride in seeing my son follow me in the pharmacy profession and I want our pharmacy to be there in the future for my two grandsons as well. Repealing estate and generation-skipping transfer taxes would protect family-owned businesses including farms. For that reason, I cosponsored H.R. 1712, the Death Tax Repeal Act.
Unfortunately, the Biden Administration does not agree and is advancing tax proposals that will harm our agriculture and small business communities. The first harmful tax proposal involves the Stepped-up Basis provision, which if repealed, would make the current generation responsible for multiple generations-worth of financial gains from the time a farm, small business, or home was first obtained by their family. The second misguided tax hike proposal would install a new capital gains tax at death which would incentivize selling off farms and businesses to pay the tax, hurting job creation and continuing the takeover of small farms and small businesses by large corporations. For this reason, I joined many of my colleagues in signing a letter to Congressional House Leadership urging them not to even consider either of the job-killing Biden Administration tax proposals as an offset for spending in any infrastructure legislation under consideration by Congress.
The Biden Administration is not just proposing taxes that hurt farmers ability to pass on their family farms, they’re also making them harder to operate. Like-kind exchanges allow for taxpayers to defer taxes on unrealized gains. In layman’s terms, if a farmer sells a piece of land and uses that money to buy different land or other business assets, the farmer does not need to pay taxes on the sale since the sale did not result in a monetary profit. The Biden Administration is proposing a cap on like-kind exchanges. I know that capping like-kind exchanges will hurt our farmers and other businesses so I signed a letter to the President letting him know just how damaging his plan to cap like-kind exchanges would be to our farmers.
Supporting Reasonable Water Regulations
The Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule ended decades of uncertainty over where federal jurisdiction begins and ends and the difference between federally protected wetlands and those that are state protected. It also ensured that America’s water protections remain strong, while giving our states and tribes the certainty to manage their waters in ways that best protect their natural resources and local economies. This rule further serves to protect our nation's navigable waters from pollution enabling economic growth across the country. I have taken multiple measures to ensure the continuation of this rule. I am a co-sponsor of H.Res. 318. This resolution, also supported by our Tennessee Farm Bureau, reflects the sentiment of Congress that the Navigable Waters Protection Rule implemented by President Trump should not be withdrawn or vacated. As a co-sponsor, I was also quick to spring into action to voice my opposition to the Biden Administration’s June announcement that they intend to revise it. Most recently, I cosponsored an Amendment in the Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations package to prevent the Biden Administration from using funds to eliminate the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. This will continue to be a priority of mine in Congress.
I am a proud member of the House Rural Health Care Coalition. In this role I work with my colleagues to advocate for legislation that gives rural hospitals and clinics the support they need to increase access to care. Ensuring access to providers including healthcare professionals, ambulances, and rural outpatient hospitals is vital to the long-term sustainability of rural communities.
To advance personalized rural health care solutions, I co-sponsored and support:
H.R. 2168, the Expanded Telehealth Access Act of 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that patients don’t always need to travel to a doctor’s office to receive care. Expanding the availability of telehealth services will help folks in rural areas have greater access to medical care without having to travel across the state. This legislation would amend the Social Security Act to make permanent the Medicare telehealth reimbursement eligibility guidelines that the Trump Administration temporarily expanded for Medicare patients and certain practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Telehealth technologies proved their worth connecting patients with providers when virus containment measures restricted access to medical services. The FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program provides funding to help health care providers offer care to patients in their homes or at mobile locations in response to the pandemic. Therefore, I joined many of my colleagues in signing a letter to the FCC’s Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel requesting the Commission prioritize rural areas.
The Opioid Epidemic has taken a devastating toll on families in East Tennessee. To fight this epidemic I joined the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force. This Task Force is aimed at developing and supporting policies to address addiction to any substance and to recognize the interconnectedness of addiction and mental health.
I have met with many medical professionals and law enforcement officers in East Tennessee and share their concerns that drug-related overdoses, especially those attributed to opioids and fentanyl, continue to surge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that fentanyl overdose deaths rose nearly 40 percent from May 2019 — May 2020, the largest spike of any drug.
China remains a key supplier of fentanyl precursor chemicals that Mexican cartels use to produce the large quantities of fentanyl that they are smuggling into the United States. This is why I joined as a cosponsor to the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues Act (H.R. 2209), legislation that would permanently classify certain fentanyl analogues as schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.