NRECA CEO Jim Matheson thanked electric cooperative leaders for coming to Washington for the 2018 NRECA Legislative Conference and for their work in building relationships with policymakers that improve their members’ lives every day.

“That’s so important that you are here today,” he told the more than 2,000 participants from co-ops across the country on April 10. “Thank you for your role and being here and advocating for rural electric cooperatives.”

Matheson noted that political engagement helped secure $600 million for rural broadband loans and grants from U.S. Department of Agriculture in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in March. That bill also included $5.5 billion for the USDA electric loan program, funding for continued NRECA cybersecurity research and provisions streamlining vegetation management on federal lands.

Co-ops’ work in political engagement must continue, however, given that dozens of members of Congress are leaving office at the end of their terms.

“We are going to have a bunch of new faces in Washington,” Matheson said, urging co-op leaders to engage with candidates now “so they know us and know our policy issues before the elections.”

Meeting with the media at the conference, Matheson called the $600 million for USDA to implement rural broadband “a good start. It’s important to have a loan/grant combination adequate for broadband. In sparse, low-density areas, it’s going to take more than a loan,” Matheson said.

NRECA supports population density as criteria to determine the loan and grant amounts for rural broadband. “We are having conversations about how to allocate funds based on density. That’s the paradigm. If there’s a really low-density area, it is going to need a grant to make broadband work,” Matheson said.

NRECA and electric co-ops are pursuing legislation in multiple areas to aid the development of high-speed internet, including the Farm Bill and the administration’s proposed infrastructure bill.

“We are all for investment in rural America. Whatever vehicle is moving through Congress, it doesn’t change the policy we are pursuing,” he said.