Rep. Alma Adams serves a largely urban district in North Carolina, but that hasn’t stopped her from championing issues that help rural co-op members.
“That really makes her unique,” says Jay Rouse, director of government affairs at the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives. “Her concern for people transcends the boundaries of her district.”
As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Adams has helped increase funding for the Rural Utilities Service Electric Program, which provides loans to co-ops to expand, upgrade and modernize their systems. The congresswoman is currently a co-sponsor of the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which would enable co-ops to refinance their RUS loans at lower interest rates without being hit with prepayment penalties.
Adams also supported the RURAL Act of 2019, which preserved co-ops’ tax-exempt status when they accept government grants to recover from disasters, provide broadband service or invest in renewable energy projects. If the bill had not passed, some co-ops would have been forced to raise electric rates for members, many of whom get by on modest incomes.
“She is always concerned about people with lower household incomes, no matter where they live,” Rouse says.
Adams’ background as an educator has made her a strong advocate for providing broadband service to students who don’t have access to high-speed internet to do their schoolwork. Electric co-ops are increasingly providing broadband service to rural communities that are too sparsely populated to attract for-profit providers.
“She’s always asking me about broadband and about what progress is being made in the unserved and underserved areas,” Rouse says.
For 40 years, Adams taught art history at Bennett College, a private, historically black liberal arts college for women in Greensboro, North Carolina. She has championed legislation to increase funding for historically Black colleges and universities and has introduced bills to provide nutritious breakfasts to school kids and increase pay for teachers. Inspired by Adams, North Carolina’s co-ops have taken up the challenge to reach out to HBCUs with job opportunities.
“North Carolina’s electric cooperatives give so much back to our community, and they’re even members of our partnership challenge for historically Black colleges and universities,” says Adams, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus. “Since my time in the statehouse, I’ve seen how co-ops work to not only keep the lights on for our communities, but to give back to their communities as well. I’m proud to work with them to bridge the divides between urban and rural America, because connections are what our co-ops are all about.”
The congresswoman checks in regularly with North Carolina co-ops to get their take on rural issues, Rouse says.
“I wish every member of Congress would do that,” he says. “I consider her a true friend of electric cooperatives.”
The 74-year-old congresswoman, who is known for her colorful hats, “can outthink anybody half her age and does so on a regular basis,” he says.
“She’s got a lot of energy,” Rouse says. “It’s not easy to keep up with her.”
The co-ops’ strong connection to Adams dates back to her time in the North Carolina General Assembly, where she served 10 terms beginning in 1994. She became chairwoman of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus and led efforts to increase the state’s minimum wage for the first time in nearly a decade.
Before serving in the General Assembly, Adams was a member of the Greensboro City Council for nine years. She began her political career in the 1980s as the first African American woman ever elected to the Greensboro City School Board.
Adams is currently serving her fourth full term in Congress. In addition to serving on the Agriculture Committee, she is a member of the Financial Services Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. She is assistant whip for the Democratic Caucus and co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus.