Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives have about $700,000 more a year to spend on improving service to their members because of Rep. Ron Kind.

The Democratic congressman was the lead sponsor of the SECURE Act, a successful 2019 bill that dramatically reduced the amount of pension insurance premiums that not-for-profit co-ops had to pay to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

The change reflected the low risk that co-ops would ever default on their pension payments. Nationwide, it saved co-ops more than $30 million annually, giving them more money to spend on upgrading their systems and keeping their rates affordable for consumer-members. It also made it more economical for co-ops to continue offering pensions to their employees.

Kind’s success in pushing the bill through Congress was just one reason the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association gave the congressman its Champion of Electric Cooperatives Award for 2020.

“Congressman Kind represents one of Wisconsin’s largest congressional districts, but he always treated his electric cooperative constituents like they were his next-door neighbors,” says Stephen Freese, president and CEO of the statewide association. “Ron has been extraordinary to work with on electric cooperative issues. He has never once not stepped up to help us. His help was never just lip service; he was all in to make it happen for electric cooperatives over and over again.”

Kind, a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, was a key supporter of the RURAL Act, which passed in late 2019 and preserved co-ops’ tax-exempt status when they accept government grants.

This year, the congressman is a co-sponsor of the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act. The bill could save co-ops more than $10 billion by allowing them to refinance their federal Rural Utilities Service loans at today’s low interest rates without being hit with prepayment penalties.

Kind has fought to ensure that co-ops receive relief throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, he supported the HEROES Act, which made co-ops eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program and provided funding for rural broadband deployment.

The congressman owns property served by Jackson Electric Cooperative of Black River Falls and said he understands the important role that co-ops play in his district.

“These cooperatives ensure farms, homes and businesses across Wisconsin have access to reliable and affordable electricity and help keep our rural economies competitive,” Kind says. “The positive impact electric cooperatives and their members have on our local communities and their dedication to bettering quality of life for neighbors and friends is truly commendable.”

In August, the 58-year-old lawmaker announced that he would not seek re-election to a 14th term in 2022.

“Congressman Kind would regularly call me in between our in-person meetings to keep up to date on what was going on with electric cooperatives in his district and to see if we needed his help,” Freese says. “We are clearly going to miss his going the extra mile for his electric cooperative constituents.”