Rep. Terri Sewell describes herself as “a proud product” of Alabama’s Black Belt, a rural region known for its rich soil, persistent poverty and history as fertile ground for the civil rights and voting rights movements.

Sewell made history herself as the first Black woman ever to serve in the Alabama congressional delegation. Now in her sixth term, the Democratic congresswoman has prioritized creating jobs and providing economic opportunities for her constituents.

As part of that agenda, Sewell has emerged as a champion for the electric cooperatives that serve the rural residents she represents.

In 2019, she played a key role in supporting co-ops as the lead Democratic House sponsor of the RURAL Act. The bipartisan bill prevented co-ops from losing their tax-exempt status when they accept government grants to rebuild after natural disasters, provide broadband service to rural communities or develop clean energy projects.

“I serve communities across Alabama’s Black Belt that face persistent poverty,” Sewell said in an interview with NRECA in September 2019. “They depend on these rural cooperatives for reliable electricity and broadband service, and they are particularly vulnerable to anything that would increase price. These things are basic necessities. The tax-exempt status of the co-ops really ensures that these families get the critical services that they need.”

Sewell’s strong advocacy for the crucial bill, along with her consistent support for Alabama co-ops, earned the congresswoman the 2020 Eminent Service Award from the Alabama Rural Electric Association. The award was established in the 1960s to honor outstanding contributions to the rural electric program.

“Congresswoman Sewell remembers her roots of growing up in rural Alabama as she truly represents her district and the state each day,” says Karl Rayborn, president and CEO of the association.

Sewell also has been a strong supporter of expanding high-speed internet service to rural communities. She is a co-sponsor of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act introduced in March by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. The bill would invest $94 billion to build broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to help close the digital divide.

“Communities across Alabama’s 7th Congressional District rely on the services provided by rural electric cooperatives, including clean, affordable energy, the deployment of rural broadband and economic development and improved resiliency after natural disasters,” Sewell says. “As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and numerous natural disasters across my district, there is increased urgency to ensure that rural communities have access to reliable and affordable broadband. I will continue to support our rural electric cooperatives so that they can continue to provide these invaluable services to boost local economies and support families across Alabama.”

Clyburn, who serves as majority whip, chose Sewell to be chief deputy whip in the current session of Congress. She serves on the Rural Broadband Task Force and co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional Rural Caucus along with Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., the other lead sponsor of the RURAL Act.