Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, I rise today to join my colleagues to speak about the need to ensure the policies that we make in this chamber work for and support rural America. Senators Stabenow, Heitkamp, and myself are all from the midwest, the heartland, and we represent the people who are truly in the middle of this country economically, the middle of the country politically, and often middle-income and people who need representatives who are focused on what matters to them.
Each year, Mr. President, I visit all 87 countries in my state, and I hear a lot. I hear about dads who can't be sure that their sons or daughters will have the support that they need to take over the family farm when the time comes. Small business owners who can't get a broadband connection. Moms who can't figure out how to pay for their kids' prescriptions when the costs double. Manufacturers who can't find workers to fill the jobs.
Rural America has felt left behind. The poverty rate in their areas for kids is higher than it is in urban areas. Businesses may not invest when they can't get reliable internet access. Or they can't get the right people to support their operations. Housing is hard to come by. We should be focused on supporting our farmers and ensuring people can raise a family in a small town, and have the health care they need. We should be making sure that high-quality education is attainable and job training options are available and affordable. We should be able to provide every person in this country with a clear path to a good job.
Unfortunately, from the Administration we have seen a disconnect between rhetoric and policy. We've seen a budget that hits the heartland with 21 percent cuts to the department of agriculture, cuts to grant programs that support rural homeownership, provide clean drinking water and wasterwater systems, and promote access to critical services, such as rural hospitals. It eliminates rural business programs that help create hundreds of thousands of jobs. If enacted, these cuts would have a damaging impact on rural communities throughout the country.
Rural communities help our country get ahead. They are the backbone of our country, and we need to work to find common ground on these issues. And we need a budget that helps and not hurts the heartland.
I see my colleague from Michigan, Senator Stabenow, is here as well. While I join Senator Stabenow in her remarks, I want to thank her for her tremendous leadership in the agriculture committee working across the aisle with Chairman Roberts. The two of them, I have no doubt, will be able to come to an agreement and keep working on getting an even stronger Farm Bill. It took some herculean efforts to get the last Farm Bill done. It wouldn't have happened without her. I appreciate what she said--the importance of the Farm Bill and the USDA.
I'd also add another important pillar of strong economics and that is job training--starting with high school. I think we all have to come to grips with the fact that not every kid wants to get a four-year degress. We have some openings across this country, millions of openings for a job--whether it be on a plant floor, whether it be as a plumber or a welder--that a one-year, two-year degree--my own sister didn't graduate from high school. She went on years later and got her GED, and then went onto get a two-year degree, and then went on and got some training and became an accountant.
There isn't just one path in America. Part of this investing in STEM, doing it early so that kids get a jump-start. This isn't just your PH.D.'s and Silicon Valley jobs. This also includes blue-collar jobs. I call it blue STEM. We need to talk about them with dignity, and we have to realize that's where the openings are.
The other piece of this, in addition to training kids in high school is to make sure we have apprenticeship programs available. This year a report came out in my state. Sixty-eight percent of Minnesota manufacturers said it was difficult for them to find workers with the right skills and experience. That's up from 40 percent in 2010. I think Senator Heitkamp is here. As they're starting to add some more jobs in the oil patch in Minnesota, it's going to be even harder for our people in Minnesota to fill our jobs.
The American Apprenticeship Act would expand pre-apprenticeship programs. The President has talked about workforce development as a priority, yet we've seen a cut--15 percent cut--in the cut to the Department of Education grants for career and technical education, as well as a 36 percent cut to Labor Department funding for training and employment services. As I noted before, there is this disconnect between the rehetoric we hear and what we're seeing in black and white in this budget.
I know there's people from both sides of the aisle here, including the Senator from North Dakota, that want to work on bridging that difference and get a good budget done that really helps rural America. I see Senator Heitkamp is here and thank her for coming as well. Senator Heitkamp serves on the agriculture committee, was an integral part of the last Farm Bill and will be an integral part of this, as well as really understanding the economics in a rural state.
Mr. President, again thanking Senator Heitkamp for her understanding not just of farm policy, but also of the importance of keeping towns strong, manufacturing strong, and transportation strong. And I will note that the infrastructure portions of this budget are concerning. Right now the proposed budget, at a time when our deteriorating infrastructure is costing our economy a lot of money--not just congestion, not just potholes, but in delays and getting goods to market. Unfortunately, this budget proposal would cut funding for vital transportation programs. It eliminates funding for the TIGER grant program. Currently, the program provides $500 million per year to fund local transportation priorities. It eliminates funding for essential air service, which funds light-rail, street car, and bus rapid transit projects. We can't wait any longer to make the critical investments in our infrastructure.
And probably right up there of any of these infrastructure needs in rural America is broadband. Internet access is a great equalizing force for creating jobs and leveling the playing field. Yet there is a big digital gap when it comes to rural America. I know the percentages, but close to 40 percent of Americans in rural areas do not have access to high-speed broadband. It used to be just slow-speed would be okay. That's not true anymore. Now if you want to do your work, if you want to go to the hospital, whatever you want to do in rural America, you're going to have to have high-speed internet.
I think about the doctor up in Brainerd, Minnesota, who for so long, yes, he could look at x-rays in the hospital, but he couldn't look at them in his home if he had some emergency and wanted to talk to someone when he got home that evening. He had to go to the McDonald's parking lot to be able to do that. Or the student at one of our reservations who got WiFi in his house and looked out the window and all of a sudden there are all of these kids doing homework in his front yard. That's just not right. Rural Americans deserve equal facilities so they can launch businesses or just Skype with their friends.
This is about making sure that the budget works for all Americans. That it leaves no one behind. Sadly, these cuts are specifically targeted at rural America. That's why we're going to fight to make sure, and hopefully on a bipartisan basis with our colleagues on the Republican side, that we produce a budget that's fair to everyone. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.MS. KLOBUCHAR: THANK YOU, MR. PRESIDENT. MR. PRESIDENT, I RISE TODAY TO JOIN MY COLLEAGUES TO SPEAK ABOUT THENEED TO ENSURE THAT THE POLICIES THAT