Wicker talks community investment, growth during Statewide visits

Published 7:00 am Thursday, April 12, 2018

By Roger Wicker 

This Easter was a special time to spend in Mississippi, with the dogwood and redbud trees in full bloom.  Every year, the spring state work period for members of Congress coincides with the holiday, offering an opportunity for me to make local visits across Mississippi.

Those visits led to a wide range of conversations as I spoke with state associations, small business owners, and civic groups in Jackson, Laurel, Corinth, McComb, Natchez, Brookhaven, and Pascagoula.  In every region of the state, Mississippians are working to grow and improve our communities, recognizing that progress is best generated from the ground up.

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One statewide example is the ongoing effort to equip our rural communities with better infrastructure and technology.  At the end of March, I attended the annual conferences for both the Mississippi Telehealth Association and the Mississippi Rural Water Association.  The well-attended gatherings in Jackson demonstrated a strong commitment from local leaders to expand rural residents’ access to quality health care and water services.

At the telehealth event, I explained some of my work at the federal level to maximize the reach of telehealth services and foster the necessary broadband deployment to support this life-saving technology.  I was pleased to report that Congress had passed my provisions to eliminate some restrictions on telehealth for Medicare patients, who deserve access to these services.  Congress should follow suit with my “SPEED Act” – a bill to expedite the permitting process for communication providers who want to deliver high-speed internet to the areas that need it most.   Likewise, I had some good news to report to the Mississippi Rural Water Association.  During the last Congress, I was successful in getting legislation passed that would provide technical assistance to the small and rural communities that need help complying with federal drinking water requirements.  Congress recently approved funding to implement this legislation, giving our rural communities key tools and training for providing quality water infrastructure.  I am now working to pass a similar bill supporting technical assistance for our country’s small- and medium-size wastewater treatment plants.  So far, my bill has received approval by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Access to health care and access to safe, dependable water are critical for our communities to endure and thrive.  They are foundational to public health and well-being.  These basic services can also help draw potential investors who are looking to do business in places where people want to live and work.  We want job creators to notice Mississippi’s communities, and we can do that by making our communities the best they can possibly be. Economic development is always a priority, but our efforts to encourage job-creating investment seem especially opportune now.  Nationally, positive economic news has no doubt helped inspire high business and consumer confidence.  Our country’s unemployment rate is low, and the U.S. workforce is larger than ever.  Thanks to the major tax cuts that Republicans passed in Congress last year, Americans are seeing more in their paychecks and companies have more reasons to turn toward their investment ideas.  We do not want Mississippi communities to miss out.