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Our view: Rural issues nab attention

Various state officials have scouted rural Illinois’ problems and hope to offer solutions. We wish them good luck.

Issues important to rural Illinoisans are on the radar for three state bodies as August has arrived.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon released a hefty report last month to the Rural Affairs Council, a 25-member group charged with developing a strategic plan to improve life in small cities, towns and the countryside.

Simon visited six communities during a rural listening tour in the spring. People in Freeport, Peoria, Quincy, Mattoon, Gibson City and Carbondale gave their views on many concerns.

Using the report’s findings, Simon and the Rural Affairs Council hope to formulate improvements to education funding, job creation and access to affordable health care, among other things. The council also wants to expand local food access and strengthen rural emergency medical services.

Better access to high-speed Internet services and higher rates of college education also are on the wish list.

Over at the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Acting Director Robert Flider wants all households to spend $10 a week on Illinois-produced food products. He announced the “Buy Illinois Challenge” initiative in Effingham.

If Flider’s goal is met, it could mean $2.4 billion in additional sales for Illinois farmers and food producers.

Drought is a major concern for rural Illinois, and the Illinois Drought Response Task Force met to assess the problem, arrange for financial assistance to farmers when possible, and serve as a clearinghouse for drought information.

But the drought task force “can’t make it rain,” as its co-chairman, Arlan Juhl, admitted. And the ag director can’t make people buy Illinois products. And the Rural Affairs Council can’t make the Legislature and governor pass rural-friendly laws.

But the groups can promote state policies, laws and initiatives that might just gain some traction. Good luck to these friends of rural Illinois as they pursue their projects.

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