JAMESTOWN — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was at Jamestown Community College Monday to announce her legislation that would prioritize federal investment for rural communities and small towns across New York state.

The aim of the Rebuild Rural America Act is to improve the way the federal government supports development projects in small towns and rural communities in order to better fit their specific needs.

“Rural communities are at the very heart of New York, and their development is key to helping our state, and our nation, succeed,” the Democratic senator said. “These communities face complex challenges that demand comprehensive solutions and long-term planning, but the current federal grant system is too narrow and inflexible to truly address their specific needs.”

Gillibrand said the nation has to reimagine how the federal government partners with and invests in rural communities. Her bill would encourage rural communities to come together as a region and rebuild their economies with the support and flexibility of a consistent federal funding source.

Richard Zink, executive director of the economic development agency Southern Tier West, said Gillibrand’s proposed bill “would serve as a critical locally managed and implemented one-stop resource providing timely, flexible, and impactful results for our region.”

Some highlights of the Rebuild Rural America Act:

n Create a new $50 billion grant program, the Rural Future Partnership Fund, to provide non-competitive, five-year, renewable block grants to certified rural regions to implement locally-developed regional revitalization plans.

n Funding will be allocated proportionately based on the population of each region, with an increased allocation for regions that include areas that have a poverty rate greater than 20 percent.

n Eligible regions include those with a central community of 10,000 to 50,000 people, collections of rural census tracts or counties outside of regions with a central community of 10,000 to 50,000 people, and Indian reservations. States, in coordination with USDA, will certify the regions’ participation in the program.

n Encourage rural regions to develop comprehensive, collaborative, and locally-driven community and economic development plans that revitalize infrastructure, provide support for public services and job training, and foster local entrepreneurship.

n Require interested rural regions to form a Regional Rural Partnership Council that brings together local leaders, elected officials, economic development organizations, cooperatives, higher education institutions, foundations, and other entities important to regional development.

n Establish a State-by-State Rural Innovation and Partnership Administration to oversee this new program and offer hands-on help to local leaders.

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@oleantimesherald.com.)