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Boozman, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Allow Rural Electric Co-ops, Telecom Providers to Refinance Rural Utility Service Debt

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, legislation that would allow electric cooperatives and small, rural telecommunications providers to refinance their Rural Utilities Service (RUS) debt at lower interest rates.

By taking advantage of current lower interest rates, rural cooperatives and businesses would gain flexibility in managing their cash flow, allowing them to invest in rural communities and pass savings on to customers. At the same time, the bill would enable a stronger recovery from the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural cooperatives and businesses have struggled throughout the pandemic as a result of a decline in electricity consumption from industrial sources and an increase in unpaid bills from customers who have faced financial hardship.

Under current law, the RUS charges significant penalties when borrowers refinance their loans—an option which is allowed only under narrow circumstances. Rural electric cooperatives currently hold approximately $43 billion in RUS Electric Loans, and small, rural broadband providers hold about $3 billion in RUS Telecom Loans. The savings from the senators’ legislation would amount to approximately $2 million per year for the average rural electric cooperative, helping to sustain the organizations through current economic challenges and empowering greater investment in local communities.

The bill was introduced on Thursday by Senator John Hoeven (R-ND). In addition to Boozman, it is cosponsored by Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Representatives Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) introduced identical legislation in the House of Representatives.

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