Sens. Tina Smith, D-Minn., Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., lauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture for filling the new role of rural health liaison to help improve rural health care — something the bipartisan group of senators pushed to include in the Farm Bill, according to a news release Thursday, Feb. 20.

Smith, Jones and Rounds first introduced the Rural Health Liaison Act to create a liaison with the USDA to better coordinate rural health resources across the federal government and improve health care delivery for Minnesotans and people across the country living in rural areas.

Last year, Smith and Craig, both members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, respectively, pushed both USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to quickly fill the new position and make it a central part of federal health efforts. The USDA has finally heeded that call and designated Betty-Ann Bryce to serve as USDA’s Rural Health Liaison.

“The first issue that comes up when I meet with farmers, rural business and community leaders, is health care,” Smith stated in a news release. “I fought to create this position because together, the USDA and HHS can do more to help rural communities tackle health care challenges and families access the care they need. As a member of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, I worked to get our legislation in the Farm Bill, and urged USDA and HHS to quickly fill the position. I’m glad we delivered on this and I’ll always work to advocate on behalf of rural health care and infrastructure needs.”

“Addressing mental health is a critical part of keeping our communities healthy, but unfortunately, people living in rural areas often struggle to find available providers and open facilities in times of need,” Craig stated in the release. “I’ve fought for the Rural Health Liaison as a first step to expand critical resources in the Second District and make sure everyone has access to the services they need to stay healthy.”