A newly launched Campaign for Cooperation, spearheaded by CooperationWorks!, is advocating for the passage of the National Cooperative Development Act of 2011, soon to be introduced in the House by Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA). If passed, the bill would allocate federal funding to spur cooperative economic development in the communities where it is most needed, by providing loans to new and existing cooperatives, but also by helping member-owned businesses thrive by building local cooperative development centers and developing programs to provide crucial technical assistance. In the midst of widespread unemployment and massive disinvestment in low-income communities, we are excited to see legislative leaders putting creative solutions to build community wealth—like those contained in the National Cooperative Development Act and our own “Rebuilding America’s Communities: A Comprehensive Community Wealth Building Federal Policy Proposal”—on the table.
Rep. Fattah, in an interview with the Cooperative Business Journal, makes a strong case for cooperatives an effective answer to a pressing set of demands:
I think it’s an exciting time for co-ops. And as we think about the economic challenges that the country faces, obviously, co-ops provide an opportunity for us to employ more people, to provide better services whether its food, housing, healthcare, recreation materials and equipment, insurance products, electricity, you name it, co-ops are providing it today and doing it at affordable rates with quality goods and services. So we want to expand that and make sure that the federal government is a friend of the co-op movement and has a welcoming sign on the door.
Importantly, coops, based in principles of democratic ownership, have the potential to appeal to legislators on both sides of the aisle; Fattah anticipates “[getting] a bipartisan group of members to be original cosponsors to this legislation.”
Fattah also notes that, in his home city of Philadelphia and elsewhere, food coops are on the rise as way to meet the challenges of providing quality, affordable food in neighborhoods ("food deserts") where traditional business models cannot meet the needs of the community. Similarly, a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer traces the recent upsurge in food coop projects in Philadelphia—where the number of coops is set to double in the near future—both to a rising desire to eat locally grown, organically produced food and to the dissatisfaction with conventional economic wisdom in the wake of the financial and unemployment crisis. Legislation like the National Cooperative Development Act, though initially modest in the amount of federal money it will make available for cooperative development, points towards a future where creative, community-driven solutions to the interlocking problems of economic and ecological sustainability, like those at work in Philadelphia’s growing food coop sector, might enjoy widespread support at the national policy level.