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New Homestead Act


CNN Money released an article on this date in 2004 outlining aspects of the proposed New Homestead Acts in North Dakota and Kansas. Titled “Free Land in the Heartland,” the article documented the states’ attempts to lure “21st century pioneers” into depopulated rural areas. NPR investigated the story in 2003, and this past summer, the New York Times revisited the idea yet again.

So what is the New Homestead Act? In truth, the New Homestead Act is no longer an “Act,” nor a law. It originated in March of 2003, when Senators Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska introduced legislation into the U.S. Senate aimed at drawing people to live in rural Midwestern areas. Dorgan claimed that between 2000 and 2005, 47 of North Dakota’s 53 counties lost population; the state’s population in the 1930s was higher than it is today. Taking inspiration from the 1862 Homestead Act that lured pioneers to the Great Plains with the promise of 160 acres of free land, the legislators titled the proposed package the “New Homestead Act.”

Combining tax breaks, financial incentives, and even college loan forgiveness, the act was a refurbished version of Oklahoma Representative Brad Carson’s 2002 Economic Opportunity Act. But neither bill passed the committee stage and they failed to become laws.

Dorgan reintroduced the bill in 2005 and 2007, and Representative Earl Pomeroy introduced similar legislation, but the bills never did gain widespread support. However, some provisions from the act were later incorporated into legislation that did pass, and have become incentives for rural relocation, including home-buying tax credits and college loan repayment plans.

Most recently, rural areas have taken matters into their own hands, offering incentives on the local level. Certain townships and counties in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and North Dakota, have begun to offer free land, tax breaks, and other incentives. Six counties in northwestern North Dakota formed the Northwest North Dakota Marketing Alliance to attract newcomers, creating prairie opportunity dot com ( to highlight the benefits of their corner of the state. Certain townships, including Crosby, have even offered free land to new residents willing to build homes on the empty lots, in a modern twist on the original 1862 Homestead Act.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job