Uniting Our Voices In Support Of Vital Appalachian Regional Programs

By Andrew Feight, Abby Spears, Cody Leightenheimer and Barbara Cowley-Durst

Federal funding for fixing our area’s roads, supporting community health outreach, providing job training, creating and maintaining affordable housing, and other projects important to our community may soon be taken away.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), which in 2014 provided $589 billion in grants directly to states, localities, individuals, and nonprofits to help areas such as ours, is not included in the budget proposal President Trump submitted to Congress last month. Although a President’s budget is more of a message than a plan – Congress has responsibility for actually developing our nation’s budget – the elimination of funding for the ARC would severely impact Scioto, Adams and other Appalachian counties.

What sort of message does the President’s proposal send to us? It’s not a good one. And it’s a big surprise because we expected him to work for us. He promised that he would help our “forgotten” areas. But according to his Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney, in The Atlantic recently, President Trump is likely unaware of ARC’s importance to us.

Our governor (John Kasich) and our senators (Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown) know full well what the ARC does and the support it has provided us over 50 years. They know that eliminating ARC funding would be disastrous for our area and all the 32 Ohio counties the ARC serves (covering seven congressional districts). That means it is up to us to support our governor, senators, representatives, and local officials in fighting for a budget that includes the ARC and to make our needs known.

The ARC is important even to those of us who are not aware of its existence. Along with Ohio, 12 other states are helped by the ARC: all of W. Va., and parts of Penn., Ky., Ala., Ga., M.D., Miss., N.Y., N.C., S.C., Tenn., and Va. Since the ARC was created in 1965 as part of LBJ’s War on Poverty, the overall poverty rate in these 13 Appalachian states has decreased from 30% to 17%. A recent ARC report states that ARC investments have created 312,000 jobs since its creation. And the number of high-poverty counties in Appalachia has dropped from 295 in 1960 to 84 in 2017.

The money given to Ohio through the ARC has been well spent. For instance, our state received $4 million in 2016 and our law makers and civil servants leveraged that investment to get additional state and private money. The result was 50 ARC projects in 2016 worth $61.6 million that created or saved 2,531 jobs, according to Bret Allphin, development director of the Buckeye-Hill-Hocking Valley Regional Development District, in an April 20th article on the impact of eliminating the ARC on rural Ohio.

Although we perhaps would like to see state and local government, as well as private business, play a bigger role in helping us address our community needs, the truth is that state and local property taxes would have to double or triple to make up for the loss of federal help provided through the ARC. And business in our area is just not yet strong enough to make up for any significant portion of the shortfall.

Relying on state, local and private funding is just not a workable solution for us. And we are not alone: A majority of other rural counties in Ohio and the U.S. have still not recovered from the 2008 recession – three out of four rural counties are still struggling. The elimination of the ARC would throw us and other rural communities into dire distress.

Sadly, there is an emerging pattern of neglect and eventual harm in the Trump administration’s approach to rural communities.

The Appalachian Regional Commission is not the only program to be targeted for elimination in the President’s budget. If that budget is adopted by Congress, lack of money for fixing roads and sewer systems and for supporting community health and job training projects will not be the only problem on our hands.

In fact, will also see vital programs such as Meals on Wheels cut and farm subsidies reduced significantly. In all, 62 rural agency programs are cut or eliminated in the President’s proposed budget. And we know that Medicaid is also being targeted.

We were called the “forgotten” people and President Trump was going to help us become great again. The budget he announced this past month tells us otherwise. We must find a way to unite our voices in support of the issues that are critical to the well-being of our communities and our neighbors. Let’s start by raising our voices in support of protecting the Appalachian Regional Commission.

By Andrew Feight, Abby Spears, Cody Leightenheimer and Barbara Cowley-Durst