Friday, March 24, 2017

Rural school districts, especially in Mountain West, continue shift to a 4-day school week

More rural school districts across the U.S. continue to gravitate toward a four-day school week to combat costs and enrich extracurricular development for its students. According to The Atlantic, "the trend has been increasingly popular in the Mountain West region of the country, with 88 districts in Colorado, 30 in Oregon and nearly half of all school districts in Montana shifting to a four-day week." Last year, a small school district in Texas and three school districts in Nevada switched to a four-day week, among others.

"Most of the programs implement a similar schedule, wherein students spend longer days in class Monday through Thursday with the start of their weekends on Friday," Perry Chiaramonte reports for Fox News. But education experts "theorize that the shorter weeks have no positive financial effect on the districts that implemented them."

Chiaramonte talked to Idaho's Boundary County School Supt. Gary Pfleuger, who says that although the four-day week system has been in place for over 10 years, he has mixed feelings about its effectiveness. "There has been a substantial cost savings, but this mostly fell on the backs of our classified employees (lunch, bus, custodial),” Pflueger told him. “Standardized test scores have not shown a significant change due to the change.”

Boundary County is one of 43 Idaho districts that has implemented the four-day school week, which gives them 29 three-day weekends, Chiaramonte writes.

Some districts have seen better-than-expected results after switching to the schedule. "In Newcastle, Okla., the school district, along with nearly 100 others in the state, switched to the shorter week after a $1.3 billion budget crisis," Chiaramonte writes. "Last month, Gov. Mary Fallin urged in her recent State of the State address that schools need to have students in class five days a week, but Newcastle School Supt. Tony O’Brien disagreed, saying that the plan has helped to soften the blow of state budget cuts."

O'Brien told Chiaramonte that his district has saved on substitute teacher costs because teachers don’t have to take a day off for appointments. He also estimates that Newcastle "would save 1 percent to 2 percent of their budget, but they are probably ahead of that figure," Chiaramonte writes.

Small airports ponder the impact of eliminating subsidies for scheduled passenger service

The Essential Air Service program, which provides federal subsidies to airlines that serve airports in lesser-populated areas, may be cut under President's Trump's proposed 2018 budget. EAS, a $175 million program, was put in place after airline deregulation in 1978 to guarantee that airlines would serve smaller communities. Danielle Kaeding of the Wisconsin Public Radio talked to people at the Rhinelander and Chippewa Valley airports, which are among rural communities served through the program.

Associated Press photo
Chippewa Valley Regional Airport Director Charity Zich told Kaeding that United Airlines provides daily flights from the region to Chicago O’Hare and the program helps the airport compete in a global economy. "Around 30 percent of the airports in the country rely on the user-fee funded program to support airline service in 173 communities across 36 states," Zich told her.

In 2011, Mesaba Airlines discontinued its service to Rhinelander, around the same time that the number of passengers using the airport dropped from around 52,000 to 22,000, Kaeding writes. Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport Director Joe Brauer told  Kaeding that EAS "has benefited the airport since 2011, and passengers have been increasing as the economy has improved." Brauer and Zich were confident that eliminating EAS wouldn't make their airports close, because they have many corporate and general-aviation users.

"Trump’s budget states flights through the program aren’t full and have high subsidy costs per passenger. Brauer said the subsidy they receive per passenger has dropped by more than 70 percent as the number of passengers has almost doubled in the last five years to 41,579 last year," Kaeding reports.

Perdue tells senators he has concern about Trump's proposed 21 percent cut to USDA's budget

Sonny Perdue (from video via DTN)
"Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, President Trump’s pick to lead the Agriculture Department, faced pointed questions about the administration’s proposed cuts to rural assistance programs during his otherwise friendly Senate confirmation hearing Thursday," reports Jose DelReal of The Washington Post.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s top Democrat, said Perdue needs to be a champion for rural America President Trump’s first two months have made “clear that rural America has been an afterthought.”

Still, Perdue "seemed to reassure every senator on every issue," Jerry Hagstrom reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer, in a story that focuses on agricultural issues. But she told Hagstrom in an email afterward that she "plans to support him so long as his responses to her remaining questions for the record do not raise concerns." Hagstrrom notes that the National Farmers Union, "the most Democratic-leaning farm group, called for Perdue's 'swift confirmation'."

Trump's proposed budget would cut USDA 21 percent, and Perdue voiced “some concern” over the cuts "and said he would manage those priorities alongside the cuts, though he didn’t specify how," and said he had no influence on the budget because he isn't secretary yet, the Post reports. "He also said he would advocate for expanding broadband development in rural areas and committed to maintaining the Rural Utilities Service program, which supports development of water and waste treatment, electric power and other infrastructure in rural areas." Hagstrom writes that Perdue "said he would treat the budget as he did a lower-than-expected revenue estimate when he was governor of Georgia," saying, "I didn't like it, but I managed within it."

Perdue said "he supports several programs that could face cuts under Trump’s budget, including programs that fund agricultural research, develop infrastructure in rural communities and help landowners preserve soil and water quality," the Post reports. "He said he also supports making it easier for dairy farmers to employ immigrant workers." He "pledged to revamp forestry policy and even promised to try to make it easier for low-income children who get free school meals to get access to summer meals," Hagstrom reports.

Google says it hopes to expand project that puts wi-fi on rural school buses

Thanks to Google, 2,000 students in South Carolina's rural Berkeley County can ride on one of 28 school buses equipped with wi-fi. "The tech giant also has given the school district 1,700 Chromebooks, the stripped-down laptops on which many schoolchildren now do their class and homework," The Associated Press reports.

"Google has at least a decade-long relationship with Berkeley County, where it’s invested more than $1 billion in data center complexes since 2007, bringing more than 100 jobs," AP reports. "Google says it also has awarded nearly $2 billion in grants to local schools and nonprofits."

With more classroom and homework assignments migrating online, Google hopes to expand the use of Wi-Fi on school buses in other rural areas around the country, AP says. Google spokeswoman Lilyn Hester told AP that they will start "in other rural areas where it already has data centers that process search queries and other information," adding that the expansions are also need-based.

Hester told AP officials had mused about the time many students spend on school buses, asking, “Why don’t we make that instructional time?” 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Monthly muckraker marks 25 years in Va. county that seems well served by its local news media

Rockbridge County, Virginia, seems well served by local news media. It has a fine weekly newspaper, The News-Gazette, published by the president of the National Newspaper Association; the Rockbridge Report, an online news outlet with coverage from journalism students at Washington and Lee University, and The Rockbridge Advocate, which for 25 years has offered "an unvarnished version of events in Lexington and Rockbridge County," reports Laurance Hammack of The Roanoke Times.

Doug Harwood delivers copies of his paper in Lexington, Va.
(Photo by Stephanie Klein-Davis, The Roanoke Times)
The Advocate's motto is "Independent as a hog on ice," the ethos of its publisher, Doug Harwood. "Respected by many and reviled by some, Harwood is as much an institution in this town as the newsmakers he covers," Hammack reports. "Harwood, 64, has defied two conventional rules of survival in the journalism world. He seeks out the scandals that many small-town newspapers avoid. And he avoids the use of online news, social media and the like."

Hamamck writes, "Harwood breaks stories that otherwise might never be told. He reported on a local social services agency that ignored cases of child abuse; revealed financial problems at the Natural Bridge attraction; investigated the mysterious death of a young man at a psychiatric hospital; and chronicled misconduct by a county prosecutor and countless other public figures."

W&L communications professor Doug Cumming told Hammack, “If you could clone Doug Harwood and scatter him across the land, it would do so much good for democracy.” Cumming successfully nominated Harwood to the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.

The News-Gazette is a more traditional paper, but it "takes courageous positions for a publication with readers in a blue city and red county," said W&L communications professor Pam Luecke. A recent example was an editorial saying Republicans needed to remove the prohibition of Planned Parenthood funding from their health-care bill.

Trump's budget could end Amtrak in 23 states

President Trump's budget calls for a 13 percent cut—$2.4 billion—to the U.S. Department of Transportation, including eliminating subsidies of Amtrak's long-distance trains, which provide the only passenger service in 23 of 46 states in which it operates, touching many rural areas, Aric Jenkins reports for Fortune. The budget document said long-distance train service long has "been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak's operating losses."

The Associated Press reports that without funding, many of the routes would probably close, because they are not profitable enough. Wick Moorman, president and CEO of Amtrak, said in a statement: "These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and state-supported services."

About 4.6 million passengers rode long-distance routes in fiscal 2016, Glenn Evans reports for the Longview News-Journal in northeast Texas. Amtrak said "ridership on the Texas Eagle route—which connects Chicago with San Antonio via Longview—increased 23.2 percent to 110,970 passengers from October through early January, up from 90,099 passengers a year ago." The daily route stops at several rural towns in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas, and three times per week continues to Los Angeles, stopping in rural areas in New Mexico, Arizona and California. (Amtrak map: Long distance routes are in orange)
In Alabama, one of the 23 states that would lose service, the budget has forced officials in Anniston to put the breaks on a proposed trail rail extension that they hoped would increase tourism and revitalize the local economy, Eddie Burkhalter reports for The Anniston Star. "Trump’s budget outline would either reduce Anniston’s Amtrak service or end it altogether."

"Anniston’s $138,000 portion would extend the city’s Amtrak station platform by 400 feet and allow passengers to load and unload bicycles," Burkhalter writes. "City officials hope that doing so will attract visiting cyclists to the city’s biking opportunities, such as the Coldwater Mountain bike trails and the Chief Ladiga Trail. The city also plans to extend the Chief Ladiga to the train station downtown, and link the station by bicycle path to the trails atop Coldwater."

John Robert Smith, a former mayor of Meridian, Miss., and the current chairman of the board for Transportation for American—a non-profit alliance that pushes for grassroots support of innovative transportation policy in the U.S.—told John Sharp of Alabama Public Media. "It's very strange that an administration that is supposed to be the infrastructure administration, with great commitments to infrastructure and transportation in particular, starts out by decreasing transportation funding by 13 percent."

Utility plans 11 wind farms in seven states

Xcel Energy announced plans for 11 new wind farms in seven states—Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas—that the company says would "save the region’s customers about $8 billion over a 30-year period." Xcel said it "expects to see at least a 45 percent reduction company-wide in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2021, if it is able to fully implement approved and proposed renewable energy plans."

Albuquerque Journal photo
Daniel Cusick reports for Climatewire, "Officials said the new wind-power capacity will come from the construction of company-financed and built wind farms, as well as through power-purchase agreements with independent wind energy developers. The new wind capacity, along with expansions in both utility-scale and distributed solar generation, will help Xcel meet a projected 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2021."

The proposed wind farm in South Dakota, the largest ever there, would bring "an anticipated $1 billion investment to the state," Megan Raposa reports for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls. Xcel said the project "is expected to have more than 100 wind turbines, which will produce enough energy to power more than 300,000 homes. The 600 megawatts expected in the South Dakota farm bring significantly more energy to Xcel customers than existing wind farms, which average 150 to 200 megawatts of wind power."

The wind farm in eastern New Mexico also would be the state's largest, "generating enough power to supply about 194,000 homes per year," Kevin Robinson-Avila reports for the Albuquerque Journal. Xcel, which serves about 385,000 customers in eastern New Mexico and west Texas, where another farm has been proposed, said the two farms would save customers "about $2.8 billion over the next 30 years." (Albuquerque Journal photo)

Farm lobbies urge Trump to avoid trade war with Mexico that could cost U.S. $3 billion a year

Farm interests that helped put President Trump in the White House are asking him "to avoid a trade dispute with Mexico, fearing retaliatory tariffs that could hit over $3 billion in U.S. exports," Jason Lange and Alexandra Alper report for Reuters. John Weber, president of the National Pork Producers Council, said pork producers "contacted Trump's transition team soon after the Nov. 8 election to stress that tariff-free access to Mexico has made it their top export market by volume."

"The council has sent the administration multiple letters, including one signed in January by 133 agricultural organizations, and is arranging for several hog farmers to fly to Washington next month to talk to officials," Reuters reports. "Trump has accused Mexico of destroying U.S. jobs and has vowed to leave the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico if he cannot renegotiate better terms with Mexico."

"In December, after fears of a trade dispute fueled a deep peso slump, Mexico started mapping out U.S. states that are most reliant on its market, replicating the strategy it used in the trucking dispute, said two senior Mexican officials," reports Reuters. "Mexican officials also prepared briefs, seen by Reuters, on Mexico's own risks in a dispute, including losing much of its cost advantage in building cars, such as the Ford Fusion made in Hermosillo, Mexico."

Weber said he fears Mexico "could revive the list of mostly agricultural products it successfully used to push Washington into letting Mexican truckers on U.S. highways in 2011," reports Reuters. "Pork products topped that list and, if revived, the tariffs would apply to over $800 million of annual pork exports, according to data compiled by IHS Markit's Global Trade Atlas." Weber told Reuters, "We'll be the first to take the hit."

Rural communities coast to coast expect thousands of tourists for total solar eclipse Aug. 21

One of the biggest tourist attractions in some rural areas this summer could be in the sky. The Nebraska Tourism Commission expects the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse to bring 4,000 to 10,000 visitors to key viewing locations in the state, David Hendee reports for the Omaha World-Herald. Tourism officials say Nebraska, where more than 200 communities lie in the path of the eclipse, is considered one of the nation's top viewing locations because of "a 74 percent probability of favorable viewing conditions, combined with big, open skies."

"Demand for hotel rooms, bed and breakfasts, and recreational vehicle and tent sites during the eclipse weekend is high in communities in and near the zone of totality, tourism officials say," Hendee writes. Hendee notes that with the eclipse on a Monday it creates even more tourism opportunities, including "the potential for a three-day weekend of travel, eclipse workshops and seminars and community celebrations. Universities from across the nation are sending scientists to set up observation stations. Amateur astronomers are planning star parties." (World-Herald graphic)
Kevin Howard, director of the Alliance Visitors Bureau, said the city of 8,500 in the Nebraska Panhandle, is expecting 10,000 visitors for its 2 minutes and 28 seconds of totality, Hendee writes. "Alliance hotels and RV parks have been booked since August. Plans are in the works to add 800 to 1,000 primitive camping sites. More portable toilets are on order. Restaurants and grocery stores are making plans to stock up. Banks plan to have extra cash on hand. Law enforcement agencies are coordinating how to handle the flow of traffic."

Other rural areas are expecting similar numbers, Hendee writes. Beatrice and nearby Homestead National Monument of America are expecting some of the state’s longest times of totality: 2 minutes and 35 seconds. Lisa Wiegand, Gage County tourism director, told Hendee, “I’ve heard that a lot of people from Omaha will drive in for the day. Tour buses are coming from Iowa. I know of people coming from Scotland. We had people from Kansas come up to buy eclipse glasses for guests they have coming from Japan. Our hotels are 100 percent sold out for Sunday night."

Study says eating less beef lowers emissions; critics say study confuses consumption with production

A decline in beef consumption has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The study found that from 2005-2014, "Americans cut their per-capita diet-related climate-warming pollution by approximately 10 percent." During that same period, "Americans consumed 19 percent less beef, avoiding an estimated 185 million metric tons of climate-warming pollution or roughly the equivalent of the annual tailpipe pollution of 39 million cars." NRDC says "these changes cumulatively avoided approximately 271 million metric tons of climate-warming pollution."

The study said: "Despite a drop in consumption, beef still contributes more climate-warming pollution than any other food in the American diet. In fact, it comprised approximately 34 percent of total dietrelated per capita climate-warming pollution in 2014, the last year for which data is available." (NRDC graphic: Beef consumption and greenhouse gas emissions)
Researchers said "overall diet changes—especially reductions in meat and dairy consumption—cut climate pollution by the equivalent of 57 million cars' annual emissions," Marc Heller reports for Greenwire. "The reason for the effect: Animal agriculture requires large amounts of feed, which takes land and fertilizer to produce. And animals produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas."

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association found fault in the study, saying it "mistakenly seems to equate consumption with beef production," Heller writes. Sara Place, NCBA's senior director of sustainable beef production research, said "the report 'tremendously overstated' the reduction in greenhouse gases, which the association said was closer to 6 percent."

Under fire, journalists must not change mission and standards, SPJ Ethics Committee chair says

At a time of conflict, stress and challenge, journalists must not change their mission and their standards, the chair of the Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee told journalists at the University of Kentucky Wednesday evening.

Andrew Seaman concludes his presentation at the University of Kentucky.
Andrew Seaman, senior health-policy reporter for Reuters, noted that public trust in the news media is at an all-time low, but health-insurance companies have somehow improved their public regard in recent years, and "If they can gain trust, so can journalists."

Even though journalists have "the most powerful person in the world attacking us," they must not take the bait of an adviser to President Trump and become "the opposition party," Seaman said. They must continue to do the work that democracy and society demand, and "be careful of the friends you make while you are under attack.

He said journalists would do well to remember the maxim of Washington Post Editor Martin Baron: "We're not at war. We're at work."

Seaman made another point familiar to rural journalists: "Be part of the communities you serve," spending time that doesn't involve reporting.

At the same time, he said, journalists must be educators and advocates for their craft, explaining controversial decisions. And finally, he said, "Be human," empathizing and observing the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Seaman's appearance was the latest in a series of "Challenges to Journalism" programs sponsored by the UK School of Journalism and Media, its Scripps Howard First Amendment Center and Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, the UK Department of Communication and the campus and Bluegrass SPJ chapters. The next one will feature Rich Boehne, CEO of E.W. Scripps Co., March 30.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Trump cuts to rural development prompt opposition, resignation and some support in Ky.

In addition to eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission, President Trump's budget also eliminates or cuts several other programs key to rural areas. Jose A. DelReal of The Washington Post went to Appalachian Kentucky, a Trump stronghold, to see what residents think about that.

Key lawmakers have said the ARC won't be cut, but other rural programs remain on the chopping block, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's community development grants, DelReal reports. For example, Frenchburg, Ky. (Best Places map), has received $1 million from HUD "to develop a senior-citizens center and a regional meal-assistance kitchen." Local resident Wendy Collins, a Trump supporter, told DelReal, "The government shouldn’t take it away. This place is below the poverty level. There is nothing here and people need something to stay out of drugs. This community has nothing. It needs help.”

A shuttered coal mine operation near Hazard, Ky.
(Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson)
Some of Trump's supporters in the region "appear willing to accept development funding cuts because they believe Trump’s broader agenda will help revitalize the region," DelReal writes. "The president has promised he will bring the coal economy back to life by cutting industry regulations, though experts have largely dismissed the effect such actions would have on jobs."

Trump said in Louisville on Monday: “As we speak, we are preparing new executive actions to save our coal industry and to save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work. The miners are coming back.”

DelReal writes, "Some voters here conflate federal funding of assistance programs—such as food stamps—with those that fund infrastructure and community development." Shane Estes, of Elliott County, "said the money would not make a difference in the area anyway because the culture has been too polluted with drugs. Estes, who voted for Trump, said that some employers in the area have stopped drug-testing workers because that would mean they could not hire anyone. And he takes issue with people using food-assistance dollars on junk food. But what about spending on infrastructure?" Estes told him, “It’s going to get worse around here. . . . I don’t think Trump can change this; I don’t think anything can.”

Mount Sterling, Ky. (Best Places)
Grants have helped revitalize many communities in the region, DelReal writes. Mount Sterling, outside the Appalachian coalfield, "has been successful in cleaning up its main street. And it has benefited greatly from federal dollars." For example, Danielle King "purchased an abandoned building—empty since 1997—in downtown Mount Sterling seven years ago," restored it and turned it into a once-a-week bakery. She told DelReal, “If it wasn’t for grants, you would not be able to build and progress in a small town."

Trump would kill Chesapeake cleanup; critics of plan said it could lead to similar Miss. R. work

Virginia Tech map
President Trump's proposed budget includes eliminating $73 million in annual funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, prompting an outcry from advocates and editorialists.

Will Baker, president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said about two-thirds of the $73 million is funneled to states—New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia—and localities for specific pollution reduction projects, covering "a wide range of polluters, from farms to stormwater systems," Dave Mayfield reports for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. "Much of the remaining money goes into federally supervised water-quality monitoring."

The Washington Post said in an editorial: "The administration’s proposed budget would, at a swipe, reopen the door to the degradation of the U.S.’s largest estuary and reverse important recent progress in restoring the water, fish, oysters, crabs and tourism that make the bay so vibrant. It was just six years ago that a third of the bay, from Baltimore to the Potomac River, was beset by a sprawling springtime 'dead zone' of oxygen-starved water—the result of marine-life-killing nutrients from fertilizer and other chemical runoff."

The editorial continues, "In the quarter-century or so before the Environmental Protection Agency launched a massive cleanup program in 2010, the oyster harvest had plummeted by 96 percent and the crab harvest by 60 percent. Starved for oxygen by runoff pollution, huge tracts of the Chesapeake’s 64,000-square-mile watershed were in a death spiral. "Some industrial farms, home builders and municipalities have resisted the EPA cleanup, regarding it as bureaucratic overreach," says the editorial. "They have said it amounts to an unfunded mandate saddling them with the costs of cattle fencing and other means of pollution mitigation."

The project has implications beyond the Chesapeake region. "From beyond the watershed, opponents feared it would become a template for even more ambitious actions by the EPA, including an effort to clean up the Mississippi watershed that might be expensive for major industrial polluters," the editorial notes.

It's World Water Day, so we're looking at U.S. water policy and infrastructure

With today being World Water Day and this week, March 19-25, being Water Week 2017, Alison Burke, of the Brookings Institution, has put together a list of facts about water policy and infrastructure in the U.S.

Thirty "of the country’s largest water utilities support up to $52 billion in economic output and 289,000 jobs annually, and millions of households, businesses and industries depend on water systems every day," Burke writes. "The federal government actually plays a small role relative to states and localities, which are responsible for almost 96 percent of public spending on drinking water and wastewater facilities nationally each year."

One problem with investing in water is that the nearly 52,000 community water systems in the U.S. "frequently cross geographic and political boundaries and touch multiple watersheds and users," she writes. Another problem is modernizing facilities. "While more than 88 percent of Americans believe some type of action is needed to solve the country’s water infrastructure challenges, only about 17 percent of utilities are confident that they can just cover the cost of existing service through rates and fees—let alone pursue needed upgrades."

Another problem is that 64.2 percent of the nation's 90,000 dams are privately owned, compared to 20 percent by local government, 7.3 percent by state government and 3.7 percent by the federal government, Burke writes. Also, 62,700 of dams, or 69.3 percent, "were built before 1970, and 17.1 percent pose a potentially 'high hazard' to the economy, environment, and human life if they were to fail." (Brookings graphic: Dams built before 1970)

Deadline March 31 to register for free conference on using Facebook and Google to engage readers

The Walter B. Potter Sr. Conference 2017, from April 6-8 at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri will focus on how journalists from weeklies and community newspapers can use Google and Facebook to better serve existing readers while also expanding their audience to reach new readers.

Brian Steffens, communications director of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, said in an email to The Rural Blog: "We’re trying a little different approach this year and will be focusing on helping newsrooms beef up their digital dexterity with two of the players that regularly come up in various conversations, Facebook and Google. This conference will be a golden opportunity to answer some questions that might be popping up in various corners of your operation and to bring back some new ideas. The training will be conducted by folks from Facebook and Google."

Participants will learn to use Google functions such as Public Data Explorer, Google Maps and Street View 360, as well as searching for other journalists and live streaming. With Facebook, participants will learn how a news feed works, how to use Facebook Live, how to get access to Facebook's partner portal, where to find online resources to train others in your newsroom, the pros and cons of pages and profiles and what the Facebook Journalism Project is doing for local newsrooms.

There is no cost to register, but registration is required by March 31. For information or to register click here.

Trump's budget will add lawyers for eminent domain cases to make way for border wall

Current fencing along part of the U.S./Mexico border
President Trump's budget includes adding 20 attorneys to the U.S. Department of Justice to prepare for eminent domain cases—in some cases against landowners who helped put him in office—in order to build a border wall, Tracy Jan reports for The Washington Post. Currently less than 20 of the department's 11,000 attorneys work in land acquisition. Trump said in his budget the extra attorneys were needed to “pursue federal efforts to obtain the land and holdings necessary to secure the southwest border.”

"Much of the border, especially in Texas, snakes through farms, ranches, orchards, golf courses, and other private property dating back to centuries-old Spanish land grants," Jan writes. "The battle has been fought before. The last wave of eminent domain cases over southern border properties dates back to the 2006 Secure Fence Act authorizing President George W. Bush to erect 700 miles of fencing. Of the roughly 400 condemnation cases stemming from that era, about 90 remain open a decade later, according to the Justice Department. Nearly all are in the Rio Grande Valley in southwest Texas."

"The U.S. government has already spent $78 million compensating private landowners for 600 tracts of property for the construction of the existing pedestrian and vehicle fence, according to Customs and Border Protection," Jan writes. "The agency estimates that it will spend another $21 million in real estate expenses associated with the remaining condemnation cases — not including approximately $4 million in Justice Department litigation costs."

It wouldn't be Trump's first foray into eminent domain, Jan writes. "As a developer, Trump has wielded the power of eminent domain to make way for his properties. In Scotland, he pursued compulsory purchase to force neighbors out of their homes for the Trump International Golf Links near Aberdeen. When that didn't work, he built a five-foot-tall wooden fence—then tried to make his neighbors pay for it."

"Trump also famously tried seizing the property of an elderly Atlantic City widow to make way for a limousine parking lot for his hotel and casino," Jan writes. "He has a consistent history supporting the use of eminent domain and praised the 2005 Supreme Court decision—denounced widely by conservatives—that said the government could force property owners to sell their land to make way for private economic developments that benefit the public."

Site Selection Magazine lists top micropolitans for economic development; Findlay, Ohio No. 1

Findlay, Ohio (Best Places map)
Findlay, Ohio is the nation's top micropolitan for economic development success, according to Site Selection Magazine, which lists the top micropolitans—populations of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000—by number of 2016 projects. Findlay had 22 major business investments and expansions in 2016. Following Findlay are: Cullman, Ala. (19 projects); Wooster, Ohio (17); Shelby, N.C. (11); Tupelo, Miss. and Batavia, N.Y. (10); Bardstown, Ky. (9); Martinsville, Va. (8); and Danville, Ky. and Lumberton, N.C. (7).

Ohio also was the No. 1 state, having a high of 18 micropolitans on the list covering 111 projects. Georgia and North Carolina tied for second with 12 micropolitans, Kentucky had 11, Tennessee 7, Louisiana 6 and Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Carolina had 5. (Site Selection graphic)
"Among the nearly 500 corporate facility projects scattered among the nation’s Top 100 micropolitan areas, certain patterns emerge," Gary Daughters and Adam Bruns report for Site Selection. "First, there is a strong correlation with interstate highways, with the jurisdiction often well placed and equidistant between larger markets."

"There is also a pronounced lean toward incremental growth by satisfied customers: 65 percent of the projects were expansions, vs. new greenfield sites," reports Site Selection. "As for industry sector, the trend persists from the world’s leading sectors in terms of project activity—transportation equipment, plastics/chemicals, and everyone’s favorite industrial niche: food and beverage."

Rusty patch bumblebee added to endangered list

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday added the rusty patch bumblebee to the endangered species list, 60 days after President Trump ordered a 60-day freeze on new regulations on his first day in office, Corbin Hiar reports for Greenwire. Environmentalists had sued over the freeze for delaying protection for the species, which has lost nearly 90 percent of its population since the 1990s. 

"Pesticides, habitat loss, climate change and disease spread from commercial honeybee colonies have put the species on the brink of extinction," Hiar writes. "The rusty patched bee lives in scattered populations in 12 states and one Canadian province, covering just 8 percent of its historical range." 

The listing means the pollinator "is the first federally protected bee in the continental U.S.," Hiar writes. "The rusty patched bee's endangered status makes it a crime to knowingly harass or kill the insect, which as of 20 years ago could be found in 28 Eastern and Midwestern states and Washington, D.C."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Entrepreneurs are more common in rural areas, and their businesses are likelier to survive

America's rural-urban disparities have familiar measures, most of them showing rural disadvantages: poverty rates, the strength of the job market, and people on disability. But surprisingly, perhaps, entrepreneurial start-ups are more common in rural areas despite an economic disadvantage, report five researchers writing in The Conversation, which calls itself "an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community."

Nearly 700,000 new businesses open each year in the United states that help to create "new market niches in the global economy," the researchers write. "Most people mistakenly believe these pioneering establishments occur in overwhelmingly in metropolitan areas, such as in the now-mythic start-up culture of Silicon Valley. Yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it is in fact non-metropolitan counties that have higher rates of self-employed business proprietors than their metropolitan counterparts." (The Conversation graphic: rural and urban start-up business rates)
In fact, the more rural a county, the more entrepreneurial that county is. "The reality is that rural areas have to be entrepreneurial, as industries with concentrations of wage and salary jobs are necessarily scarce," the researchers write. Farming in rural areas is perhaps "the most entrepreneurial of occupations," but farmers represent less than one sixth of business owners in non-urban areas. 

Whether urban or rural, start-up businesses usually have low survival rates. "So it is perhaps even more surprising that relatively isolated non-metropolitan businesses are on average more resilient than their metro cousins, despite the considerable economic advantages of urban areas," The Conversation writes. (The Conversation graphic: survival rates of start-up businesses)

Rural start-ups have more resilience due to "cautious business practices in areas with few alternative employment options. This resilience is also remarkably persistent over time, consistently being at least on par with metro start-ups, and regularly having survival rates up to 10 percentage points higher than in metro areas over 1990-2007," the researchers write.

The report is part of a larger story that focuses on six rural-urban differences and illustrates them with graphics. The researchers are Brian Thiede, an assistant professor of rural sociology and demography at Penn State; Lillie Greiman, a research associate at the University of Montana; Stephan Welier, a professor of economics at Colorado State; Steven Beda, an instructor of history at the University of Oregon; and Tessa Conroy, an economic development specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Struggling rural hospitals unsure about health bill

Rural residents face increasing obstacles to get medical care, partly because dozens of rural hospitals have closed in the Midwest and South, where Medicaid wasn't expanded under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Now, if Congress repeals and replaces the law, "Expected cuts to the federal program for low-income residents will affect facilities everywhere, but experts and administrators are particularly worried about rural areas," Russ Bynum, Rebecca Santana and Kathleen Foody report for The Associated Press.

The ACA "was intended to slash the number of uninsured patients seeking care they could never afford at hospitals," reports AP. "It succeeded in rural areas, where overall the rate of uninsured people fell by 8 percent since full implementation of the law in 2014, said Brock Slabach, of the National Rural Health Association. But it fell more in urban areas, in part because of the dearth of choices in the exchanges set up under the ACA. Thirty to 40 percent of rural communities have only one company from which to pick" if they want to buy private insurance.

"Now, as Republicans in Washington put forward long-anticipated plans to get rid of ACA, rural hospitals and communities are watching the debate closely," reports AP. "But if they didn't fare too well under the ACA, many question whether they'd be better off under the plan backed by President Donald Trump."

At some rural hospitals, such as 10-bed Evans Memorial Hospital in Claxton, Ga. (Best Places map), where Medicaid wasn't expanded, "the GOP's new plan isn't calming nerves," AP reports. At Evans, "many blue-collar workers are unable to afford insurance but are too well-off for Medicaid, said chief financial officer John Wiggins. Such uninsured patients are perhaps the No. 1 problem for rural hospitals: Evans Memorial has been saddled with $3 million or more in unpaid medical bills in recent years."

Also, hospital "administrators say they haven't heard much in the proposal that sounds beneficial—besides perhaps the chance to allow Americans to shop for insurance across state lines," AP reports.

Eliminating Corp. for Public Broadcasting could lead to closure of rural public TV, radio stations

KET, a network of PBS stations in Kentucky, would
lose $3.4 million a year under President Trump's budget
President Trump's proposed budget includes eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would have a major impact on public television and radio stations that serve rural areas, Justin Ray and Carlett Spike report for Columbia Journalism Review. About $445 million of CPB funding goes to public TV and radio annually, with more than 70 percent of that supporting local stations. NPR only receives 1 percent of its funding from CPB and PBS gets less than 7 percent. CPB says 43 percent of public broadcasting station grantees it supports are considered rural.

A 2012 report commissioned by CPB on what would happen if the system lost all its federal funding found that "within three years of losing federal funding, 76 public radio stations and 54 public TV stations would be at 'high risk of simply closing,'" Joseph Lichterman reports for Nieman Lab.

"Of the radio stations it identified, 47 serve rural communities, 46 were the only public radio station available in their market, and 10 were the only broadcasters of any medium in their market," Lichterman writes. "If the 54 TV stations went off the air, the report estimated that more than 12 million viewers would lose their ability to watch over-the-air public television."

For instance, Kentucky Educational Television, a PBS member, gets $3.4 million annually—15 percent of its operations budget—from CPB, John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. In Utah, KUED-Channel 7, the state's PBS affiliate, gets 19 percent of its budget from CPB, and KBYU-Channel 11, the public TV and radio stations at Brigham Young University, would lose more than $5 million, Scott Pierce reports for The Salt Lake Tribune.

In response to the proposed cuts, "a bipartisan pair of House members are urging appropriators to protect funds for public broadcasting amid the Trump administration’s budget proposal to eliminate its federal support," Cristina Marcos reports for The Hill. Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) "plan to urge lawmakers in charge of the House Appropriations panel that oversees the CPB to ensure they’re fully funded."

"The two lawmakers emphasized that rural communities would be hardest hit by cuts to public broadcasting," Marcos writes. The letter states: “In rural areas, where public broadcasting stations can be the only source of free, high-quality local programming available to families, funding from CPB can amount to more than half of some rural stations’ budgets. This is a gap that cannot be closed by increased underwriting revenue or donor support."

Mayor bills paper for asking lawyer for information, then uses social media to attack its credibility

The mayor of a small town on Puget Sound attempted to bill the local newspaper for asking the city attorney for a copy of the written advice he’d given the city about a sanctuary-city ordinance under consideration by the City Council, Jim Brunner reports for The Seattle Times. Tim Callison, mayor of Langley, Wash., sent the South Whidbey Record, a twice-weekly paper, a bill of $64, saying in an email that the attorney worked for the city and was “not a free public resource.”

Callison claimed this week he was just trying to prove a point about how much the attorney’s time cost the city, but his words don't match his actions, Keven R. Graves, executive editor and publisher of the Record and the Whidbey News-Times, wrote in an editorial. "In fact, Callison doubled down over the weekend with a Facebook post on his personal page criticizing The Record and (Editor Justin) Burnett and justifying his decision to send the invoice."

"It’s apparent that Callison now understands that billing The Record was wrong and a violation of press freedom," Graves writes. "There was no reason to doubt that Callison was anything but serious about billing the newspaper. Everyone, elected officials included, has the right to complain online that they are being unfairly criticized by the media and to present their own version of a story. To that end, social media has become a place for what sometimes amounts to seriously calculated campaigns to discredit newspapers and journalists. We see this not only happening locally, but across the country and even in the White House."

Graves continued, "With social media now playing an undeniable role in newspaper reporting, we’re seeing a stunning evolution in how we respond to attacks on our credibility. With the election of Donald Trump, there came harsh criticism of the national media for not questioning absurd statements and obvious falsehoods presented as facts during the presidential campaign. Fact checkers now quickly work to verify whether the remarks of the president are true and to inform the public right away when they aren’t."

He concluded, "When the integrity of a journalist and newspaper are being grossly disassembled and savaged on social media as part of a purposeful agenda, silence on the matter is no longer the option it once was. Readers have a responsibility to take into account the entire picture. Social media has a place, but it must be recognized for what it is—a public relations tool that can be used to deliberately alter the facts or shift the focus from the more serious issue at hand."

S.D. governor vetoes bill that would repeal law requiring permits for concealed deadly weapons

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Friday vetoed two bills to loosen restrictions on firearms, saying current laws are reasonable, Dana Ferguson reports for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls. One bill would have "let people carry concealed handguns without a permit, the other to allow concealed weapons in the Capitol building." Supporters of the bills plan to attempt overrides, which are unlikely since neither bill got two-thirds support.

South Dakota law makes it "a misdemeanor for someone to carry a concealed pistol or to have one concealed in a vehicle without a permit," Ferguson writes. "The Capitol-carry bill would have let people with an enhanced permit bring concealed handguns inside if they registered beforehand with security. There are no metal detectors or other security checks at the Capitol entrances to enforce the current prohibition on most people carrying guns in the building."

Daugaard said in a statement: “As a longtime member of the NRA, I support the right to bear arms. It is paramount that our state protect the rights of our citizens while at the same time protecting the lives of our citizens. I believe our current laws appropriately protect both interests, and I ask that you sustain my veto.”

Low-risk avian flu confirmed in Alabama, Kentucky

Avian flu was confirmed in Christian
County, Kentucky (Wikipedia map)
A strain of avian flu, not as serious as one found in Tennessee this month, has been detected in Alabama and Kentucky.

The National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the presence of H7N9 low-pathogenic avian influenza in samples taken from a farm in Christian County, resulting in 22,000 chickens being killed, said the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. KDA notes, "Low-pathogenic avian influenza may cause no disease or mild illness," compared to highly pathogenic avian influenza, which "can cause severe disease with high mortality."

Earlier this month about 73,500 birds at a farm outside Fayetteville, Tenn., the produces chickens for Tyson Foods had to be culled in response to an outbreak of avian flu. That was the first reported case of the disease this year. There was only one reported case of bird flu in 2016.


Avian flu was confirmed in
Scottsboro, Ala. (Best Places map)
Avian flu is suspected in three Alabama counties, but so far confirmed in just one, William Thornton reports for Alabama Media Group. The Alabama Department of Agriculture confirmed H7N9 in Scottsboro in Jackson County, and is awaiting results from a breeder in Lauderdale County and a backyard flock in Madison County. About 15,000 chickens were killed in Lauderdale County, while the Madison County owner requested his entire flock, whose numbers were not reported, to be culled. The entire flock in Jackson County also was killed. (So was the flock in Kentucky.)

"State officials say this suspected strain of avian influenza does not pose a risk to the food supply, and no affected animals entered the food chain," Thornton reports. "The risk of human infection with avian influenza during poultry outbreaks is very low."

Monday, March 20, 2017

Administration lists top 50 infrastructure projects, many for rural areas, but McConnell is skeptical

One of Trump's top infrastructure projects calls
for repairs of Interstate 95 through North Carolina
The Trump administration recently released a priority list of 50 infrastructure projects, including several that would benefit rural areas, report Lynn Horsley, Steve Vockrodt, Walker Orenstein and Linsday Wise of McClatchy Newspapers: "The preliminary list offers a first glimpse at which projects around the country might get funding if Trump follows through on his campaign promise to renew America’s crumbling highways, airports, dams and bridges."

The No. 1 project is the Gateway Program, which would be a $12 billion reconstruction of high-risk Northeast Corridor rail infrastructure between Newark, N.J. and New York City. Second on the list is the Brent Spence Bridge, a $2.5 billion project to fix the nation's 15th worst bridge on I-75 between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. Next is $2 billion to construct the National Research Lab for Infrastructure in Columbus, Ohio, $3 billion to complete the Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River near the Mississippi to aid barge traffic on the rivers, and $1.5 billion for critical highways repairs on I-95 in North Carolina.

Rounding out the top 10 are $8 billion for bridge repairs on I-95 in Philadelphia, $1 billion for Mississippi River shipping channel dredging in South Louisiana, $10 billion for the NextGen air traffic control system to replace outdated equipment, $2.5 billion for a 720-mile transmission line to move clean, wind power energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Memphis, and $3 billion for seven new water tunnels in Cleveland to reduce contaminated water in Lake Erie.

Other projects that could benefit rural areas: $850 million to repair South Carolina dams; $250 million for water recovery in Cadiz, Calif; $3 billion for the TransWest Express Transmission Project to deliver cost-effect renewable energy in Wyoming to desert regions in Arizona, California and Nevada; $5 billion for a wind energy project in Wyoming; $4.5-5 million for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; $600 million to find new, sustainable water sources in New Mexico; $800 million to widen I-93 in Massachusetts and New Hampshire; $800 million for reconstruction of I-395/I-95; $1 billion to improve the I-70 Mountain Corridor in Colorado; and $1 billion to improve I-25 in Colorado.

But the prospects of a big infrastructure package getting through Congress aren't good, judging from comments Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made in an interview last week with Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and publisher of The Rural Blog.

"We’re not interested in going out and borrowing money and plussing up a bunch of federal accounts," McConnell said. "A credible infrastructure bill has to be paid for, and the two ways to pay for it are both challenging politically. The Democrats don’t like public-private partnerships, which invariably means tolling. Everybody’s queasy about a gas-tax increase because of the way lower middle-class people have fallen behind over the last eight years. . . . Everybody loves roads, everybody loves buildings, but it’s going to have to be credibly paid for to be passed by this Congress."

Asked if he wanted want no sort of federal appropriations that would add to the deficit to build infrastructure, McConnell replied, "No. We need to pay for it. We’ve got a $21 trillion debt." Told that some research has shown better infrastructure improves economic productivity, he replied, "You can argue that, but we’ve got a $21 trillion debt, and about half of it we’ve accumulated in eight years, and I think we have a dangerous level of debt to GDP [gross domestic product] and I don’t think this particular Congress is going to be interested in making it worse."

Public-private partnerships are less feasible in rural areas because investors need high volume to pay tolls or other fees to recoup their investment, Ashley Halsey reported for The Washington Post last month.

Policy change that slows down temporary visa approvals could lead to rural doctor shortages

A Trump administration visa policy could lead to doctor shortages in rural areas that rely on foreign-born physicians, Miriam Jordan reports for The New York Times. About 25 percent of all physicians in the U.S. are foreign, but numbers typically are much higher in rural areas. The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates said there were 211,460 international medical graduates practicing in the U.S. in December 2015.

Concern centers around changes to H-1B visas, which are temporary visas given to skilled workers, including "foreign physicians who practice in places shunned by American doctors for personal and professional reasons," Jordan writes. "The H-1B program has raised questions about whether it displaces American workers, particularly in computer programming and engineering jobs, for which most of the visas are issued."

"U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently announced that it would temporarily suspend a 'premium processing' option by which employers could pay an extra $1,225 to have H-1B applications approved in as little as two weeks, rather than several months," Jordan writes. "Companies using that option, the government said, have effectively delayed visas for others who did not pay the extra fee." A spokesperson said the measure was necessary to '“work down the existing backlogs due to the high volume of incoming petitions."

Changes could hurt rural areas, Jordan writes. For example, "in Coudersport, Pa., a town in a mountainous region an hour’s drive from the nearest Walmart, Cole Memorial Hospital counts on two Jordanian physicians to keep its obstetrics unit open and is actively recruiting foreign specialists. In Great Falls, Mont., 60 percent of the doctors who specialize in hospital care at Benefis Health System, which serves about 230,000 people in 15 counties, are foreign doctors on work visas."

Trump did well in rural areas, so The Washington Post did a diagram to show how his vote matched up with each state's reliance on physicians from other nations, and its Jeff Guo wrote a story. For a larger, clearer version of the diagram, click on the image below.

Coal is seeing a 'Trump bump' but that doesn't mean a lot of mining jobs will return, experts say

Peabody Coal mine in Indiana. (Luke Sharret, Bloomberg)
The coal industry has "enjoyed a 'Trump bump,' thanks to the president’s pledges to 'bring the coal industry back' and 'put our great miners and steelworkers back to work,'" but it remains unlikely that coal will see the revitalization promised by the president, reports Steven Mufson of The New York Times.

"Coal prices are about double what they were a year ago," Mufson reports. "Rail-car deliveries of coal are up 16 percent this year. The more than 50 coal-mining companies that went bankrupt over the past couple of years have unloaded billions of dollars of debt. And Trump has vowed to roll back environmental regulations that the industry says are part of a 'war on coal'” waged by the Obama administration.

Some major companies "have seized the moment to issue stock or sell bonds to raise money from investors willing to wager on the effects of a friendlier Trump administration," Mufson writes. "But the obstacles on the other side of the ledger remain daunting: Coal-fired power plants continue to shut their doors. Bountiful supplies of U.S. shale gas are keeping natural gas prices low and competitive, and renewable sources of power generation are growing rapidly. Though most experts expect U.S. coal sales and output to top last year’s levels, they also expect the decline to resume in 2018."

"Some coal companies will survive, and some could thrive," Mufson writes. "Metallurgical coal will be needed to make steel in India and China and in the U.S., especially if there is a boost in infrastructure spending. And thermal coal will still be used to generate electricity for years, even if at lower rates. But to show profits, coal operators will have to trim output from the oldest, least-efficient mines in Appalachia (where Trump garnered crucial votes in the election) and shift their focus to the Illinois Basin and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming."

Chiza B. Vitta, a coal analyst at Standard & Poor’s, told Mufson, “A lot of people conflate two primary things: the coal industry and coal jobs. Even if the coal industry were to do better, that doesn’t translate into coal jobs. Over time the process has become more and more efficient, and they’re able to mine with fewer and fewer people working.”

Mufson notes that some analysts don’t even expect the industry to do better. Citigroup said in a series of reports; “Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail would also suggest that coal is about to see a big lift in the post-Obama era, but the reality may be less rosy. The regulatory environment for coal should improve under Trump’s presidency. ... Comparative economics for coal, renewables and gas place clean coal firmly at the bottom of the stack in the U.S.”

McConnell on proposed elimination of Appalachian Regional Commission: 'Not going to happen'

President Trump's proposed budget may be dead on arrival in Congress, but its proposed cuts to programs that have helped the most vulnerable Americans have raised eyebrows because many of them people in rural areas he won by large margins. And the political pushback from Republicans is increasing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, says Trump's proposed elimination of the Appalachian Regional Commission is not only "not going to happen," the agency's budget will remain fully intact, reports WMYT-TV of Hazard. McConnell said in a speech Saturday in Corbin, "We are not going to allow any cuts to the Appalachian Regional Commission. It is very important to Eastern Kentucky. It has been for a number of years. That's not going to happen."

When the budget was announced last week McConnell's prepared statement didn't mention about the commission, a federal-state economic development agency that covers all of West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. ARC operates in 420 counties, most of which Trump won in November. The plurality of its economically distressed counties are in Eastern Kentucky. That area's congressman, former House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers, strongly objected hours after the budget plan was announced. McConnell will be with Trump today in Louisville, which is outside the Appalachian region.

Sabrina Tavernise and Trip Gabriel of The New York Times report on some other examples of Trump's budget seemingly disregarding part of his political base. Regina Feltner, a retired nurse with lung cancer who has received help from a heating subsidy through the Highland County Community Action Organization, a small nonprofit in rural southern Ohio, told the Times that without the subsidy, which she stands to lose under the proposed budget, she said she would probably have to move in with her daughter.

Another proposed cut "would kill the Legal Services Corp., which funds 133 civil legal-aid programs in the 50 states at a cost of $385 million," reports the Times. Also on the chopping block is the Community Development Block Grant program, which "works to ensure decent affordable housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities, and to create jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses," says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Study: 59.7% of poison center calls about childhood exposure to opioids concern those 5 and under

More than half of all calls to poison centers from 2000-15 concerning childhood exposure to opioids involved children five and under, says a study published in Pediatrics. From 2000-15 poison control centers in the U.S. received 188,468 calls about people under 20 being exposed to opioids. Exposures, 95.8 percent of which occurred at home, were highest among children under five, with 59.7 percent of all calls concerning that age. Second was teenagers, at 29.9 percent. Nearly one-third of all exposures, 28.7 percent, were from hydrocodone, 18 percent from oxycodone and 17 percent from codeine.

Researchers said most exposures to children five and under were because they found their parents' prescription opioids at home and gave in to curiosity, Jia Naqvi reports for The Washington Post. Researchers said teenagers were more likely to deliberately take the drugs.

The study found that "pediatric exposure to opioids increased by 86 percent from 2000 to 2009 but decreased overall for all ages under 20 from 2009 until 2015," Naqvi writes. Study author Marcel Casavan, medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center and chief toxicologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, told Naqvi, “When adults bring these medications into their homes, they can become a danger to the children that live there. It is important that these medications are stored up, away and out of sight of kids of all ages, in a locked cabinet is best." (Exposure to opioids)

Great Plains wildfire victims get aid; Texas Panhandle weekly chronicled fires and their impact

Photo by Sarah Long in The Canadian Record
An outpouring of aid from community members has poured in to help victims of wildfires in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and parts of southwestern Kansas that affected about 1.5 million acres of land, Russ Quinn and Virginia Harris report for DTN The Progressive Farmer. David Clawson, president of the Kansas Livestock Association, told Quinn, "We've been overwhelmed by the love of the ag community. The hay started rolling in before the fires were even out."

Quinn and Harris write, "Donations in the form of money, hay, fencing material, water tanks, portable corrals, feed, seeds and medicines have all been given in hopes of helping those devastated by these fires. Businesses, individuals and service organizations have donated labor and thousands of dollars of supplies and have lined up transportation of these items to the affected regions."

The Canadian Record, in the Texas Panhandle, ran a huge package on the fire with bif photos and comprehensive stories detailing its effect on Hemphill County. "The fires, though separated by miles, all shared one common thread: they were propelled by strong, gusty winds, at sustained speeds of 25 to 35 mph, gusting as high as 50-55 mph, and grazed ravenously on plentiful dry fuels," it reported.

The Record also chronicled the tragedy of a local man who died in the fire while trying to return home from work to make sure his pregnant wife was safe. Cade Kochs' mother Dana told the Record that he had the family's only car and was trying to get to his wife before roads were closed. Dana told the Record, that "Cade embarked on the 26-mile drive home," but she said, “He never checked in."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump's budget calls for major cuts in Appalachia, where he won most counties by large margins

Appalachian Region Commission map
President Trump's proposed budget calls for major cuts in Appalachia, especially coal country, a region where he won big at the polls.

Cuts would be made to the Appalachian Region Commission (ARC) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which "are charged with diversifying the economies of states like West Virginia and Kentucky to help them recover from coal’s decline," Valerie Volcovici reports for Reuters. ARC covers all of West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Bill Estep, of the Lexington Herald-Leader, notes that ARC has spent more than $23 billion in Appalachia since being founded in 1965 after President Lyndon B. Johnson visited the region and declared a "War on Poverty."

Trump won 400 of the 420 counties that ARC operates in, Volcovici writes. "The 52-year old agency has run more than 650 projects in Appalachia's 13 states between 2011 and 2015 costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Its programs, some launched under Democratic former President Barack Obama, are expected to create or retain more than 23,670 jobs and train and educate over 49,000 students and workers, the organization."

For example, in Eastern Kentucky from October 2015 to January 2017 ARC said it supported 63 projects in Kentucky totaling $31.9 million," Estep writes. "That spending, which has been matched by more than $65 million in other aid, is projected to create or retain more than 1,200 jobs and provide education or workforce training to more than 2,300 people in the state’s 54 ARC counties, the agency said." Ben Hale, the Democratic judge-executive in Flod County told Estep, “We’re already down. There’s no need for them to step on our neck."

"ARC has been targeted before, with critics citing it as an example of wasteful, inefficient or politicized government spending," Estep writes. "President Ronald Reagan tried repeatedly to kill it, saying in his 1985 budget statement that such regional development programs 'serve no national economic purpose but instead cater, at taxpayer’s expense, to local and regional political interests,' The New York Times reported then. With the backing of local officials and members of Congress spread across 13 states, however, the agency has survived, albeit with significant cuts at times."

Lawmakers from the region, such Rep. as Hal Rogers of Kentucky's 5th District, one of the nation's poorest and most rural, believe ARC won't be cut, Estep writes. While he said "that many cuts proposed in Trump’s budget 'are draconian, careless and counterproductive'... he said he was optimistic Congress will work with Trump to 'responsibly' fund the government, including agencies that serve as 'vital economic lifelines' in struggling rural areas."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also a Republican from Kentucky, avoided answering questions about the future of ARC's budget, Estep writes. Instead he said, “I’m pleased to see an increased focus on our national security and veterans budgets. These are positive steps in the right direction. I look forward to reviewing this and the full budget when it is released later this spring. While this is only the first step in the budget process, I will work with the delegation to protect essential Kentucky priorities in the final budget.”

CDC study says rural suicide rates outpacing urban ones, suggests possible link to rise in opioid use

U.S. suicide rates are growing faster in rural areas than urban ones, says a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study, which used annual county-level mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System and U.S. Census Bureau to analyze suicide rate trends from 1999-2015, found that after declining since 1986, the U.S. suicide rate increased from 2000-15, with 600,000 suicides during the study period.

Researchers wrote: "Geographic disparities in suicide rates might be associated with suicide risk factors known to be highly prevalent in less urban areas, such as limited access to mental health care, made worse by shortages in behavioral health care providers in these areas, and greater social isolation. Such disparities might also reflect the influence of the opioid overdose epidemic. This epidemic is known to have disproportionately affected less urban areas during the earlier part of the study period and opioid misuse is associated with increased risk for suicide."

The study found that "it's also possible that economic pressures may have played a role," Margaret Farley Steele reports for HealthDay News. "The biggest increase in the suicide gap occurred beginning in 2007-2008, when the U.S. economy was experiencing a severe recession." Researchers also noted a lack of health care providers in rural areas. (CDC graphic: Suicide rates from 1999-2015)