Wednesday, September 24, 2014

CDC sending staffer to E. Ky. to fight health problems; regional economic effort hears plans

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will place a full-time employee in Eastern Kentucky to help public health departments battle the region's serious, chronic health problems, the area's congressman said Tuesday.

Republican Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, who spent three days with him in his Fifth Congressional District last month, told him he would assign a senior staffer to the job.

Beshear, Rogers (Melissa Newman photo)
Rogers made the announcement at a meeting of the executive committee of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, the economic-development effort he started with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in response to the sharp decline in the region's coal industry. The committee learned that "There were 13,000 fewer people working in a 23-county area in Eastern Kentucky's coalfield in May 2014 than a year earlier. That sobering statistic brought sharp focus to the challenge," reports Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The panel heard reports from chairs of SOAR's working groups, which held "listening sessions" around the region this summer. "The ideas prioritized by the working groups included development of systems to connect small farmers with local and regional markets, and small loans to help farmers; a tax-incentive program tailored to Eastern Kentucky to try to attract jobs; and setting aside money from the coal severance tax for a permanent endowment," Estep writes. "Among other things, the committees also recommended pushing a statewide ban on smoking indoors in public; asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study poor health in the region and the emerging research on a correlation between mountaintop mining and health problems; creating an economic development organization specific to the region; creating county coalitions to involve young people; promoting a home-weatherization program offered by the Mountain Association for Community and Economic Development; raising the threshold at which the state's prevailing wage law applies to projects; and more funding for tourism marketing."

Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl said at the meeting that he would give SOAR up to the maximum $750,000 from his discretionary fund to cover up to half of the effort's expected administrative expenses over the next four years.

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