Saturday, November 05, 2016

Vote for vote, no state may be more important in the presidential election than New Hampshire

Chelsea Clinton spoke at Dartmouth College in Hanover,
N.H., Friday. (Valley News photo by Geoff Hansen)
New Hampshire has only four electoral votes, but some scenarios have made it pivotal since polls and projections in the last week have made it less likely that Hillary Clinton will carry the state.

The battle for those votes "will be waged in a town-by-town struggle for voter turnout in the campaign’s waning days, pitting Hillary Clinton’s superior get-out-the-vote organization against Donald Trump’s unorganized but enthusiastic legions," Victoria McGrane reports for The Boston Globe.

Kevin Landirgan of the New Hampshire Union Leader reports "Clinton will return to Manchester for a get-out-the-vote rally on Sunday sandwiched in between two visits" from Trump, concluding with a Monday rally in Manchester. "President Obama will stump for Clinton Monday at the University of New Hampshire in Durham." Several surrogates for both candidates have been in the state lately and are expected again before Tuesday.

"In New Hampshire, a recent poll from Suffolk University and The Boston Globe showed Clinton and Trump neck-and-neck at 42 percent," Rob Wolfe reports for The Valley News in Lebanon. New Hampshire is the 11th most rural state.

Trump, NRA focus (gamble?) on rural areas

Trump rally in Selma, N.C. (Photo by
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA via Washington Post)
Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association are following a rural road to what they hope will be victory in Tuesday's election for president, James Hohmann reports for The Washington Post.

"Trump’s advisers believe he can win over rural whites by a much bigger margin than [Mitt] Romney and come away with significantly more votes, which they gamble will offset his weakness among suburban Republicans" in North Carolina , Wisconsin and other states, Hohmann reports. "They believe off-the-charts turnout in the country will tip the balance in a battleground state that remains a true toss-up."

However, "Many savvy Republican operatives are puzzled by these scheduling decisions," Hohmann writes. "They just don’t think there are that many additional votes to net, and they believe Trump should be focusing more on shoring up recalcitrant Republicans who might be amenable to coming home in the wake of the FBI announcement about new emails in the Hillary Clinton investigation."

But Hohmann reports that he interviewed 15 people at a rally in Selma, N.C., and "Trump supporters who live in the rural areas that Trump has lavished with attention predict it will pay huge dividends and fuel what they expect to be a landslide victory next Tuesday. . . . For Trump, vanity might also be a factor. The reality TV star draws energy from large, raucous audiences. His advance guys have an easier time building crowds in places like Selma."

The NRA, "the conservative outside group that has been most helpful to Trump, has trained its advertising fire on these same rural voters in target states, including North Carolina," Hohmann reported last month. "Half of the $5 million buy will go toward broadcast networks in rural Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia – a few of which Trump needs to find a way to win. The other half will run on national cable, including Dish and Direct TV, which disproportionately serves rural communities. . . . The NRA’s buy is meaningful because it comes as Clinton and her allies continue to massively outspend Team Trump on the air."

UPDATE, Nov. 6: "Trump’s strength among the white working class gives him a real chance at victory," Nate Cohn of The New York Times writes in Upshot. "He could win enough Electoral College votes without winning the popular vote, through narrow victories in Midwestern and Northeastern battlegrounds like Wisconsin and New Hampshire, where Democrats depend on support among white working-class voters.

Concerned about dropoff in rural voter turnout, electric co-ops have mounted a campaign

Rural electric cooperatives, concerned about poor voter turnout in rural areas in 2012, have mounted a campaign to turn out the rural vote Tuesday.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association launched “Co-ops Vote,” a campaign designed "to boost voter turnout in areas served by cooperatives by encouraging electric co-op employees and their consumer members to exercise one of their most basic rights—the right to vote," NRECA said. Its CEO, Jeffrey Connor, said, “Co-ops Vote focuses elected leaders on the people who are most invested in the success of their own communities. With 42 million members across the nation, electric co-ops are a powerful voice on national issues that have a local impact. We want to be sure that voice is always heard, especially on Election Day.”

Chris Perry, president of the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives, wrote, “In the 2012 elections, voter turnout in rural America dropped by 18 percent, twice the voter drop-off seen nationally. One year ago in Kentucky's 2015 statewide election, voter turnout was only 30.6 percent. Sixty-six of Kentucky's 120 counties failed to reach 30 percent voter turnout, mostly in rural areas. In fact, three rural Kentucky counties failed to reach even 20 percent voter turnout.”

The co-ops have a website, www.vote.coop, where voters can pledge to vote and get information about polling places and candidates.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Earthquake between 4.3 to 4.5 magnitude in Oklahoma led to injection wells being shut down

An earthquake estimated between magnitude 4.3 to 4.5 that hit Oklahoma shortly after midnight on Wednesday has led oil and gas officials to shut down four injection wells used to dispose of drilling waste from horizontal hydraulic fracturing, the leading method for producing oil and gas in the U.S., Mike Soraghan reports for Energywire. Another 10 wells have had disposal volumes cut by 25 percent. The earthquake occurred near Pawnee (Best Places map) which in September had the largest quake ever recorded in the state.

"The quake occurred close to Osage County, home of the Osage Nation, where Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction over disposal wells," Soraghan writes. "EPA directed the operators of 26 wells to limit volume to the average injected in the last 30 days. Another six must reduce volumes to 75 percent of their 30-day average."

Oklahoma had more earthquakes in 2015—903 of magnitude 3.0 or higher—than the combined total of every state except Alaska. Prior to the oil and gas boom of 2009, Oklahoma averaged two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. The United States Geological Survey in March for the first time released maps of potential man-made earthquakes. USGS has attributed Oklahoma's increased seismic activity to injection wells. (Read more)

Election includes votes in some states on cigarette tax, alcohol, hunting and fishing, religion in school

Ballots on Tuesday will include more than presidential, state and local contests. Plenty of referenda will be on the ballots that could impact rural areas, including gun control, recreational marijuana and hydraulic fracturing. Here are some the issues that voters should be on the look out for.

Sales of cigarettes by millions of dollars
In Missouri voters will consider Amendment 3, which would increase cigarette tax by 60 cents—77 cents by 2020—and would add a fee of 67 cents per pack to tobacco wholesalers, Renee Hickman reports for the Columbia Missourian. Revenue would go "to a proposed Early Childhood Health and Education Trust Fund, which would distribute money to programs related to early childhood education, health care and smoking cessation." Missouri, which has one of the nation's highest adult smoking rates—20.6 percent—has the nation's lowest cigarette tax rate, at 17 cents per pack.

If passed, the amendment would provide $300 million for programs, Kelly Moffitt reports for St. Louis Public Radio. Critics, though, says it's a scam by Big Tobacco. Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, said the tax from the amendment, which has received $13 million from tobacco companies, "only applies to cigarettes, not other tobacco products, which make tobacco companies a lot more money."

Voters in Southeast Tennessee's rural counties will consider measures to allow sales and consumption of alcohol, Ben Benton reports for the Times Free Press. Residents in Dayton, Jasper and Kimball will "decide whether to allow the sale of wine in food stores." In "Polk County voters will weigh in on countywide, on-premises alcohol consumption and package stores, and Tracy City voters in Grundy County will decide whether they want to allow on-premises consumption of alcohol."

Indiana voters will consider "a constitutional amendment that would guarantee Hoosiers a right to hunt and fish," John Scheibel and Dan Carden report for The Times of Northwest Indiana. "The General Assembly in 2014 and 2015 agreed to ask voters in 2016 to ratify a constitutional amendment declaring hunting and fishing a valued part of the state’s heritage that shall forever be preserved for the public good, subject only to state laws and rules promoting wildlife management and preserving the future of hunting and fishing."

Supporters say "without the amendment hunting and fishing someday could be unduly limited, or even banned," Scheibel and Carden write. Critics "say putting a poorly worded right to hunt and fish alongside the more essential guarantees of free speech, free press, religious freedom and civil rights in the Indiana Constitution cheapens the state’s primary governing document."

In Oklahoma, State Question 790 would remove a part of the state constitution that "prohibits the government from using public money or property for the direct or indirect benefit of any religion or religious institution," according to the Oklahoma State Board of Election. Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, told Amy Slanchik, of NewsOn6, "Voting Yes on 790 will protect the right to pray at football games and display the 10 commandments."

ARC map shows county-level economic status in Appalachia; data reports made more accessible

The Appalachian Regional Commission has released a county-level map of the economic status of counties in the region for fiscal year 2017, which begins Oct. 1. The map designates the 420 counties as economically distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive, or at economic "attainment."
MAP FOR 2016 FISCAL YEAR
ARC said the map was built by "creating a national index of county economic status by comparing each county’s averages for unemployment, per capita market income, and poverty rate with national averages." It allows users to select any of the 13 states or 420 counties to get information on individual reports for county economic status, education, income, population, poverty and unemployment or to view all six topics. Reports date back to 2002.

ARC also has redesigned its Data Reports page to allow users to "easily search each Appalachian county’s economic status dating back 15 years or look at the poverty, education, income, population density, and other statistics at the county level in comparison to the rest of the state and the rest of the country," says the ARC website. "And we’ve also made a simple way to see how some of these key economic indicators have historically played out across the Region. This statistical treasure trove is the most comprehensive collection of data about Appalachia available."

Oil, gas and coal bust in Wyoming leads to budget cuts to drug treatment programs

The once booming coal, oil and gas industries in Wyoming are now going bust, leading to sharp budget cuts to state programs, Pamela King reports for Energywire as part of a series, "Busted," that explores the oil bust and boom. The oil boom in Wyoming helped reduce the state's unemployment rate from 7.2 percent in 2009 to 3.8 percent in 2014. In August the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, "buoyed by shuttered oil production and massive layoffs at two of the country's largest coal mines." Layoffs have left workers with few options.

With Wyoming's economy in decline, Republican Gov. Matt Mead "this summer proposed a $248 million budget reduction," King writes. "With those cuts, resources to assist the state's unemployed coal and oil workers could be shrinking at the time they're most needed."

One area to take a big hit "are Wyoming's court-supervised drug treatment programs, or drug courts," King writes.  It's unclear what impact the slowing energy economy will have on substance abuse in Wyoming, but 'we're finding out,' said Judge Paul Phillips, who serves as the Gillette drug court's magistrate." Gillette's drug court has had to reduce its budget by 16 percent.

Wyoming leads the nation in drug courts per capita, with 25 court-supervised drug treatment programs for its 584,153 residents, King writes. "The Wyoming Department of Health was asked to cut its general fund by $90 million, or about 9 percent, for the 2017-18 biennium." (Read more)

Tech companies are leaving metros for smaller cities near rural areas with cheaper housing

Houses are bigger and cheaper in Gurley, Ala.
than in big cities (WSJ photo by Art Meripol)
Urban tech companies are moving out of the big cities and setting up shop in smaller cities that neighbor rural areas, Cecilie Rohwedder reports for The Wall Street Journal. Places like Richmond, Va., Huntsville, Ala., Eugene, Ore. and Manchester, N.H. are becoming the new Silicone Valley, mainly because housing in those cities and in surrounding rural areas, is cheaper and offers more bang for the buck.

"Last month, Washington, D.C.-based CoStar Group, an online marketplace for commercial real estate, said it plans to base its research center in Richmond, creating about 730 jobs there," Rohwedder writes. "Founder and CEO Andrew Florance said the firm chose Richmond for its educated workforce, office rents half of those in D.C. and more affordable housing." The same is true of businesses that moved from places like Austin, Boston and San Francisco for Huntsville, Manchester and Eugene. (Read more)

Thursday, November 03, 2016

31% of home-schooled students live in rural areas, where 3.6% of children are home-schooled

The number of home-schooled children in the U.S. more than doubled from 1999 to 2012 from 850,000 to 1.773 million, says a study released this week by the National Center for Education Statistics. Researchers estimate that 31 percent of all home-schooled children live in rural areas, though such areas account for 15 percent or less of the U.S. population. The study found that 3.6 percent of all rural children are home-schooled, compared to 1.6 percent in suburban areas and 1.5 percent in cities. (NCES graphic: Sources of curriculum and books for home schoolers)
Researchers used data from the 2012 NCES Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of parents of 17,563 school-age students. They found that among all home-schooled children, 31 percent of parents had a high-school education or less, 30 percent had some vocational or technical college education, 25 percent a bachelor's degree and 14 percent a graduate degree.

Among home schoolers, 91 percent said concern about school environments, such as safety, drugs and negative peer pressure, was an important reason why they home-schooled; 25 percent said it was the most important reason. Being able to provide religious instruction was cited by 17 percent as the most important reason, and by 61 percent as an important reason. Dissatisfaction with academic instruction at schools was the most important reason for 19 percent and an important reason for 74 percent.

Closed prisons being sold or leased for new uses

Closed Joliet (Ill.) Correctional Center (AP)
Many of the 150 state prisons that closed during the Great Recession "are increasingly taking on new life," Jen Fifield reports for Stateline. "In some instances, states are selling, transferring or leasing the properties to businesses or nonprofits."

"Prisons can be a hard sell," Fifield writes. "Many are in small towns or rural areas, where it can be difficult to attract businesses and local governments may have less interest in purchasing new property. The prisons often have unusual features, such as artillery ranges and commercial kitchens, which potential buyers may not need. In the towns where prisons have been shuttered, jobs have been lost and revenue from taxes and fees has declined. The high cost of maintaining and securing the properties adds to the urgency to unload the empty facilities."

In Wagram, N.C., the Growing Change non profit is converting a former prison "into a sustainable farm and education center to be used for programs for troubled teens," Fifield writes. Noran Sanford's plan calls for the campus to be open to the community in other ways; veterans are to live in old staff housing, "and the guard tower will be a rock climbing wall. Sanford hopes his model can be replicated across the country, and he is working on a toolkit for local governments that want to use vacant prisons." He told Fifield, “I’m asking us to look larger than criminal justice,” he said, “to utilize closed prisons to advance social goals.”

Rural, armed militia groups training for possible civil unrest if Trump loses 'rigged' election

Three Percent Security trains in Jackson, Ga.
(Reuters photo by Justin Mitchell)
"Some armed militia groups are preparing for the possibility of a stolen election on Nov. 8 and civil unrest in the days following a victory by Democrat Hillary Clinton," Justin Mitchell and Andy Sullivan of the Reuters wire service report. Three Percent Security Force, a militia group training in Jackson, Ga., "say they won't fire the first shot, but they're not planning to leave their guns at home, either."

Chris Hill, a paralegal who goes by the code name "Bloodagent," says he admires Donald Trump's "promise to deport illegal immigrants, stop Muslims from entering the country and build a wall along the Mexico border," Mitchell and Sullivan write. "Trump has repeatedly warned that the election may be 'rigged,' and has said he may not respect the results if he does not win. At least one paramilitary group, the Oath Keepers, has called on members to monitor voting sites for signs of fraud."

Reuters reports that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, estimates there were 276 active militias last year, up from 42 in 2008.

EPA outlines plan to study effects of Clean Power Plan regulations on coal jobs

The Environmental Protection Agency has outlined a plan ordered by a federal judge in West Virginia to study the impact of environmental regulations on coal jobs, Amanda Reilly reports for Greenwire. EPA's Science Advisory Board "would create a panel to prepare a report on evaluating job losses. EPA would then use that information to evaluate the impact of its regulations."

"But EPA also said that it believes the district court lacks jurisdiction and that the agency has already considered its regulations' employment impact," Reilly writes. The case was brought by Robert E. Murray, CEO and owner of Murray Energy Corp., the largest independent coal producer in the U.S., an outspoken foe of the regulation. Murray released a statement in response to EPA, saying is is "abundantly clear" the agency has no intention to comply with the ruling.

In his ruling last month, District Judge John Preston Bailey "cited a section of the federal Clean Air Act which states that the EPA 'shall conduct continuing evaluations of potential loss or shifts of employment which may result from the administration or enforcement' of the law, including 'where appropriate, investigating threatened plant closures or reductions in employment allegedly resulting from such administration or enforcement'," Ken Ward Jr. wrote for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "Bailey noted that Congress required such evaluations 'to provide information which could lead the EPA or Congress to amend . . . prior EPA actions'."

Fear fuels Trump in Appalachian coalfield, but there are other things to fear, writer says

Ivy Brashear
We've heard plenty of thoughts and opinions from urban journalists about why Donald Trump is popular in Central Appalachia. Ivy Brashear, a former Rural Blog writer from Perry County, Kentucky, who is now a communications associate working on Appalachian transition with the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Berea, Ky., gives her take in Medium, an online publishing platform.

"Being who I am — a queer, liberal, woman who has vehemently supported Hillary Clinton from the get-go — you’d think I’d be angry at Trump voter. Or that I’d be confused by their choice of leader, or that I’d join in all the ridicule that’s being thrown at them," she writes. "But, the thing is: I understand them. I know exactly why they’re voting for Trump."

Brashear says Perry County's coal has generated great wealth, but also "great hardship and poverty," as indicated by its rank "at the bottom of nearly every single statistical measure of quality of life, including health, income, educational attainment and life expectancy. We, as well as nearly every other county in Eastern Kentucky, face some very real and urgent challenges, paramount of which is what we’ll do when the coal is gone."

The loss of more than half the coal jobs in the region is not just an economic blow, Brashear writes: "It is a way of life, and an important foundational element of the culture. . . . It’s helped build America, over and over again, through economic transition after economic transition, and it’s powered the nation through it all. Coal miners are proud people — not ignorant people, not less-than people — proud. And right now, coal miners and their families and the communities in which they live are facing an unprecedented economic shift for which they weren’t prepared. In fact, they were systematically and strategically made to be unprepared for it, and now, with their backs being forced against the wall, my people are scared."

"I'm scared too," Brashear writes. "I’m scared of the extremist, racist, sexist and homophobic rhetoric coming from the Trump campaign that has fanned flames of hate." Trump has promised to bring back coal jobs, but she writes, "Trump cannot bring coal back — no one can — and he has no plan to help us rebuild our communities when the last ton is shipped away. We need opportunities for people who have hit the bottom, and Trump cannot provide them. I am scared of a Trump victory, because if I’ve learned anything from growing up in the shadow of coal mining, it’s that rich men who talk a lot about themselves mine our wealth and take it elsewhere when they’re done."

Brashear is a former graduate assistant at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

Army Corps issues letter giving guidance on determining 'waters of the U.S.' jurisdiction

One of the most controversial points of the Environmental Protection Agency's rules to define "waters of the United States" in federal law has been how far the rules will extend the agency's jurisdiction. On Wednesday the Army Corps of Engineers "unveiled guidance to help regulators in the field decide whether wetlands and streams on property being developed fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government," Tiffany Stecker reports for Greenwire.

"The regulatory guidance letter offers Army Corps districts guidance on when to issue different types of jurisdictional determinations, which establish whether the corps has jurisdiction over wetlands and streams on a tract of land based on whether they are connected to waters downstream," Stecker writes. "The determinations serve as a basis for whether a landowner or developer must obtain permits under the Clean Water Act or the Rivers and Harbors Act."

"The letter was issued in an effort to provide clarity on when it is appropriate for a district regulator to complete a 'preliminary' determination, an 'approved' determination or no determination at all," Stecker writes. "The unanimous decision in Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co. Inc. in May found that approved jurisdictional determinations [AJDs] were 'final agency actions' and thus subject to court challenges. ... Preliminary jurisdictional determinations are only advisory, while approved determinations are legally binding."

The letter says that if the Corps is able to access a tract of land and "is otherwise able to complete an AJD," it will issue one when formally requested.

Amendment before Colorado voters could put an end to local attempts to ban fracking

Colorado residents will vote Nov. 8 on a measure, largely supported by the oil and gas industry, that could put an end to local attempts to ban hydraulic fracturing, Marianne Lavelle reports for InsideClimate News. The industry has contributed 74 percent of the $4.2 million raised in support of Amendment 71, which supporters say protects the state constitution and critics say was designed to make it too difficult for groups, such as rural towns, to get measures on the ballot.

Amendment 71 would require "a more expansive geographic distribution of those signing petitions to put such a measure on the ballot—and then requiring 55 percent of voters to approve it instead of a simple majority," reports The Denver Post. "Specifically, signatures would have to be collected from each of the state’s 35 senate districts in numbers equal to at least 2 percent of the registered voters in each district."

Anti-fracking activists tried, but failed, to get two other measures on this year's ballot. One would have banned new oil and gas facilities within 2,500 feet of an occupied building; the other would have given more power to local governments to restrict fracking. Petitions are required to have 98,492 voter signatures.

Colorado residents tried to get similar measures on the 2014 ballot. That move was derailed by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has said he would do whatever it takes to beat anti-fracking initiatives. In May, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Front Range towns that wanted to pass anti-fracking measures, saying state law trumps local ones.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Obamacare premium increases on average will be much higher in rural areas than urban ones

Health-insurance premiums on the federal exchange will be more expensive in rural areas than urban ones, on average, Mattie Quinn reports for Governing. While rates have increased an average of 25 percent nationwide, fewer options in many rural areas are leading to higher premiums. For example, rates in Oklahoma will rise 76 percent, one of the nation's biggest increases.

Not all rural areas will see big increases, Quinn notes: North Dakota and Wyoming "had some of the lowest premium increases this year at 7 percent." Denise Burke, with the Wyoming Department of Insurance, attributed those increases to proper rate-setting that moved the states from having some of the nation's highest premiums to a more middle ground.

Burke pointed out that Wyoming doesn't have any urban centers to compete with for prices and providers: "We're a rural state across the board. There's really no distinction from one county to the other when it comes to population. We're always going to be an expensive state—we just don't have the population centers to make us financially viable."

In Missouri, rates are expected to be about 50 percent more in rural areas than urban ones, Patrick Ishmael, director of government accountability at the Show-Me Institute, writes for Forbes. "There are whole swaths of Missouri that won't be seeing either the 'best' or the 'cheapest' insurance options that other Missourians see because insurers are unwilling to offer those plans under current market insurance condit."

In Iowa 13 rural counties will only have one plan to choose from, Tony Leys reports for The Des Moines Register. While Colorado will have an average increase of 20 percent, largely rural eastern Colorado will see an average increase of 39 percent, and the Grand Junction area and Mesa County 37 percent, compared to 17 percent in Denver, Blair Miller reports for The Denver Channel.

President says Army Corps of Engineers considering alternate route for Dakota Access Pipeline

President Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering an alternate route for the Dakota Access Pipeline that would avoid crossing the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

“My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline,” Obama told Now This, a New York-based news outlet designed for video on mobile devices. “We’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of First Americans.”

Obama's comments came after "after a week of violent clashes between authorities and activists protesting the controversial project," Derek Hawkins reports for The Washington Post. "Obama’s interview represents the most explicit remarks he has made on the simmering controversy. During a White House tribal conference in September the president offered an elliptical reference to the issue, telling hundreds of tribal represented gathered in Washington, 'I know that many of you have come together across tribes and across the country to support the community at Standing Rock. And together, you’re making your voices heard.'"

Hawkins notes, "The president has elevated American Indian rights during his tenure, establishing a White House tribal liaison and laying the groundwork for a government-to-government relationship with native Hawaiians." Obama was born in Hawaii.

Opioid epidemic has increased rate of grandparents raising grandchildren; 21% live below poverty line

An increasing number of grandparents are raising their grandchildren, largely because many of the children's parents are addicted to heroin or prescription drugs, both increasing problems in rural areas, Teresa Wiltz reports for Stateline. In 2015, 2.9 million kids were living with their grandparents, up from 2.5 million in 2005.

"Child welfare officials say drug addiction, especially to opioids, is behind much of the rise in the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren, just as it was during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s," Wiltz writes. That has led to a growing number of children being neglected or abandoned and for caseworkers to turn to grandparents for help, largely because the foster care system is already overcrowded with children of addicts.

"Federal law requires that states consider placing children with relatives in order to receive foster care and adoption assistance," Wiltz writes. "And grandmothers and grandfathers often are the first—and best—choice when state and local caseworkers have to take a child out of a home and find someone else to take custody, said Angela Sausser, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, a coalition of public child-safety agencies in the state."

Generations United, a group that works to improve the lives of youth and older adults, says that grandparents and other relatives raising children save taxpayers $4 billion each year by keeping the children out of the foster care system, Wiltz reports. But some of those grandparents might not be equipped to handle raising a child. Generations United says that 21 percent of grandparents caring for grandchildren live below the poverty line, 39 percent are over 60 and 26 percent have a disability. "And because many are not licensed in the system, they are not eligible for the same services and financial support as licensed foster parents." (Read more)

Opioid poisonings of youth rose 165% from 1997 to 2012, 205% among those aged 1 to 4

More than 13,000 Americans age 19 and under were hospitalized for opioid poisonings from 1997 to 2012, says a study at the Yale School of Medicine, published in JAMA Pediatrics. The incident rate rose from 1.4 per 100,000 people in 1997 to 3.7 per 100,000 in 2012, an increase of 165 percent. The study found that 176 of the victims died during hospitalization. (Yale graphic: Hospitalizations for opioid poisonings for people under 20 from 1997-2012)
The study, which analyzed U.S. pediatric hospital discharge records every three years from Jan. 1, 1997, through Dec. 31, 2012, found 13,052 instances of opioid poisoning for people between the ages of 1 to 19. Hospitalization rates were highest in older adolescents 15 to 19—they increased from 3.69 per 100,000 to 10.17 per 100,000—but the largest increase was among toddlers, with incidences among those 1 to 4 years old increasing 205 percent, from 0.86 to 2.62 per 100,000, for a total of 1,531.

Epidemiologist Julie R. Gaither, the study's lead author, said research points to the likelihood that the majority of incidences among those 1 to 4 were accidental, from children getting into drugs prescribed to their parents, Ariana Eunjung Cha reports for The Washington Post. There were few cases of poisonings among those 5 to 9, with researchers saying children at these ages were able to tell the difference between candy and a dangerous drug. But once children hit 10, incident rates began to climb, and are more likely attributed to suicide or self-inflicted injury, Gaither said.

Trump shows strength among whites in rural Midwestern counties with heavy Latino immigration

Rural Midwestern towns that have attracted many more immigrants—particularly Latinos—have been some of the biggest supporters of Donald Trump, Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg report for The Wall Street Journal. An analysis by the Journal found that "Among GOP voters in this year’s presidential primaries, counties that diversified rapidly were more likely to vote for the New York businessman."

That includes several areas in Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota that experienced some of the biggest increases in nonwhite residents from 2000 and 2015, Adamy and Overberg write. Trump, who has been openly against immigration and in favor of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, is hitting the Midwest hard this week in the final days before the election. He was Eau Claire, Wis., last night, and Hillary Clinton running mate Tim Kaine was in Madison. (WSJ map: Change in diversity by county, 2000-2015)
"The Journal identified the epicenter of this shift using the diversity index, a tool often used by social scientists and economists,"  Adamy and Overberg write. "It measures the chance that any two people in a county will have a different race or ethnicity. In 244 counties, that diversity index at least doubled between 2000 and 2015, and more than half those counties were in the cluster of five Midwestern states. The analysis excludes tiny counties that produce numeric aberrations." (WSJ map: Overall diversity in 2015)
"In 88 percent of the rapidly diversifying counties, Latino population growth was the main driver," Adamy and Overberg write. "In about two-thirds of counties, newcomers helped expand the overall population. In the remaining third, the population fell despite an influx of new arrivals, which magnified the shift for locals as their peers died or moved away."

"Trump won about 71 percent of sizable counties nationwide during the Republican presidential primaries," Adamy and Overberg write. "He took 73 percent of those where diversity at least doubled since 2000, and 80 percent of those where the diversity index rose at least 150 percent, the Journal’s analysis found." (Read more)

Trump bashes news media, but feeds off coverage and exploits emotions, editorial says

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been blasting the news media, but without journalists reporting his every move, most of his supporters would have no connection to him, The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Colo., points out in an editorial that could inspire community newspapers across the country to write similar takes.

"Trump has been calling the media corrupt and biased as if they’re one monolithic entity controlled by a central, secretive decision-making body," the Sentinel writes. "Those of us in the staid business of dispassionately providing facts are puzzled by this. For one thing, Donald Trump wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for the mainstream media falling over themselves to cover his audacious campaign. Secondly, if the 'media' are just paid shills of the Clinton campaign, as Trump suggests, why would the latest iteration of her email scandal even make the front page or the evening broadcast?"

The editorial cites former Chicago Tribune editor Jack Fuller, who "explains that today’s information overload makes us dramatically more receptive to sensational news. The brain processes media input with the same threat-assessment approach of our cavemen forebears. Emotional stimuli always get top billing. What this means is that serious policy analysis and issues-based campaign coverage (boring) will never rise above the 'importance' of over-the-top rhetoric (danger!)"

"Some so-called 'news' outlets exist not to inform, but to inflame, outrage or extract an emotional response (usually fear and alarm) from their audience," the editorial says. "Trump understands this so well, he’s thinking about launching his own news network. So, the average reader/viewer sees standard, objective journalism as unappetizing. It may not confirm some closely held views. It’s too reliant on experts and authority (the establishment) and it makes people think instead of telling them what to conclude."

Five states to vote on recreational marijuana; study says pot is more addictive than alcohol

Voters in five states will cast ballots Nov. 8 on the legalization of recreational marijuana, while three states will vote on its medicinal use, Thomas Fuller reports for The New York Times. Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada have ballot measures on recreational use. Polls indicate that measures will pass in California, Massachusetts and Maine, while Nevadans are evenly split on the issue. Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota voters will vote on medicinal use.

"The passage of recreational marijuana laws in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington over the past four years may have unlocked the door to eventual federal legalization," Fuller writes. "But a yes vote in California, which has an economy the size of a large industrial country’s, could blow the door open, experts say." Arcview Group, a company that links investors with cannabis companies, projects that if the measure passes in California the market for recreational and medicinal marijuana will grow from $7 billion this year to $22 billion in four years. (NYT map: Current marijuana laws and proposed measures)
"And yet scholars who have studied these legalization measures say that to a large extent they are very much a shot in the dark, a vast public-health experiment that could involve states that hold 23 percent of the U.S. population—and generate a quarter of the country’s economic output—carried out with relatively little scientific research on the risks," Fuller writes.

study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that marijuana was more addictive than alcohol but less so than tobacco, Fuller writes. Lead author Jesse Cougle, from the psychology department at Florida State University, told Fuller, “The addictiveness of cannabis has been underestimated,” saying the findings “definitely contradicts a lot of opinions on the topic.” The study found among weekly users "a 25 percent risk of dependence for marijuana compared with 16 percent for alcohol and 67 percent for tobacco."

Hunting, fishing trips help wounded vets return to normalcy; Veterans Day is Friday, Nov. 11

A Kansas-based nonprofit uses hunting and fishing trips and other outdoor activities to help wounded veterans—Veterans Day is Nov. 11—through the healing process of returning to civilian life. Patriot Outdoors Adventures sites a U.S. Department of Defense Department study that says 1 in 6 combat troops and Marines returning from Iraq found 1 in 6 soldiers "acknowledged symptoms of severe depression and PTSD and 6 in 10 of these same veterans were unlikely to seek help." About 5.3 million veterans—24 percent of all veterans—live in rural areas, according to Office of Rural Health of the Veterans Health Administration.

Carroll, Neb., is in Wayne County (Wikipedia map)
In Carroll, Neb., veterans Mark Wieseler and Brian Petzoldt use the Patriot Outdoor Adventures program to take other veterans deer and turkey hunting, Nick Hytrek reports for the Sioux City Journal. The trips are "meant to be enlightening. Not just in terms of teaching military veterans hunting skills, but getting them to open up and maybe begin to cope with issues they've been facing." Wieseler told Hytrek, "The deer and the turkey, that in my opinion is the bonus. Getting these guys out of the house, around other vets, shows them they're not alone."

Hytrek writes, "Even if not dealing with post-traumatic stress or other conditions caused by their service, many veterans, Wieseler said, just have a hard time adjusting to civilian life. They're used to being told what to do and when. Without that direction, some sit at home and feel isolated." Wieseler told him, "We use the outdoors as a hook. We show them there is life outside of the basement or whatever."

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

'Go-go farmers' in the Midwest who bet the farms sink deeper into debt as crop prices fall

Midwest farmers who borrowed heavily when crop prices were high, then had to borrow more when prices crashed, are now sinking deeper into debt and are unable to pay back loans, P.J. Huffstutter reports for Reuters. Called "go-go farmers" by economists and other growers, "their distress could foreshadow broader economic turmoil in the grain sector, which includes corn, soybeans and wheat."

In Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, non-performing farm loans at banks totaled $288.2 million in the second quarter of 2016, up from $135.2 million in the second quarter of 2013, "the year after corn and soybean prices peaked, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.," Huffstutter writes. (Reuters graphic: Rising debt in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa)
Among the top Midwest grain states, "The number of Chapter 12 filings, limited to those with less than $4.03 million in debt, were 51 percent higher in the 12-month period ending June 30 of this year compared to the same period in 2013, according to federal court data," Huffstutter writes. "In Iowa, the top corn producer, Chapter 12 filings climbed 125 percent." (Reuters graphic: Growing debt on U.S. farms)
Also, "the proportion of extremely leveraged grain and other row crop farmers in the U.S.—those with debts totaling more than 71 percent of assets—doubled, to 2.4 percent, between 2012 and 2015, according to the latest available USDA data," Huffstutter writes. "In all, about one in three U.S. farms raising grain and other row crops, not including cotton, last year were categorized by the Department [of Agriculture]as 'highly leveraged' or 'very highly leveraged,' meaning their debts equaled at least 41 percent of assets." (Read more)

Rural school announces that 4 students were killed; it was a drill against texting and driving

Brodhead High School is in
Brodhead, Wis. (Best Places map)
A rural high school in Wisconsin has gotten into hot water for making a school-wide announcement that four students had died as part of a simulation to deter texting and driving, Amy Wang reports for The Washington Post. Brodhead High School made the announcement Wednesday morning, then 10 minutes later made a second announcement saying it was a drill. The students reported dead were aware of the drill and told not to use their phones.

The drill, created by the student council and approved by administration, was defended by all parties, Wang writes. School Supt. Leonard Lueck told the Post: “While we stand by the worthiness of the activity, we recognize the flaws with how it was communicated. We will evaluate the value of this activity and either make changes to how it is communicated or not do the activity again.” He said "the district formally apologized to parents and students 'for any undue stress this activity may have caused'.”

Miranda Ryser, who identified herself as a student council member, wrote in a Facebook post: "To the people who are upset about what happened at school today, good. I hope you’re upset about it because I would rather have you upset and pissed off at the student council and the principal for a day, instead of being depressed because one of your classmates ACTUALLY died. I get that some people were already affected by other car accidents but it happens. People die on the daily basis and it happens. Touchy subject or not, it happens and it shows that it can happen unexpectedly."

Some students weren't buying that explanation, Hannah Flood reports for WMTV in Madison. Student Madison Trombley told her, "A lot of our fellow friends and students actually started crying because they thought these people were actually dead and so I think a lot of them actually called their parents in school too." Fellow student Sam Bolen told Flood, "It wasn't really effective. They were trying to teach using scare tactics which doesn't teach it just makes you not trust the teachers and any of the announcements you're going to get."

Voters in California, Maine, Nevada and Washington to decide on stricter gun-control measures

Heavy spending by gun-control advocates has put gun-control measures on the Nov. 8 ballots of California, Maine, Nevada and Washington, Ryan Foley reports for The Associated Press: Supporters have outspent opponents in all four states, and "There are no statewide initiatives seeking to expand gun rights anywhere in the U.S."

"In Maine and Nevada, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent millions advocating for background checks on nearly all gun sales and transfers," Foley writes. The "initiatives would require anyone buying or receiving a gun to pass a background check at a federally licensed dealer, with limited exceptions for hunting and transfers of guns between family members. Anyone who has a felony or disqualifying domestic abuse conviction would be denied, as required by federal law."

Advocates in Washington "who successfully campaigned for a background check law in 2014 are now seeking passage of a measure that would allow judges to issue orders temporarily seizing guns from people who are deemed a threat," Foley writes. "For instance, concerned families could seek the removal of guns from relatives threatening to harm themselves or others."

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom "is leading the campaign for a first-of-its-kind law that would require anyone buying ammunition to pass a background check and obtain a state permit," Foley reports.

The National Rifle Association, which has financed opposition in Maine and Nevada, has spent far less than gun-control advocates, Foley writes. "NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said the states were carefully selected because they were 'electorally advantageous' for gun-control supporters." Opponents say the measures "will not stop criminals and go too far by banning the routine sale and transfer of guns between law-abiding citizens, who would have to drive to a firearms dealer and pay for a background check that can cost $30."

Rural-urban divide in the presidential election illustrated by primary and caucus voting

Much has been said about the increased rural/urban divide in politics and how it will affect this year's presidential election. Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder looked at one measure of party identification and support, voting in primaries and caucuses, and found a big rural-urban disparity.

In rural counties, 5.7 million people voted in the Republican nominating process, compared to 3.3 million Democrats. In urban counties, 18.9 million Democrats voted, compared to 14.6 million Republicans, Bishop reports. Overall, about the same number of people voted Republican (31 million) and Democratic (30.3 million).

In the Republican primaries and caucuses 18.5 percent of all voters were from rural counties, compared to 10.8 percent in the Democratic process, Bishop writes. Overall, 54.7 percent of Americans live in large counties, but 62.4 percent of voters in the Democratic primary were from these counties, compared to 47.2 percent of Republican primary voters. (Yonder map: Primary voters by geography)

Love it or hate it, Hillbilly Elegy has made its author a star interview for the political season

J.D. Vance
J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, has become a surprise star of the presidential election. Some have pointed to the book to explain Donald Trump's success in rural areas, while others have chastised the book for being an absurd portrayal of Appalachia that completely misses the mark. Either way, Vance has become one of the most sought-after interviews this fall.

"Yahoo named him one of the 16 unexpected people who made this presidential election interesting," Cheryl Truman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "His media credits are the stuff of dreams: discussed at length in The New Yorker, interviewed by Brian Williams on MSNBC, a TED talk on 'America’s forgotten working class.' He deconstructed a Trump-Clinton debate for The New York Times under the headline 'Trump Is Faltering, But Does Clinton Know It?'”

Vance, was born in Eastern Kentucky's Breathitt County, grew up in Appalachian Ohio and attended Yale University, and is now a lawyer in Silicon Valley. He said he began writing the book "after noting that his background was unique among his colleagues in law school at Yale," Truman writes, "but he was surprised as the book gained national traction during 'the very unique political moment we find ourselves in. ... As somebody who’s not a big fan of Trump, I think it’s not necessarily the country’s gain that so many people are asking these questions.'”

Love it or hate it, the book has propelled Vance into becoming "the Hillbilly Guru, the Redneck Whisperer: While appalled by Donald Trump, he can explain to the nation’s elites why Trump’s simple, confrontational style resonates with voters disaffected by the lack of the stable middle class lives they thought were theirs and looking for something to blame," Truman writes, advancing Vance's scheduled appearance at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort this Saturday.

Water and chemical firms to pay victims $151M for 2014 chemical spill that fouled W.Va. water

Business Insider map
A settlement of a class-action lawsuit will require West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical Co. to pay $151 million in compensation for the 2014 chemical spill that contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 people in Charleston and surrounding communities, Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. West Virginia American will pay $125 million and Eastman $26 million.

"Exact distribution plans for the money still are being worked out, but lawyers for the plaintiff class said they believe the settlements will compensate everyone affected by the spill—from residents who had to purchase bottled water to businesses that had to close when they couldn’t use their water, to individuals who sought medical attention after being exposed to the chemicals that contaminated the region’s drinking water supply following the Jan. 9, 2014, spill at Freedom Industries," Ward writes.

Both companies said in statements that as part of the settlement "they did not admit any fault or liability for the contamination of the region’s drinking water," Ward writes. West Virginia American said, “A resolution through a settlement allows us and our dedicated employees to serve our customers without the distractions of ongoing lawsuits.” Eastman said, “We we worked with plaintiffs’ counsel to negotiate a global settlement to resolve all litigation, and to provide benefits and closure to the community.”

Monday, October 31, 2016

Leapfrog Group issues its latest twice-yearly rankings of 2,633 hospitals for patient safety

The Leapfrog Group today announced its latest Hospital Safety Grade, which twice a year assigns letter grades to 2,633 U.S. hospitals for patient safety. In this round, 844 hospitals earned an A, and 658 got a B. The most common grade was a C, given to 954 hospitals. There were 157 Ds and 20 Fs. Results are searchable by hospital, ZIP code, city and state. To look up hospitals click here. Many rural hospitals are not rated because they are classified as "critical access" and thus don't have to report their quality measures. But you could ask them for those reports.

Grades are calculated using 30 publicly available hospital safety performance measures from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Leapfrog Hospital Survey, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Hospital Association’s Annual Survey and Health Information Technology Supplement.  (Map shows percentage of hospitals in each state that received an A)

County-level maps show changes in uninsured rates each year since Obamacare went into effect

County-level interactive maps by The New York Times show the changes in the number of uninsured Americans since federal health reform took full effect in 2014. Nationally, there has been a 7 percent drop in uninsured adults, but many people in the South and Southwest still lack a reliable way to pay for health insurance, Margot Sanger-Katz and Quoctrung Bui report for the Times. "Many of the places with high uninsured rates had poor coverage before the Affordable Care Act passed," they write, and "tend to be states with widespread poverty and limited social safety nets." (Example of interactive map)
Most of the states with higher shares of uninsured residents refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, Sanger-Katz and Bui write. "It appears that Medicaid expansion has had a couple of effects: It provided a new coverage option for childless adults below or near the poverty line. It helped spur many people who were already eligible for the program to sign up. And it may have helped boost enrollment in Obamacare’s marketplace plans." (Maps show changes in percentage of uninsured in each county from 2013 to 2016)

GMO crops aren't boosting yields, but herbicide use is up; Monsanto blames weed problems

Genetically modified crops have "not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides," Danny Hakim reports for The New York Times. An Times analysis of United Nations data "showed that the U.S. and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields—food per acre—when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany." (NYT graphic: Herbicide use is on the rise in the U.S.)
Also, a National Academy of Sciences report "found that 'there was little evidence' that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the U.S. had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops," Hakim writes. At the same time, herbicide use in the U.S. has increased, "even as major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to modified varieties. And the U.S. has fallen behind Europe’s biggest producer, France, in reducing the overall use of pesticides, which includes both herbicides and insecticides." (NYT graphic: U.S. and Western Europe corn yields have remained similar, despite increased GMO use in the U.S.)
Since genetically modified varieties of corn, cotton and soybeans were introduced in the U.S. about 20 years ago, "The use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent," Hakim writes. "By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage—65 percent—and herbicide use has decreased by 36 percent."

Robert T. Fraley, chief technology officer at Monsanto, accused the Times of cherry-picking data to make the industry look bad. He told Hakim, “Every farmer is a smart businessperson, and a farmer is not going to pay for a technology if they don’t think it provides a major benefit. Biotech tools have clearly driven yield increases enormously." Monsanto said in a statement: “While overall herbicide use may be increasing in some areas where farmers are following best practices to manage emerging weed issues, farmers in other areas with different circumstances may have decreased or maintained their herbicide usage.” (Read more)

Depression increases when clocks are rolled back, says Danish study; daylight saving time ends Sun.

On Sunday clocks will roll back an hour to end daylight saving time, which means the sun will rise later and set earlier by the clock, increasing the amount of darkness in most workdays. The time change leads to an increased rate of depression, says a study by researchers in the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University in Denmark, published in the journal Epidemiology.

Researchers looked at data from the Danish Psychiatric Central Research Register from 1995 to 2012, looking at incident rates of unipolar depression. Unlike bipolar, which consists of cycles of highs and lows, unipolar sufferers remain low, often remaining apathetic, emotionally unresponsive and may become withdrawn, hopeless and overwhelmed.

Of 185,419 cases studied, researchers found that the end of daylight saving time in the fall was associated "with an 11 percent in the incidence rate of unipolar depressive episodes that dissipated over approximately 10 weeks." At the same time, "The transition from standard time to summer time was not associated with a parallel change in the incidence rate of unipolar depressive episodes."

Lead researcher Søren D. Østergaard said, "The transition to standard time is likely to be associated with a negative psychological effect as it very clearly marks the coming of a period of long, dark and cold days." (Read more)

Longer, warmer summers creating new farming opportunities in arctic areas such as Alaska

In Bethel, Alaska, rising temperatures have made it possible
to grow cabbage outside (KYUK photo by Daysha Eaton)
Longer, warmer summers are opening up new agricultural prospects in arctic areas, Hannah Hoag reports for News Deeply, part of a series of online news sites launched by former ABC News and Bloomberg Television Middle East correspondent Lara Setrakian that focus on the arctic, Syria, the California drought and refugees.

"In the arctic, where temperatures are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the world, warmer weather is allowing chefs, farmers and enterprising agricultural researchers to grow vegetables, grains, herbs and other plants that have typically been planted in more temperate fields," Hoag reports.

Milan Shipka, director of the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the state's number of frost-free days has almost doubled since the 1900s, Hoag writes. Shipka told Hoag, “The ability to work the ground occurred at least two weeks earlier than what anyone would have expected.”

That's opening up new farming possibilities for the state's 750 farms that in 2014 contributed more than $48 million to the economy, Hoag writes. Torfi Jóhannesson, president of the Circumpolar Agricultural Association, which earlier this month held a conference in Iceland on arctic agriculture, told Hoag, "Agriculture will be possible in many places where it is not now.” (Read more)

Iowa is first state to generate more than 1/3 of electricity from wind; prices fell 2/3 in last 6 years

Iowa is the first state to generate more than a third of its electricity from wind. According to a report from The American Wind Energy Association, "Iowa is deriving more than 35 percent of its electricity from wind energy, an increase from statistics made public earlier this year," The Associated Press reports. The figure is based on a 12-month rolling average through the end of August 2016, as compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Iowa is ranked third nationally in the number of electricity-producing wind turbines, with just over 3,700, AP reports. Iowa also has the seventh lowest electricity prices in the country, and its wind energy supports 7,000 jobs.

Data through September 2016. For an interactive map click here. (AWEA graphic)
Iowa isn't the only state that has gained momentum; utilities and ratepayers across the country have increased their investment in wind energy. Thanks to technological innovation, the price consumers pay for wind power fell two thirds in six years, the wind-energy group said. According to the Wind Energy Foundation, wind turbines generate about 4 percent of U.S. electricity.

Nebraska program pays undergraduate tuition for students seeking to practice law in rural areas

Nebraska has launched a program to meet the state's rural lawyer shortage, Leslie Reed reports for Nebraska Today, the newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Of the state's 93 counties, 31 have three or fewer lawyers and 11 have none. (Nebraska State Bar Association map: Counties with three or fewer lawyers. Yellow counties have none.)
The Rural Opportunities Law Program is a partnership between the University of Nebraska College of Law, Wayne State College, Chadron State College and the University of Nebraska at Kearney "to jointly recruit incoming college freshmen from rural Nebraska to pursue legal careers outside Nebraska’s metropolitan areas."

As part of the program undergraduate students receive free tuition Reed writes. If they maintain a 3.5 grade point average "and achieve a predetermined score on the Law School Admissions Test based on the College of Law’s current admission standards, they will be admitted automatically to the College of Law. Participants also will receive programming, support and mentorships from the law college while they’re pursuing their bachelor’s degrees."

The program apparently operates on the honor system, at least for now. Reed reports, "After earning their law degrees, the new attorneys would be expected to return to rural Nebraska to launch their careers."

The program is modeled after a successful program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Reed writes. Launched in 1990, that program has graduated more than 420 students, 65 percent of which remained in Nebraska, with 73 percent of those doctors working in rural areas. Robert Bartee, the medical center's vice chancellor for external affairs, said of that program, “The overriding thing we learned is that you have a much better chance of having a graduate go back to a rural area if they’re from a rural area."