Thursday, September 14, 2017

4 senators (2 Rs, 2 Ds) offer 19 recommendations to boost economy and health in Appalachia

"Four U.S. senators and the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center on Wednesday proposed 19 measures to boost the economy in Appalachia, including expanded broadband and telemedicine and tapping the region's 'vast' natural gas reserves for chemical and advanced manufacturing facilities," Michael Virtanen reports for The Associated Press.

Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia, along with Republicans David Perdue of Georgia and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, each led one of four policy roundtables with regional and national stakeholders to introduce and discuss ideas for improving the region. Those and other data gathering led to the recommendations in the report, which relies heavily on data gathered by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Here's a brief summary of the report's recommendations:
  1. Provide flexibility, incentives and leadership to empower local leaders to build education and workforce development strategies and programs. In most cases, the report says, successful education and job training programs are built at the local level.
  2. Reform Pell Grant eligibility to include more non-traditional students, such as part-timers, older students, students in community college credentialing programs, and students enrolled in apprenticeships or other work-and-learn programs.
  3. Legislators and the departments of Labor and Education should include virtual learning options in new grant programs that target high-demand skills and post-secondary credential attainment.
  4. Regional and town leaders, or the private sector, should foster "domestic study abroad" programs to share innovative ideas and build connections across the region. An exchange program "that pairs leaders and students from newly prospering communities with counterparts from distressed communities, could increase learning and help build regional connections."
  5. Provide a tax credit to companies that provide professional development training to help workers gain more skills.
  6. Reduce overlap and duplication in the federal government's financial regulatory structure, and give regulators more flexibility to decide when more regulatory supervision is need.This could help ease the burden that stricter banking regulations have placed on small community banks, which are more likely to lend to small businesses.
  7. Establish a Senate Task Force on Intergovernmental Affairs, like the House just did. This would be a bipartisan group focused on balancing the interests of federal, state, tribal and local governments. It could help figure out where the government could lessen regulations to help rural entrepreneurs and business owners.
  8. Expand federal programs that facilitate workforce-related public-private partnerships. The lack of skilled workers is a barrier to job creation in Appalachia; private companies could work directly with universities to develop workers with the skills needed to succeed in jobs there.
  9. Identify barriers that prevent Appalachian businesses from accessing existing workforce programs. The Senate task force recommended above would be ideal for this effort, the report says.
  10. Use Appalachia's natural-gas reserves to build up chemical and advanced manufacturing industries. The first step would be to develop a storage and trading hub for natural gas liquids. This could help Appalachia become a natural gas hub that could one day rival the one on the Gulf Coast.
  11. Conduct more federal research to develop widely useable technology to extract rare-earth elements from coal byproducts. The U.S. currently relies on other countries like China for rare-earth elements, which are important for national defense, electronics, and medications. Researchers say Appalachian coal has some of the highest concentrations of rare-earth elements in the country.
  12. Accelerate the commercialization of carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies. The report says that's necessary to ensure that American coal is competitive in domestic power generation markets and that the U.S. will be a leader in exporting clean coal technology to developing nations.
  13. Complete the Appalachian Development Highway System to help distressed rural communities improve their infrastructure. The system is 90 percent complete. 
  14. Improve and streamline the complicated and often-lengthy federal permitting process while maintaining environmental protections.
  15. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of County and City Health Officials should combine forces with local affiliates in rural Appalachia to improve local health outcomes.
  16. Direct federal agencies to take action needed to expand and require opioid training for health-care professionals. Too many opioid prescriptions are being issued, and for too long, at too high a dose, the report says. 
  17. Improve nutrition in rural Appalachia through evidence-based policies and programs.
  18. Local and state officials should consider policies and initiatives to promote lifelong dental hygiene.
  19. Support telemedicine and efforts to stretch the health professional workforce in innovative ways.

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