Saturday, June 18, 2016

Photographer spends six years documenting Okla. town's fight against coal ash from nearby plant

Red dot on map of Oklahoma is the town of Bokoshe.
"The people of Bokoshe, Okla., breathe coal ash being dumped nearby every day. They believe it's causing widespread health problems and a rise in cancer deaths," Inside Climate News reports.

Bokoshe, a town of 500, is near a coal-fired power plant near the Arkansas border. "Its toxic byproduct, coal ash, is trucked daily to a nearby dump, and when the wind blows through town, that ash rains down on its residents," ICN reports. "They believe it is to blame for the asthma and cancer that runs rampant there." The dump is not covered or lined. A third of Bokoshe's residents don't have health insurance and 40 percent have incomes below the poverty line.

Carlan Tapp
Photographer Carlan Tapp has been documenting the story for six years. He recalled his first visit: "The street is full of light gray coal ash. I'd been around the stuff enough to recognize it. This is toxic material and it's lining the streets. . . . I've seen sixth-grade kids where over half of them have asthma and there's a locker full of inhalers. The trucks would be so dirty running from the power plant into town that the stuff would just be blowing off of them."

ABC News reported on the controversy in 2011. The Rural Blog did in 2010.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Southern Baptist Convention asks members of its churches to not display Confederate battle flag

The battle flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army
of Northern Virginia came to be known as the
Confederate battle flag, often as a rectangle.
The Southern Baptist Convention, which has more than 15 million members, has called on its followers to stop flying the Confederate flag. The organization "voted Tuesday to amend a resolution against the Confederate battle flag, following a similar denouncement by [Mississippi's] Methodist Church last week," Sarah Fowler reports for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. The Baptist convention said in a resolution, “We call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters."

 Mississippi's flag includes the battle flag.
Some Southern states' flags have hints of Confederate flags, but Mississippi's is explicit, using the battle flag as its canton. William Perkins, editor of the Baptist Record, the newspaper of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, "said Wednesday that changing the state flag was the Christian thing to do," Fowler writes. Speaking of the Civil War, Perkins told her, "As a native Southerner, I have heard the stories from my grandparents passed down from their grandparents about the valor of the people who fought in that war, but this is 2016, and as Christians we need to decide whether we’re going to be held back by symbols of the past or whether we’re going to move forward and do the right thing, and that requires prayer from each one us. It’s a symbol of oppression and strife and offense."

Oregon wants to halt crude-oil trains through state; cites poor safety inspections by railroads

Oregon Department of Transportation photo 
Oregon, where a crude oil train derailed in rural Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge this month, "has asked the Federal Railroad Administration to place an open-ended moratorium on oil trains traveling through the state," Hillary Borrud reports for The Oregonian. Officials said they were concerned that preliminary findings of an investigation into the derailment "suggest inspectors might not be able to detect the problem that likely caused the crash."

"Investigators identified a problem with the screws that fasten the rails to the railroad ties as the cause of the derailment," Borrud writes. "But in a June 8 letter to the Federal Railroad Administration, an Oregon Department of Transportation administrator said recent inspections failed to catch a number of broken screws along the track in Mosier." Hal Gard, the state's rail and public transit administrator, wrote, "Until the underlying cause of the bolt failures is understood and a means of detecting this defect is developed, we request a moratorium on running unit trains over sections of track that contain track fasteners of this material in the state of Oregon."

Oregon has yet to receive a response from federal officials, said ODT spokesman Tom Fuller, Borrud writes. "The broken screws along the track in mosier were already rusted, suggesting they had been damaged for awhile. Fuller said Union Pacific Railroad, which voluntarily suspended oil-by-rail shipments through the gorge on a temporary basis, claims its inspectors can identify the broken fasteners. Fuller told Borrud, "However, it ran over those same tracks recently and didn't detect it. If they claim they can detect these bolts, why didn't they?" (Read more)

Meal-kit services deliver fresh vegetables to homes; costs, nutrition, safety could be concerns

Meal-kit delivery services are taking the food industry by storm by delivering fresh ingredients to a customer's door. "Investors have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a wave of ambitious start-ups with names like Plated and Sun Basket that are aiming to take a piece of a grocery industry that has proven difficult to disrupt," Sarah Halzack reports for The Washington Post. "Each meal-delivery player has its own hook: HelloFresh has enlisted celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to whip up exclusive recipes, while Marley Spoon is doing the same with Martha Stewart. Purple Carrot, backed by former New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman, touts plans for vegans; PeachDish promises customers seasonal food with Southern flair." (Post photo: Roger Bautista's farm in upstate New York)

Blue Apron, which has developed an "almost-cult following among people who want to prepare original home-cooked meals without the fuss of dealing with a shopping list," is trying to get people interested in vegetables with names that sound like something out of a children's story, Halzack writes, citing names such as Fairy Tale eggplant, Shokichi Shiro squash, Atlas carrots and at least 40 other specialty crops.

"Earlier upstarts tried to win over shoppers by delivering food to their doorsteps and saving them a trip to the grocery store," Halzack writes. "The dinner-in-a-box companies, though, are betting that they can bypass the supermarket altogether by adding the convenience of curating recipes and portions so that all families have to do is chop and stir and fire up the stove. It's still too soon to know whether they will ultimately become a threat to traditional grocers. But Blue Apron thinks the secret might be changing the logistics of how fresh food moves to the pantry, fundamentally rethinking the food supply chain by starting all the way back at the farm."

A September 2015 survey by the research firm Mintel found that about 21 percent of people surveyed used one of these services at least once a month, with the number growing to 40 percent among millennials, Gina Shaw reports for WebMD. "According to market research firm Technomic, the global 'meal kit' market topped $1 billion in 2015."

There are some drawbacks to the programs, namely costs and nutrition, Shaw writes. "Prices vary by company and plan, but for two meals a week for a family of four, you'll spend about $69.92 at Blue Apron and $59.95 at HelloFresh. Three meals a week for two on Plated runs about $72 per week." That means customers, on average, are basically paying someone $70 an hour to shop for them, said Tim Harlan, a former restaurateur associate and chief of general internal medicine at Tulane University. Harlan told Shaw that while freshness is a plus to meal kits, “Most of the recipes are tremendously high in sodium, fat, or both, and the portion sizes are often too large.”

And there have been recalls due to contamination, the latest one being Hello Fresh frozen peas for possible listeria, in kits distributed in March and last week. "We expect that the March items have already been consumed and no cases of illness have been reported," Hello Fresh said in a news release. "The peas would have arrived in a portion cup inside a kit box labeled with the recipe names described above."

Suit seeks to put 'This Land Is Your Land' in public domain, says any copyright expired long ago

Woody Guthrie (Associated Press photo)
Woody Guthrie's classic song "This Land Is Your Land" could soon be in the public domain, if the New York law firm that last year persuaded a federal judge to put "Happy Birthday to You" there has its way, Niraj Chokshi reports for The New York Times. The firm of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz also hopes to do the same for the Civil Rights-era protest song “We Shall Overcome.” Guthrie's song was written in response to Irving Berlin's “God Bless America,” which Guthrie "felt inadequately addressed land and wealth inequality, according to the Library of Congress."

The suit filed Tuesday for "This Land Is Your Land" aims to liberate "a song known to generations of schoolchildren who have raised their voices to sing about a free country belonging to one and all, sprawling 'from California to New York Island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters'," Chokshi writes. "The suit was filed on behalf of the Brooklyn band Satorii, which recorded two versions of the song. It argues that the music belongs to the public and not to The Richmond Organization and its subsidiary, Ludlow Music, the publishing company that collects licensing fees to use the composition. Ludlow did not return phone calls or answer an email message seeking comment on Thursday."

Satorii and their lawyers say that in 1945, Guthrie "published the song with a copyright notice that was never renewed," Chokshi writes. "As a result, that copyright would have expired—and the song would have entered the public domain—28 years later, in 1973, they say. Despite Guthrie’s publication, Ludlow filed for its own copyright of the song in 1956, according to the suit. But Satorii and its lawyers argue that Ludlow never had a right to claim the copyright in the first place."

Jam bands serving up bluegrass music and a side of corny jokes in Appalachian fast-food joints

Bluegrass jam bands are playing music and cracking jokes in Appalachia in some of the strangest places, including fast food restaurants, shopping malls and courthouses, John Miller reports for The Wall Street Journal. "The bluegrass jam at the Dairy Queen in Rocky Mount, Va., has been going 20 years. It has become such an important part of the restaurant’s identity that its owners remodeled the sound system so customers could hear the music better." Deborah Russell, whose family has owned the restaurant since the 1970s, told Miller, “We rigged it up so people can hear it on the street and in the bathroom." (Miller photo: Hardees in Clarksburg, W.Va.)

A group in Clarksburg, W.Va., jams at the local Hardee's, after having moved from a McDonald's when remodeling made it difficult to clear enough space to play, Miller writes. The jams are basically a free-for-all. "Usually, players turn up representing at least one of the instruments that make up a bluegrass lineup—bass, guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle. Anybody can call a tune to play, or join in when they feel like it."

The musicians are also performers, throwing out corny jokes between songs, Miller writes. For instance, one joke goes: “Excuse me, where does this road go? Stranger, this road don’t go nowhere. Every morning, I wake up, and it’s still here.” Another goes: “Fellow said, can you lend me five bucks? Other fellow said, I can’t hear you. First fellow said, can you lend me 10 bucks? Other fellow said, I heard you the first time.” (Read more)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

220 counties judged at high risk for HIV or hep-C outbreaks; 56% in Appalachian Ky., Tenn. and W.Va.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 220 counties—most of them rural—that are most vulnerable to an HIV or hepatitis C outbreak similar to last year's epidemic in Austin, Ind., Arian Campos-Flores and Betsy McKay report for The Wall Street Journal. Of the 220 counties, 56 percent are in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia "in the Appalachian region hardest-hit by the opioid crisis."(WSJ map; click on it for a larger version)
At least 194 people have been infected with HIV or hepatitis C in Scott County, Indiana, which includes Austin. "The lifetime cost of treating the HIV patients, as well as those with hepatitis C, could approach $100 million, the CDC estimates," Campos-Flores and McKay write. Most cases have been linked to intravenous drug use.

John Brooks, senior medical adviser for the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention and lead author of the analysis, told the Journal that injection drug use accounted for 6 percent of new HIV cases in 2014, much less than in the mid-1990s, when the share was above 30 percent. Indiana Health Commissioner Jerome Adams said the state's HIV outbreak is largely contained, "with only a handful of new cases in the past six months," Campos-Flores and McKay write. "Among those with HIV in the area, 91 percent are engaged in care. Of those, 73 percent have received prescriptions for antiretroviral drugs and 66 percent are virally suppressed, meaning their HIV load has decreased to an undetectable level. William Cooke, Austin’s sole full-time doctor, treats about 110 HIV-positive patients, and his office is connected to a new clinic run by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation that dispenses antiretroviral drugs." (Read more)

Massachusetts town's success at fighting opioid addiction offered as a model for all rural places

Law-enforcement officials in Gloucester, Mass. (Best Places map), have reduced local opioid use by offering treatment and immunity, Zachary Toliver reports for The Rural Monitor in the second part of a series on the opioid epidemic in rural communities. The first part, published in May, looked at how the opioid epidemic tests the limits of rural health care.

As part of the Gloucester Police Department's "Angel" program, when addicts come to the station to ask for help, an officer will take them to the local hospital, "where they will be paired with a volunteer 'angel' who will help guide them through the process," the department website says. "If you have drugs or drug paraphernalia on you, we will dispose of it for you. You will not be arrested. You will not be charged with a crime. You will not be jailed. All you have to do is come to the police station and ask for help. We are here to do just that."

The program, which began in 2015, has referred more than 430 patients for treatment and overnight incarceration costs at the station have dropped 75 percent, Toliver writes. "With a population of 29,000 and less than 40 miles from Boston, Gloucester isn’t considered rural by most commonly-used definitions. However, the GDP’s achievements gave life to the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, which is a partnership of over 100 police departments and 250 treatment facilities across the U.S. Many of these affiliated police departments are rural and mimic the Angel program step-by-step."

"The National Rural Health Association’s new policy paper on the rural opioid crisis urges more rural communities to explore the use of the Gloucester model and other unprecedented programs to combat opioid addiction," Toliver writes.

Low corn production in South America means U.S. exports are projected to be highest since 2009-10

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has increased projections for corn and soybeans, "thanks to lower production in South America and rising demand for U.S. commodities," Roy Leidahl reports for Iowa Farmer Today. "Brazil’s weather woes—plus lower production in Uruguay and China—helped boost U.S. exports," with USDA increasing corn export projections "by 100 million bushels for old-crop and 50 million for new-crop." Another boost is that forecasts indicate "wetter conditions that would favor crops in much of the Midwest."

The latest corn projections would be the highest overseas sales of the product since the 2009-10 season, Joel Karlin reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. "The cumulative sales total of 148.7 million bushels as of the first week of June is actually below the five year average of 155.9 million for this time of year, and those sales are only 9.4 percent of the June. Foreign corn buyers like U.S. end-users are certainly aware that global supplies might not be as abundant as thought earlier in the spring but are notably resistant to procuring more supplies after an 80 cent rally has lifted values to their highest levels in a year and feed wheat becomes cheaper by the day." (DTN graphic)

Appalachian Regional Commission releases 2016 version of 'Bon Appétit Appalachia!'

More than 830 farms, restaurants, bakeries, breweries, wineries and festivals in the 13 Appalachian states are highlighted in the Appalachian Regional Commission's 2016 "Bon Appétit Appalachia!" published today. The organization describes the map as "the largest searchable online map of local food businesses and entrepreneurs operating in Appalachia."

This year's version has 72 percent more locations than in the inaugural edition released in 2014, ARC says. A printed map also is available through state tourism agencies in the 13 Appalachian states. The map also is being published in Edible Communities magazines. Edible Communities has a monthly podcast, "Backroad Journeys," that profiles businesses on "Bon Appétit Appalachia!" (Read more)

Rural prisons rarely provide expected economic gains, The Marshall Project reports, citing data

Poor rural towns banking on a new prison to boost the local economy could be fooling themselves, Tom Meagher and Christie Thompson report for The Marshall Project, which calls itself "a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system."

One of the main draws of a prison is the prospect of new jobs. But most of those jobs go to employees already in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons system, not locals. For example, 300 people will be employed at a prison scheduled to be built in coal-dependent Letcher County in southeastern Kentucky—one of the nation's poorest regions—but the Environmental Protection Agency said most, if not all the positions, will be filled by employees already in the system.

Also, those employees often don't move to the community, so "there's little gain in home ownership, voter registration, tax base or other civic investment," Meagher and Thompson write. Construction jobs also rarely go to locals, unless they already have the necessary skills or union connections. A 2003 study by the Sentencing Project of prisons in New York found that "local governments, desperate to secure a new prison that could go to another county, will often forego requirements that a certain number of jobs be set aside for their constituents." (Sentencing Project graphic)
A 2010 study published in Social Science Quarterly that examined how prisons impacted employment in every county in the lower 48 states "found that in rural counties, particularly those whose residents have lower levels of education, 'new prisons may be doing ‘more harm than good’ in vulnerable counties,'" Meagher and Thompson write. Researchers "found that after 1990, there was no link between prisons and a growth in employment. Moreover, for counties with lower rates of educational attainment, prisons were inversely related to employment growth." Prisoners also are cheap labor, doing jobs for cheaper wages than locals would make, said the study.

Prisons also have been known to deter new businesses, who don't want to open near a prison, Meagher and Thompson write. "Thomas G. Johnson, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri and an agricultural economist who has studied the American rural economies for decades, has seen that prisons rarely spark the wave of related business development their proponents wish for." He told the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, "Manufacturing plants always are more advantageous to the community than the prisons. The prisons generate very few linkages to the economy." (Read more)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Appeals court backs FCC's internet neutrality rules

Supporters of internet neutrality—which is expected to help rural areas that lack broadband—earned a huge victory Tuesday. The federal appeals court for the District of Columbia, by a 2-1 decision, dismissed arguments from telecom giants such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast "that the Federal Communications Commission exceeded its authority in approving regulations last year," Jim Puzzanghera reports for the Los Angeles Times. The FCC rules were designed to prevent dominant broadband suppliers from abusing their market power.

"FCC was responding to fears that broadband providers might charge more money for faster delivery of content passing through their networks to Americans’ computers or mobile devices, or block or slow competitors’ content. Broadband companies denied that they had such plans," Puzzanghera writes. "In addition to prohibiting those practices, the court ruling cleared the way for other uses of the FCC’s expanded authority. The agency has proposed limits on how internet service providers use the vast and potentially lucrative trove of information they have about their customers and possible restrictions on so-called zero-rating plans that exempt some streaming content from wireless data caps."

AT&T said it would appeal the decision, with attorney David McAtee saying they expect the issue to be decided by the Supreme Court, Puzzanghera writes. "Republican lawmakers promised to try to overturn the FCC's actions with legislation, which could be successful if they make gains in November’s election and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wins the White House."

The decision "affirms Washington's ability to regulate Internet providers like legacy telephone companies," Brian Fung reports for The Washington Post. "Approved in a bitterly partisan vote last year, the move by the FCC to 'reclassify' internet providers significantly expanded the agency's role in overseeing the industry. It opened up Internet providers to all-new obligations they were not subject to before, such as privacy requirements that all telecom companies currently follow in order to protect consumers' personal data."

"The court verdict puts to rest—for now—a key question: Whether the internet represents a vital communications platform that deserves to be regulated with the same scrutiny as the common networks of the past, such as the telephone system," Fung writes. "Writing for the court, Judges David Tatel and Sri Srinivasan held that despite advances in technology, the underlying importance of the Internet to everyday communications and commerce makes it more similar to the phone system than not. The court's lone dissenting voter, Judge Stephen Williams, said that while he agreed that the FCC could legally classify broadband companies as telecommunications carriers, the agency did not do enough to prove that today's information ecosystem has changed sufficiently to justify the move."

States addressing rural doctor shortages by creating opportunities for homegrown physicians

Many states are creating new medical opportunities close to home in an effort to train and retain homegrown doctors in rural areas, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. Eighty-four percent of U.S. medical schools "have, or plan to establish, programs to recruit diverse students interested in working with underserved populations," Ellen Wexler reported in May for Inside Higher Ed. That includes a new medical school opening at Arkansas State University this fall that has an initial enrollment of 115.

Overall, medical-school enrollment in the U.S. has risen 25 percent—by nearly 87,000—since 2002, according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The number of students in osteopathic medical school has more than doubled, to nearly 26,000, during that time. Doctor shortages are still a concern, especially in the rural South. By 2025, the U.S. will have a shortage of 94,700 physicians, reports AAMC. (AAMC map: Active physicians in 2014 per 100,000 population)
Some states, such as Georgia and Texas, are increasing their number of medical residencies, Ollove writes. Twenty-seven states "offer grants and stipends to medical students and residents willing to do clinical rotations in parts of their states where doctors are needed most. Some states have created branches of their medical schools in underserved areas to attract doctors and residents to the regions. The University of Kentucky College of Medicine, for instance, is creating satellite campuses in the southern and eastern part of the state."

"Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri passed measures in the last two years that enable medical school graduates to treat patients before completing their residencies," Ollove writes. "Almost all states have embraced telemedicine, in which doctors use audiovisual technology to treat patients in remote locations, notably rural areas, from afar. And several states, such as Arizona, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Vermont and Washington, have liberalized laws to enable nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform some treatment normally done by doctors." (Read more)

Washington to study state's mental-health worker shortages; lack of providers a concern in rural U.S.

The state of Washington will study behavioral health provider shortages in rural areas, culminating with a report of recommendations to be delivered to the governor by December 2017, Sheila Hagar reports for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Recruiting mental health specialists in rural areas is a national problem, with many areas having shortages, or no providers at all. You can look for shortage areas here(Mental Health America map: Washington state is 47th in the organization's mental health care rankings based on 13 categories. The higher the number, the higher the prevalence of mental illness and the lower the access to care. Rates can vary widely within states, and rural areas are usually short on access.)
The goal of the Washington study "is to develop a plan to help ensure enough licensed or certified physical and behavioral health professionals are available to meet demand, and explore the role of community health workers in supporting people with problems," Hagar writes. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who initiated the study, told Hagar, “This evaluation will establish a baseline for behavioral health workforce shortages and provide a plan for improving how we coordinate the right services for patients."

One problem is limits on how Medicare covers mental health, Hagar writes. "Currently, the government insurance program will pay only for certain specialties, such as psychiatry, licensed social workers and psychologists. In reality, other providers—mental health counselors, for example — can provide a patient the same or more appropriate care at less money, but Medicare won’t pick up the tab," said Rick Weaver, chief executive officer for Yakima-based Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health, which also serves Walla Walla County. Weaver, who was in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday trying to convince lawmakers to redefine boundaries of who Medicare pays for mental health services, said "changing that would allow more patients to access help in places like Walla Walla, where psychiatrists are difficult to come by." (Read more)

Georgia Power speeds closure of coal-ash ponds

Georgia Power Co. announced on Monday that it "is accelerating its closure of toxic coal-ash ponds, a move welcomed by environmental groups who fear arsenic, lead and other heavy metals can leach into groundwater and poison homeowners’ wells," Dan Chapman and Russell Grantham report for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The move "brings Georgia more in line with neighboring states that have already closed coal ash ponds or ordered them cleaned up." (AJC photo by Bob Andres: Ash lagoon at Plant McDonough near Smyrna, Ga.)

"Georgia Power said its 29 ash ponds statewide will no longer receive coal ash within three years, as opposed to a much lengthier timeline previously announced," Chapman and Grantham write. "Ash from 16 of those ponds, located near lakes or rivers, will be completely removed and added to other ponds and landfills or recycled. The company’s other 13 ponds will be 'closed in place' with concrete barriers and other measures designed to keep the ash from the groundwater."

A Georgia Power spokesperson said "it will cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion to close the ponds and keep coal-fired electric plants from creating additional 'wet' ash," Chapman and Grantham write. The power plants "will keep running while the conversion work is underway." (Read more)

3,500 retired coal miners and family members rally in Ky. for federal support of health, pension funds

Retired miners, spouses, children in Lexington. (Herald-Leader)
Bankruptcy filings by coal companies have many retired miners concerned about the future of their health and pension benefits. In Kentucky—where coal jobs dropped to 6,900 as of April 1, the lowest total since 1898—thousands of retired miners on Tuesday rallied to call on Congress to protect their benefits, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, told the gathering of more than 3,500 members that union miners spent their careers working in dangerous places to provide America’s electricity and steel and make it the most prosperous nation on Earth." Roberts told the crowd, "We have stood up for America, and it’s time America stood up for us." (Herald-Leader photo)

UMWA said that "22,000 retired union miners, widows or dependents—including about 3,200 in Kentucky— would lose health care benefits at the end of the year if federal legislation they are backing isn’t enacted this year," reports the Herald-Leader. "Benefits are at risk because the miners worked for companies, including Patriot Coal and Arch Coal, that declared bankruptcy in recent years. Monthly pension checks also could be cut."

"The bankruptcies and a depressed U.S. coal market have decreased contributions to the pension fund by two-thirds from last year’s levels, according to the union," reports the Herald-Leader. "The union is reeling, especially in Kentucky, which no longer has any mines that employ UMWA members. Currently about 89,000 union members or widows are receiving a pension, according to the union. Almost 10,000 retirees in Kentucky could see pension cuts without Congressional action, according to the UMWA," which is running TV commercials in Kentucky and West Virginia, and perhaps elsewhere, to put pressure on congressional Republicans.  The office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Kentucky senator "remains committed to helping ensure the retirement security of our nation's retirees, including coal miners."

North Dakota voters easily shoot down measure to lift Depression-era ban on corporate farming

Three-fourths of North Dakota voters supported continuation of the state's 84-year-old ban on corporate farming in a referendum. On Tuesday, 76 percent of voters cast ballots to oppose Measure 1, which "would have affirmed legislation from last session, providing exemptions to allow for corporate dairy and swine operations of at least 50 cows or 500 hogs on a farm of up to 640 acres," Jessica Holdman reports for The Bismarck Tribune.

"The legislation was introduced in an effort to save the state’s dwindling pork and dairy industries by allowing non-family members to form corporations and share in investments," Holdman writes. "Opponents said the law was an invitation for big, out-of-state corporations to set up operations in the state, threatening family-owned farms." Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, who introduced the legislation, told Holdman, "All I saw was opportunity, and the opposition—all they see is fear. If I felt it had threatened (family farms), I never would have supported it.”

In 1932 North Dakota "barred non-family corporations from owning farmland or operating farms," Mikkel Pates reports for Agweek. "The exception would have allowed large, corporately-owned dairy and swine farms to own as many as 640 acres." The North Dakota Farmers Union, which led an effort to force the vote, made  90,000 phone calls and 5,000 home visits. NDFU President Mark Watne told Pates, “We always believed that the people of North Dakota would agree that the family farm structure is best for our state’s economy and our communities. The results tonight are a strong message that the people don’t want corporate farming in North Dakota.” (Read more)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Network formed to bring broadband to rural Florida goes bankrupt without signing a single customer

A network that accepted $24 million in federal grants to bring broadband to rural Florida has gone bankrupt without having signed a single customer, Gary Pinnell reports for Highlands Today. The Florida Rural Broadband Alliance, which went into Chapter 7 bankruptcy in April, was created by non-profits, Florida’s Heartland Regional Economic Development Initiative and Opportunity Florida, which used a 2009 grant from the economic stimulus package "to build a network that beamed the internet from rented mobile towers."

Greg Harris, former FHREDI director, told Highlands County commissioners, “The reason why FRBA is in bankruptcy is that the contractor that was running the network walked away from the network." He said the equipment is being returned to the federal government, which holds title to it.

The goal of the alliance "was to install central offices in Orlando and Tallahassee, to buy microwave dishes and computer servers, and deploy a middle-mile broadband network in the under-served rural areas of Florida," Pinell writes. "Counties qualified because they have populations less than 100,000 and low per-capita incomes, low per-capita taxable values, and high unemployment. That equipment is still sitting in warehouses in Lake Placid and Tallahassee. However, that last mile—the figurative mile between the middle-mile broadband network and the 200,000 residential and commercial users—never appeared."

Paul McGehee, business development manager for Glades Electric and a Florida Heartland Economic Region of Opportunity director, said the flaw in FRBA’s plan was a lack of federal funds for operations. “No one wanted to step up and operate the network, and there was no way to pay the tower leases,” he said. “The end product wasn’t a viable sustainable thing.” (Read more)

In an October 2014 story in the Jackson County Times, Bo McMullian reported, "Apparently, private industry stepped up and aggressively competed with what it saw as a government-discounted rival." Project manager Jim Brook told him, “Once the grant was awarded, we noted that the incumbent internet service providers appeared to not only go into expansion but to drop their rates.”

Congress sends Obama amendments to Freedom of Information Act; he says he will sign the bill

After several years of debate, Congress has passed and sent to President Obama several amendments to the Freedom of Information Act.

"In addition to adding a presumption in favor of disclosure to the actual text of FOIA, the bill would also create a centralized portal for FOIA requests across the government," Josh Gerstein reports for Politico. "However, the legislation was watered down somewhat from earlier versions before it passed the Senate in March. The changes were made to overcome resistance by some federal agencies and their supporters on Capitol Hill." For example, at attempt to require all agencies to accept records requests by email was not adopted. Neither was the idea of applying the law to Congress.

President Obama plans to sign the bill. The 50th anniversary of the FOIA is July 4.

Transportation vehicles surpass coal-fired power plants for most carbon-dioxide emissions

The switch to cleaner energy has reduced carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants to the point that cars, trucks and airplanes emit more CO2 than power plants for the first time since 1979, Brad Plumer reports for Vox. Transportation makes up one-third of all CO2 emissions, with numbers steadily rising since 2013. The main problem is that there isn't a good substitute for oil, the dominant source of fuel for cars, trucks and planes. (Vox graphic)

"Over the past decade, the U.S. has been using more corn-based ethanol instead of gasoline in its cars," Plumer writes. "But ethanol is currently stuck at around 10 percent of the gasoline supply—a contentious issue known as the 'blend wall'—and there’s a fierce debate over whether ethanol is actually an improvement, climate-wise, over gasoline. The Obama administration has also enacted fuel-economy standards that require cars to emit less CO2 per mile. Those rules have certainly kept a lid on oil consumption. But, right now, they're being offset by the impacts of low oil prices. Americans are shifting back to gas-guzzling SUVs and they’ve been driving more miles over the past two years, which helps explain why transportation emissions have been nosing upward in recent years, despite efficiency rules."

Many hope electric cars, which currently only make up 0.7 percent of the U.S. car fleet, will catch on, Plumer writes. "But even if we do get an electric-car revolution, that would still leave air travel and long-haul trucking, which are about one-third of transport emissions. For the foreseeable future, it won’t be practical for either mode to be powered by limited-range batteries, which means that engineers will have to figure out how to whittle down fuel use bit by bit. See here for an exploration of what that might look like for aviation."

County in Appalachian Virginia leading charge against proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Residents in rural Nelson County, Virginia, many of them farmers, have been leading the fight against Dominion Energy’s proposed 560-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would carry natural gas from Harrison County, West Virginia, to Robeson County, North Carolina, Brad Horn reports for The Washington Post. Of the 245 lawsuits Dominion has filed, or planned to file, to get survey access, half were in Nelson County. While 85 percent of landowners along the route have allowed surveys, that number drops to less than 40 percent in Nelson County.

"The pipeline’s champions say it will significantly reduce carbon emissions while creating jobs along its route. Detractors say the $5 billion project will lead to more methane emissions, violate private property rights and disrupt fragile ecosystems when it passes through some of the more intact wilderness of the southern Appalachians," Horn writes. "What isn’t argued is whether the U.S. needs a replacement for coal. Coal-fired power plants generate 33 percent of the nation’s electricity but 71 percent of our carbon emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This gives coal the distinction of being the nation’s single largest contributor to climate change." (Post graphic; click on it for a larger version)
Landowners "were told the pipeline required a permanent clearing, a 75-foot-wide 'right of way' on which nothing but small plants could grow," Horn writes. "According to Dominion’s literature, the right of way could still be used for most agricultural endeavors such as planting crops and grazing livestock, but landowners couldn’t grow trees or build houses on the land, and new road constuction would be limited... If the pipeline was approved, which was expected, Dominion could seize rights of way with eminent domain. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for approving interstate pipeline applications, could also reject the proposal, but even anti-pipeline activists considered this unlikely."

Heidi Cochran, a Nelson County landowner since 1977 who has fought the pipeline, said she knew "that if they succeeded in pushing the pipeline out of Nelson County, it would only mean it would be built in a different county and routed through different back yards," Horn writes. She told him, “It bothers me that I only cared about this when it was in my back yard, that I never got involved when it was happening to someone else,. It may be a done deal with me, but that’s who I’m doing this for now: for the next person who’s going to have a pipeline built in their back yard.” (Read more)

Many are being over-prescribed opioid painkillers that they save for later use, study finds

Nearly two-thirds of patients prescribed opioid painkillers have leftover pills that many save for later use, says a survey from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. The survey of 1,032 adults who had been prescribed painkillers in the past year found that 592, or 61 percent, reported having leftover pills and the same percentage said they kept them for future use. Opioid use rates have been particularly high in rural areas, especially among poor, white residents.

"Nearly half of those surveyed reported receiving no information on how to safely store their medications, either to keep them from young children who could accidentally ingest them or from adolescents or other adults looking to get high. Nor were they given information on how to safely dispose of their medications," says the study. Fewer than 10 percent said they kept their opioid pain medication in a locked location and less than 7 percent of patients with extra pills took advantage of "take back" programs to turn in unused pills.

One in five respondents said they shared their medication with another person, nearly 14 percent said they would likely share pills with a family member and 8 percent would likely share with a close friend, says the study. "More than 69 percent of those who got instructions said they had received information about turning over the remaining medication to a pharmacist or a 'take back' program, but few actually did. Fewer than 10 percent reported throwing leftover medication out in the trash after mixing it with something inedible like used coffee grounds, a safe method for disposing of medication." (Read more) (CDC map: 2012 painkiller prescription rates per every 100 people)

Website launched entirely in Lakota to help revitalize Native American language among youth

Screen shot of website 
A website entirely in the Lakota language has been launched as part of an effort to revitalize the Native American tongue, especially among younger people, Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. The average age of Lakota speakers is 70, said Peter Hill, who edits Wóihaŋble, which means "dream" in Lakota. Hill said there are very few Lakota speakers younger than 45. Hill said the site is the first of its kind to have all the material published in Lakota.

The site features local news, weather, sports, and cultural pieces, Marema writes. "Wóihaŋble comes out of the Lakȟótiyapi Press, the media component of the Lakota Language Initiative at Thunder Valley Community Development Corp.," an Oglala Lakota-run nonprofit organization in Porcupine, S.D. Hill said "the Lakota Language Initiative seeks to preserve Lakota and make it relevant and useful in contemporary settings." He told Marema, “We’ve tried to expand our language programs in ways that will enable us to reach people outside of the walls of this program, so that they can also learn the language in their own time, without having to be here on site. One of the primary ways to do that nowadays is with technology.”

Each story on the website is accompanied by an audio version, Marema writes. "That serves both fluent Lakota speakers, who may be less comfortable with the written language, and new learners, Hill said. Most stories are translations of articles that run in the two English-language weekly newspapers that serve the area. Hill writes and compiles some of the other features like 'this day in history' and the weather report." (Read more)

Supreme Court rejects state's bid to block Obama's regulations on toxic air emissions

"The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned aside the latest effort by a group of states led by Michigan to block Obama administration environmental regulations limiting power plant emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants," Lawrence Hurley reports for Reuters. "The justices opted not to hear the states' appeal of a December U.S. appeals court decision allowing the mercury rules to remain intact while the administration responded to last year's Supreme Court ruling that the government should have considered the compliance costs when crafting the regulations."

In March Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. refused to block an Environmental Protection Agency regulation limiting emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plant. In June 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that EPA violated the Clean Air Act by not considering the compliance costs to electric utilities. In December 2015 an appeals court upheld the rule.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has 'blatantly refused' to follow the 2015 high court ruling, prompting the states to ask the Supreme Court to intervene again, said Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican," Hurley writes. EPA "the rule applies to about 1,400 electricity-generating units at 600 power plants." (Read more)

Conference June 24 in Asheville will focus on Appalachian folk medicine

A half-day conference scheduled for June 24 in Asheville, N.C., will examine Appalachian folk medicine "and how some of the practices have influenced, or been influenced by, our formalized medicine system," says the Mountain Area Health Education Center, which is hosting the conference, "Beyond Slippery Elm and Buzzard Grease: A Guide to Folk Medicine of Appalachia.” 

Dr. Hassan Amjad, founder and director of the Jafary Clinic and Academy of Herbal Medicine in West Virginia, will present the conference, Cathy Holt reports for Mountain Xpress. Amjad told Holt, “Herbal medicine has been around for millennia, yet during the last 100 years, this way of healing has been overlooked and often dismissed as quackery. In many cases, herbal medicines are superior to pharmaceuticals, without side effects, and far less expensive for the patient.” He said "herbalism focuses on prevention and addressing root causes rather than symptoms. In the face of a corporate medical system that favors expensive interventions and costly medicines." For more information or to register for the conference click here.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Rural population loss slowed greatly in 2014-15; trend suggests it will start gaining again soon

After five years of population loss in rural and small-town America, the trend has slowed greatly and may be ending, John Cromartie reports for Amber Waves, the magazine of the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The population of non-metropolitan counties "declined by just 4,000 from July 2014 to July 2015 after four years of population losses averaging 33,000 yearly, according to the latest county population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau," Cromartie writes. "The 2014-15 improvement in nonmetro population change coincides with rural economic recovery and suggests that this first-ever period of overall population decline (from 2010 to 2015) may be ending."
Population is driven by two main factors, net migration and natural increase or decrease. Rural counties most recently began losing from migration in 2006, and "widespread job losses in rural manufacturing caused by the recent economic recession, increased global competition, and technological changes contributed to the downturn in net migration, especially in eastern parts of the United States," Cromartie writes. "This downturn appears to have bottomed out in 2012, and improving population trends since then coincide with a marked improvement in non-metro employment growth."

Rural population usually grows because births strongly outweigh deaths, but the Great Recession caused economic uncertainty that led to fewer births. "Areas that recently began experiencing natural decrease are found in the Northeast, South, and, especially, in and around the margins of Appalachia, expanding a large region of natural decrease extending from Pennsylvania through northern Alabama," Cromartie reports. "Population growth from natural change increased slightly since 2013, in line with a post-recession increase in births nationwide. If current trends continue, both net migration and natural increase will contribute to a recovery of population growth in rural and small-town America in the coming years."

Editor and Publisher examines how rural newspapers have remained successful and relevant

Rural newspapers continue to thrive by providing local news and adapting to technological changes, Sharon Knolle reports for Editor and Publisher. Chip Hutcheson, president of the National Newspaper Association, told Knolle, "You don't hear about community newspapers going out of business. It's not the doom and gloom that major market papers face." Knolle looked at several rural newspapers to find their keys to success.

Billy Coleburn, editor of the weekly Courier-Record in Blackstone, Va., told Knolle, "Print is our lifeblood. For seven full-time employees, we rock 'n' roll down here." The Courier-Record has a circulation of 6,100, more than twice that of the town's population of 3,000. Heather Goodwin Henline, publisher of The Inter-Mountain in Elkins, W.Va., circulation 8,000, says likewise: "I think if you ask any newspaper, print still remains the lion's share of revenue."
That doesn't mean rural newspapers shy away from technology. They just have to find creative ways to keep up. Scott Matthew, senior advertising representative for the Courier-Record, told Knoll, "It has become nearly impossible as a weekly newspaper to cover breaking news in the social-media age, so we now concentrate on bringing our readers the most accurate story with lesser-known details we as a media source are able to obtain." Coleburn also said he sometimes uses technology, especially Facebook, to conduct interviews with people he is unable to reach in person or via phone.

But when it comes to rural areas, readers always want news about the community, something "only local news organizations can provide," Knolle writes. Henline told Knolle, "Perhaps our greatest advantage is we have content no one else does. We are at local sporting events. Little League coverage is vital content. Bigger competitors rarely have placed a significant value on such a hyper-local approach."

Doug Caldwell, publisher of the Petoskey News-Review in Michigan, told Knolle, "Our readership recognizes the value of the local newspaper. We are the cheerleader, guardian and watchdog all rolled into one. We monitor the pulse of the community and focus on local news stories of interest—not what we want, but what are readers want in their community newspapers."

Heline had similar sentiments, telling Knolle, "Newspapers are alive and well. We are relevant and vital to the communities we serve. Our future is paved with a path of services that continue to life and enhance the communities we serve and to provide the stories no one else can tell. Those are our stories, our people, our communities, our commitment. Ultimately, we have not abandoned them and I don't believe our readership will abandon us." (Read more)

Coal output lowest in 35 years; decline accelerates

Coal production in the first three months of 2016 was the lowest quarterly level since 1981, when the industry had a major strike, but the decline appears to be accelerating. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Friday that coal production declined 17 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015, the largest quarter-to-quarter drop since 1984. The biggest proximate cause was a warmer-than-expected winter, causing electric power plants to cut back on coal burning, especially in the Powder River Basin, which had the nation's biggest declines in production. The gradual decline since 2008 is attributed to challenging market conditions (mainly cheaper natural gas) and environmental regulations. (EIA graphic)
A decline in coal production also has led to a 20 percent decline in coal railcar loads, Clifford Krauss reports for The New York Times. "Once gradual, the decline in coal mining appears to be picking up momentum. As recently as early 2008, coal was the source of roughly half the electricity generated in the U.S.; this year, that figure has fallen to roughly 30 percent. Still, most energy experts say that coal will continue to be an important source of power for years to come, and the Energy Department projects a small increase in coal consumption next year as natural-gas prices are projected to rise."

17 states elect constables; Kentucky's are untrained, unaccountable and often dangerous

For years constables have been "running amok" in rural Kentucky, "armed with badges and guns but almost always with little or no formal training. They masquerade as qualified, legitimate police, but case after case shows that they often pose a threat to public safety," R.G. Dunlop and John Boel of Louisville's WAVE-TV report for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. "Some cruise around the county pulling drivers over or engaging in unnecessary and dangerous high-speed pursuits. Some use unauthorized blue lights. Others make questionable arrests that later collapse in court. Many have faced criminal charges of their own," including one who shot an unarmed man who was trying to surrender. (Chart: The Kentucky Law Enforcement Council found in 2012 that most officials favored abolishing constables)

"Despite this history, the cycle of constable-initiated misdeeds continues unabated," Dunlop and Boel write. "Because the office is enshrined in the state constitution, constables are responsible to no one except a small slice of a county’s voters every four years. And many voters don’t know what constables do. Kentucky is one of 17 states that elect constables. Sixteen others, including West Virginia, have done away with the office altogether. The remaining states appoint them. Some states require training for constables. Others limit their authority to serving court papers."

Former Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer, who retired in February after 34 years with the agency, told KyCIR, “If the office of constable was abolished tomorrow, and all of them were let go, the people of Kentucky would not miss a beat, they would not even know of their absence.”

The problem in Kentucky is that "from ex-cons to future felons, just about anyone can be a Kentucky constable," Dunlop and Boel write. "A candidate for constable must be at least 24 years old, a resident of the state for two years and of the district for 12 months. Constables are elected in each of the state’s nearly 600 magisterial districts. Most Kentucky constables don’t receive a salary. Instead, they’re paid for serving various legal documents, such as warrants and subpoenas. . . . State law specifically exempts constables from the certification—and, thus, from the extensive training—that state and local police, deputy sheriffs and others must obtain."

Big ag's monopoly of seeds and chemicals bad for farmers, Missouri Farmers Union president writes

A handful of agriculture corporations are monopolizing the seed and chemical business, leading to too little market competition, Missouri Farmers Union President Richard Oswald writes for the Daily Yonder. "For as long as agriculture has relied on chemical pesticides and fertilizers, we’ve been equally dependent on chemical companies to supply those needs. But competition among a number of chemical companies traditionally has been reduced or eliminated over the years as one consolidated company hooks up with another."

"Then, thanks to laws that allowed them to patent genes, Monsanto got into one of the most disjointed, independent agricultural industries: seeds. There were once hundreds of small seed companies across the Midwest that sprang up to serve the needs of farmers for public varieties of everything from corn, wheat, and soybeans, to alfalfa," Oswald writes. "These small companies were easy picking for a patent-wielding pro like Monsanto. Monsanto is now the largest seed-selling corporation in the world."
Bayer is looking to acquire Monsanto, Chem China is acquiring Sygenta and DuPont and Dow are merging, meaning that three companies will own half of all global seed sales.

"Bayer wants to buy Monsanto for all the reasons Monsanto used when it bought out its own competition—because they say the world needs a more productive agriculture to meet the needs of a growing population," Oswald writes. "In truth, the real reason is most likely that corporations see a clear path to higher profits through acquisition."

"Those big companies at the head of the problem won’t reduce prices because they don’t have to," Oswald writes. "They control access and the markets where those inputs are sold. Even though seeds are really just grain, and pesticides and fertilizer are many times just petroleum-related products. Lower grain and oil prices don’t translate into savings for farmers. The only way these companies will reduce their prices is if farmers stop buying from them. And the only way that would happen is if farmers had the choice to purchase from a competitor. Or because the farmers went broke." (Read more)

Work begins on controversial pipeline though it hasn't received all its permits and is in court

Dakota Access pipeline map highlights counties traversed.
Work has begun on the $3.8 billion, 1,150-mile Dakota Access pipeline that will carry as much as 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude from North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois. The pipeline is drawing its fair share of praise and criticism. Supporters cite new jobs and a economic boost, while landowners and environmental groups have sought to stop it.

"Dakota Access has not received permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for river crossings and other federal land in Iowa, including a parcel that is under investigation as a possible Native American burial site," David Pitt reports for The Associated Press. "Plus, the project faces at least five lawsuits in Polk County District Court in Des Moines, and individual landowners along the route have said they plan to challenge in court the company’s use of eminent domain. The first condemnation hearings begin next week. Pipeline opposition group Bold Iowa said Thursday that 60 members have signed a pledge to risk arrest, if necessary, in non-violent protests."

Pipeline spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger said about 4,000 union workers will be employed in the four states. In Emmons County, North Dakota that means between 600 to 800 jobs that will last into the fall, Lauren Donovan reports for the Bismarck Tribune. Local businesses are already enjoying extra profits. "Tiffany Heer, owner of Bayside Resort, a busy campground, store and restaurant just a few miles south of the pipeline route, said she’s got 55 pipeline workers living in campers there," while Linton grocer Todd Mulske "says he’s having trouble keeping steaks in the cooler and potato chips on the shelf."

Illinois is expecting a similar boost, with an estimated 600 to 800 jobs for each of the state's three segments, Tim Landis reports for The State-Journal Register in Springfield. "In anticipation of the influx of workers, the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce has begun assembling hundreds of packets with information including restaurants, health-care facilities, RV sites and laundromats." Buena Vista Farms, a resort and campground with 61 RV camping sites and five cabins, has been fully booked since April.

Rural Alabama coal county struggles with opioid addicition, especially among poor white women

In Alabama, where doctors prescribe more opioid painkillers than in any other state, rural areas like coal-dependent Walker County (Wikipedia map) have a soaring drug-addiction problem, especially among poor white women, Anne Hull reports for The Washington Post:"The death rate for women 35 to 44 years old has increased by 170 percent since 1999." Those statistics are common across the rural U.S., where the death rate among white, lesser-educated rural women has risen more sharply than in any other demographic.

"Everyone in this white, rural county of 67,000 has a theory about what happened here," Hull writes. "It was the global economy that took away the coal-mining jobs. It was Purdue Pharma marketing OxyContin as a less-addictive painkiller. It was greedy doctors who needed to pay for their beach condos in Gulf Shores. It was the druggies and scammers abusing the system. It was God being taken out of the schools. It was the government allowing Medicaid patients to get $800 worth of painkillers for a $6 co-pay. It was too few jobs and too many with headsets."

"Two generations of prescription painkillers have changed the way people die here," Hull writes. "Even more, they have changed the way people live. Great-grandparents are now raising the children of addicted parents and grandparents. Four out of five arrests in the county are drug-related. Every week a local newspaper called Just Busted publishes the arrest photos, the exhausted faces on display in most mini-marts next to the $14.99 synthetic urine products guaranteed to fool drug screenings."

Headlines about drugs, pills and opioids are common in the local Daily Mountain Eagle. In December four people were arrested on felony drug charges for having Oxycodone pills. In November a local doctor plead guilty to illegally distributing narcotic painkillers. In April a drug dealer and three others were arrested for having cocaine, heroine and methamphetamines.

Apply by June 20 for fellowship to support reporting on language, culture, race and the poor

Applications are being accepted through Monday, June 20 for the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice Journalism Fellowship/Scholarship on Poverty, which aims to increase the public’s understanding of poverty.

Recipients of the 2016 Equal Voice awards will write at least one in-depth story or short series that illustrates how language, culture and race influence public attitudes and policy about poor people. Selected journalists will receive a stipend of $2,250, plus up to $1,000 in travel reimbursement. College-enrolled student journalists may also apply for the Equal Voice Scholarship, which offers $500 and up to $800 for travel.

 “Journalists can have a significant impact on changing the public narrative about poor people and document how public policy can work for or against people,” said Luz Vega-Marquis, president and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation. “It is our hope that these fellowships and scholarships will help put the issues of families and poverty front and center in the public debate and elevate the voices of families in policymaking.” More details and the application form can be found here.