Friday, March 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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