Friday, November 02, 2018

Dairy farmers still hurting from trade war, ask for more relief

"A dairy industry group is asking the US Department of Agriculture for additional subsidies, claiming they've lost more than $1 billion in revenue since May because of tariffs imposed by China and Mexico in retaliation for steel and aluminum duties," Katie Lobosco reports for CNN.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture allocated $4.7 billion this fall to farmers hurt by the trade war; about $127 million was earmarked for dairy farmers, but that's less than 13 percent of dairy farmers' losses, according to the National Milk Producers Federation, Lobosco reports.

NMPF Chairman and dairy farmers Randy Mooney sent an open letter on Oct. 23 to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asking for the increase. He cited four studies that estimated dairy farmers will lose between $1.17 billion to $1.5 billion in 2018, and said "significant income losses will continue" if tariffs imposed by Mexico and China, the U.S.'s two biggest export customers, remain in place. 

"In truth, the tariffs are only one of a number of problems farmers are facing. Global milk prices are low, consumption is below trend and production is above trend," Lobosco reports.

Quick hits: documentary explores rural Indiana; W.V.a House race has become a coal industry proxy war

Here's a roundup of stories with rural resonance; if you do or see similar work that should be shared on The Rural Blog, email us at
Agricultural Economic Insights offers a deep dive into trends in corn and soybean seed expense. The gist: seed expense per acre and per bushel has increased dramatically since 2000. Read more here.

New documentary Monrovia, Indiana offers an in-depth portrait of a rural Midwestern town. Read more here.

A House race in W.Va. has become a coal industry proxy war, pitting a candidate supported by coal executives against one supported by mine workers. Read more here.

EPA OKs dicamba for two more years, but with restrictions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said this week that farmers can use controversial herbicide dicamba for at least the next two years, but with more restrictions on its use. Dicamba is an important tool for controlling weeds, the agency said, but the new rules "would prohibit applications on soybeans 45 days after planting and on cotton 60 days after planting to address 'potential concerns to surrounding crops and plants,'" Tom Polansek reports for Reuters. "The agency also limited the times during which dicamba can be sprayed."

The approval -- and restrictions -- come after complaints that dicamba drifts from where it is sprayed and damages crops, plants and trees nearby. Dicamba damaged an estimated 4 percent of soybean plantings in the summer of 2017. BASF SE, DownDuPont Inc. and Bayer AG's Monsanto sell herbicides containing dicamba; Monsanto sells soy and cotton seeds genetically engineered to resist it, Polansek reports.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said he extended the registration for dicamba for the next two years to provide "certainty to all stakeholders for the upcoming growing season," including the farmers who have been awaiting a ruling before buying next year's seeds, Polansek reports.

FEMA flood maps ignore climate change, hurting homeowners

Inside Climate News map
Flood maps created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency fail to factor in how global warming increases some coastal areas' propensity to flood, which misleads homeowners and community leaders about the real risk of flooding, James Bruggers reports for Inside Climate News. Since homes in low-risk areas are not required to buy flood insurance, residents in increasingly flood-prone areas -- many poor and rural -- can't afford to rebuild after their homes are damaged or destroyed.

"The accuracy of FEMA's flood maps has been called into question before. The maps are used in the 22,000 communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program to determine which coastal or inland properties must have flood insurance and to set rates," Bruggers reports. A report last year by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General found that many maps are out of date or don't accurately reflect flood risk.

Mexico Beach, Florida, a town of 1,200 near Panama City, illustrates the consequences of inaccurate flood maps. About 70 percent of the town was wiped out and another 10 percent severely damaged in last month's Hurricane Michael, though FEMA's flood map showed most of those homes were at low risk of flooding. 

Many who lost their homes did not have flood insurance because they believed they lived in an area safe from flooding. "The sad thing is for a lot of these folks, they won't be able to rebuild because of the construction costs," Local architect Fred Etchen told Bruggers.

Medicare to pay doctors for telehealth visits

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finalized a rule this week to pay doctors for telehealth visits, Virgil Dickson reports for Modern Healthcare. That will especially help patients in rural areas, for whom such visits are the easiest way to access some kinds of medical care.

Doctors will also be paid for the time it takes to review a video or image sent by a telehealth patient to decide whether an office visit is necessary, Ayla Ellison reports for Becker's Hospital Review.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

College graduation rates are rising among rural students, especially in the most remote counties

Rural college graduation rates are starting to rise, especially in the most remote counties, though they still lag behind urban rates, according to the fifth installment in CityLab's series exploring the myths and realities of America's urban-rural divide. "When it comes to talent, the reality is far more complex and nuanced than the commonplace notion of talent-filled, highly-educated urban areas versus rural areas of unmitigated brain drain and outright economic despair," Richard Florida writes.

That matters because education reaps big benefits: lower rates on crime, obesity and smoking; better overall health and wellbeing; higher income; and increased economic development in communities, to start with. "Studies show that differences in educational attainment account for roughly one-third of the difference in economic growth between counties in metro and non-metro areas, as fewer jobs are being created in areas that have less well-educated workforces," Florida reports.

Percent of college graduates by type of county (CityLab chart)
A little more than one in 10 college graduates live in rural communities, but that's mostly because urban areas just have more people. Graduation rates are a better measure of where America's communities are going, but it's not very illuminating to just differentiate between urban and rural areas. Instead, CityLab examined graduation rates from 2010 to 2016 among three types of large, medium and small counties: urban, rural counties adjacent to a metro county, and rural counties not adjacent to a metro county. Graduation rates are measured as the percentage of adults in a population who are 25 years and older and have at least a bachelor's degree.

"The first thing that jumps out: There is not as much variation in the geography of college grads across urban and rural place as you might think," Florida reports. "While in counties within large and medium metros, a higher percentage of the workforce is college grads than in rural ones; in large rural counties that are not adjacent to a major metro, college grads make up a greater share of the population than they do in urban counties that are a part of a small metro. The only places that truly lag on their share of college grads are small and medium-size rural counties that are adjacent to metro areas.

Eight of the 10 counties that had the largest increase in graduation rates were rural, Florida reports: "Wade Hampton (22.7 percent) and Denali, Alaska (11.0 percent); Borden County, Texas (17.4 percent); Ouray County, Colorado (13.2 percent); Broadwater County, Montana (12.1 percent); Loup County, Nebraska (11.9 percent); Owsley County, Kentucky (11.6 percent); and Lake County, South Dakota (11.1 percent)."

The most remote counties that have a much larger share of college graduates than average are most often home to universities, federal labs, or have significant arts or cultural scenes or natural amenities, Florida reports.

Medication-assisted treatment expands as stigma decreases and more states cover treatment under Medicaid

Methadone clinics in the U.S. (Stateline map; click here for the interactive version)
The opioid epidemic has been spreading throughout the U.S. for years, but the number of medication-assisted addiction-treatment clinics has not expanded much until recently. That's partly because methadone and the clinics that dispense it have been stigmatized, and met with skepticism from politicians and the public. That's changing: "The methadone treatment industry, which began in the late 1960s, grew more in the past four years than it has in the past two decades," Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. "Between 2014 and 2018, the methadone industry added 254 new clinics."

Stigma remains a powerful damper, though. Some people living near methadone clinics worry that drug-treatment centers attract crime, and dislike seeing a crowded parking lot of opioid addicts waiting for their dose. Unlike the other two medications approved to treat opioid addiction, methadone must be administered daily by a specially licensed doctor at a highly regulated clinic, Vestal reports. The regulatory hoops can discourage clinics from opening, but Vestal reports, "More states, including some that previously limited expansion of methadone treatment, are calling on the industry to set up new programs in opioid-plagued rural and suburban areas that lack adequate medication-assisted treatment."

Many states are opening dozens of new facilities in rural and suburban areas. They include Indiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Florida. "At the same time, Vestal reports, laws and regulations in at least six other states — Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Wyoming — still curtail licensing of new methadone clinics, even though people with opioid addictions in large swaths of those states live too far from the nearest methadone clinic to commute."

More opioid users can now get treatment too, since many states that expanded Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act began offering reimbursement for methadone treatment in the past four years. That has given the treatment industry a major incentive to expand.

"Remaining states that do not allow Medicaid reimbursement for methadone treatment are Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming, several of which have among the nation’s highest rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths," Vestal reports. Some states cover other types of medication-assisted treatment but not maintenance methadone; at least one, Kentucky, has proposed to include it as part of Medicaid changes under federal waivers that would also require able-bodied beneficiaries to work, volunteer, go to school or get drug treatment.

Startup that bought shuttered rural Virginia hospital stalls project amid reports of financial problems

UPDATE, Feb. 2: "The Lee County Hospital Authority this week selected Ballad Health as its new partner to reopen" the hospital, Luanne Rife of The Roanoke Times reports. "Ballad has agreed to pay $1.7 million to remove the debt on the building incurred by the county’s former partner, Americore, and over time will pay $1.5 million to Lee County taxpayers who bought the building after it was closed by Wellmont Health System. Wellmont and Mountain States Health Alliance last February merged to form Ballad Health. In approving the merger, Virginia’s health commissioner required Ballad to provide essential medical services in Lee County if the county was unable to reopen the hospital."

Rural hospital closures have spiked in the past decade; 89 have closed since January 2010 and only eight have reopened. This story out of rural Virginia illustrates the kind of effort it takes and hurdles rural communities can face when trying to reopen a hospital.

The story comes from Lee County, population 24,000, at the state's western tip and one of Virginia's poorest counties. Its only hospital abruptly shuttered in 2013, and the nearest one is 40 miles away in Tennessee. Some residents are more than an hour from a hospital. Local officials say the closure has strained emergency services and the local economy. "Some are convinced people have died because of a lack of access to care," Sarah Rankin reports for The Associated Press.

Community leaders have been fighting to reopen the facility ever since: they bought the building, looked for new owners, and formed a hospital authority, which took special approval from the state legislature. Then the authority had to get a certificate from the state to operate the hospital. They paid for basic maintenance on things like the grounds and the boiler system too, Rankin reports.

In 2016, Florida-based startup Americore Health, which had little experience with hospitals, approached Lee County leaders about buying the hospital, and in August of 2017 the hospital's governing board approved the sale. Americore has invested about $5 million into the facility and plans to spend another $2 million, Americore CEO Grant White told Rankin.

But work on the hospital seemed to halt in mid-August this year. Around that time, "authority members also started seeing news reports about problems at the company's other hospitals, including unpaid tax bills, payroll snags, layoffs and disputes with lenders," Rankin reports. The authority recently gave Americore two weeks to show evidence that the project was viable and sustainable, and will likely determine next Thursday whether the company can reopen the hospital and consider its next steps, according to hospital authority attorney Jeff Mitchell.

White told Rankin he thinks Americore can fulfill its commitment and reopen the hospital as a 25-bed acute care hospital by Dec. 31, as promised.

GateHouse Media decimates Peoria Journal Star staff; local independent publication calls it 'a ghost newspaper'

GateHouse Media has decimated the staff at the The Journal Star in Peoria, Ill., within the past few months, all but killing its ability to be a community watchdog and turning it into a "ghost newspaper," independent Peoria publication Community Word reports. A ghost paper is one which has had its coverage and circulation area slashed, leaving it a shell of its former self, says Penny Abernathy, Knight chair in journalism and digital media economics at the University of North Carolina.

Twenty years ago the Journal Star had about 35 news reporters. In September it had 25, then GateHouse laid off another five, leaving the paper with no editors for the sports, city, or opinion sections," Tanya Koonce reports for Peoria Public Radio. "Today there are about six [reporters], and virtually all of them are on edge waiting for the next announced layoffs. The reporter with the least seniority, next on the layoff list, has more than 20 years in the newsroom and a cache of journalism awards," a newsroom source told Community Word.

"If Peoria ever wants to be more than it is today, improvement will require a local media presence. TV long ago abrogated its watchdog role, and they (corporate management) are stealing the community’s only remaining watchdog, and the paper is becoming a 'shopper' with obits and ads," the source told Community Word. "It’s not the internet that’s killing us. It’s incompetence and greed."

UPDATE: Poynter's media business analyst Rick Edmonds offers a summary of GateHouse's activities in the news industry this year, observing that GateHouse now owns 145 of the nation's dailies -- more than 10 percent of the estimated total of 1,350 to 1,400 papers. But because many of GateHouse's markets are small, their papers constitute less than 10 percent of total U.S. newspaper circulation.

GateHouse has now spent more than $1 billion in five years on acquisitions, including $156 million this year

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Parts of U.S. far less likely to vote; map shows local data

Washington Post map; click on the image to view a larger version.
Only 60 percent of U.S. adult citizens voted in the 2016 election, a turnout that ranks in the bottom third of all developed countries. Though turnout was higher in many areas, it was far lower than average in almost 1,000 U.S. counties. Many of the low-turnout counties are in Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and the Southwest, Ted Mellnik, Lauren Tierney and Kevin Uhrmacher report for The Washington Post.

Education level is strongly correlated with voting behavior; in more than 700 low-turnout counties, most people did not have a college degree, and the opposite is true in most high-turnout counties. Ease of voter registration also affects voter turnout, the Post reports. In Texas, for example, where it is notoriously difficult to register, voter turnout is mostly low.

The Post defines low-voting areas as those with a turnout of 55 percent or less, based on the 2016 presidential election turnout and the estimated population of voting-age citizens. Though there are more voters in low-turnout urban counties, there are more rural counties with a low turnout. How does your county stack up?

Dodge City, Kansas, has one polling site for 13,000 voters

Voting in the contentious midterm elections may be difficult for many in the iconic Wild West town of Dodge City: there's only one polling place in the town of 27,000 (with more than 13,000 voters). "Since 2002, the lone site was at the civic center just blocks from the local country club — in the wealthy, white part of town," Roxana Hegeman reports for The Associated Press. "For this November’s election, local officials have moved it outside the city limits to a facility more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, citing road construction that blocked the previous site."

Dodge City is one of the few cities in the state where minorities (Hispanics, in this case) outnumber whites, mostly because of nearby meatpacking plants. But local Hispanic voter turnout in Ford County during non-presidential elections is 17 percent, compared to 61 percent turnout for white voters. Comparatively, the national turnout rate for Latino voters was 27 percent in record-low year 2014, Hegeman reports.

Voting rights activists have criticized Dodge City's lack of polling sites for years, arguing that it contributes to the town's low Hispanic voter turnout. "Hispanic voters tend to vote Democratic and could be a factor in Kansas’ tight governor’s race featuring a champion of immigration restrictions, Republican Kris Kobach, against Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly," Hegeman reports.

"Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox did not return messages seeking comment. Kansas Elections Director Bryan Caskey said Cox had no choice but to move the polling site due to the road construction, adding she did the best she could to find a suitable location," Hegeman reports. "She also contacted every voter and sent out advance voting applications in English and Spanish, he said."

The town had more polling sites until the Americans with Disabilities Act of 2002 imposed more stringent requirements for accessibility to polling places, according to Ford County Democratic Party Chairman Johnny Dunlap. And in the three years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, 868 polling places across the nation closed.

In nearby Barton County, the county clerk cut the number of polling places from 23 in the primary to 11 for the general election in an effort to save money in hiring poll workers, Hegeman reports. Some Barton voters will have to go 18 miles to get to the closest polling site in November.

Overview of trade war impact on U.S. soybean and pork farmers suggests long-term shift in global markets

Keith Good of Farm Policy News at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has aggregated an excellent collection of news articles examining and explaining the impact of the trade war on U.S. pork and soy farmers. It's well-worth your time to read.

For example, one recent Wall Street Journal article notes that China, which has the "world's biggest appetite for pork," is buying far less pork from the U.S. after tariffs raised prices as much as 70 percent. And because an outbreak of African swine fever in China has increased domestic demand for pork, China has increasingly been looking to pork producers in Europe and South America. "Those companies aim to turn that opportunity into long-term business," Jacob Bunge and Lucy Craymer report. "The shift raises the prospect of not just a short-term hiccup for American hog farmers, but a fundamental realignment in the global supply chain in one of the world’s hungriest markets."

Smithfield announces plans to cover most hog lagoons, other measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Smithfield Foods, the world's largest hog producer, announced several measures last week to reduce the company's greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2025. 

"Under the plans, Smithfield says it will install manure lagoon covers and anaerobic digesters on 90 percent of its finishing hog farms in North Carolina, Missouri and Utah within 10 years. Smithfield also plans to capture 85,000 tons of methane each year to generate renewable natural gas," Greg Barnes reports for North Carolina Health News. Covering the lagoons will also help keep the pits from overflowing during heavy rains (as happened last month during Hurricane Florence in North Carolina). The release didn't say whether farmers will have to pay for the lagoon covers or whether Smithfield will cover the costs. 

Smithfield also said it is introducing new technologies to reduce truck traffic and miles traveled by more than 85 percent on some routes, will adopt low-trajectory sprayers to spread hog waste from the lagoons onto contract farmers' fields, and will plant more vegetation as buffers between farms and neighbors, Barnes reports.

The announcement "comes after people living next to Smithfield’s contract farms were awarded more than half a billion dollars this year in three nuisance lawsuits filed in North Carolina," Barnes reports. "Neighbors complained in part that the farms smelled so bad and drew so many flies that they couldn’t go outside at times. The awards will be reduced to a fraction of that amount due to a 1995 law capping damages that companies have to pay. Smithfield plans to appeal the verdicts.

Feds release tools to help rural areas fight opioid epidemic

The federal government has created a resource to help rural communities find funding to fight the opioid epidemic. The Rural Opioid Federal Interagency Working Group created the Rural Resource Guide to Help Communities Address Substance Use Disorder and Opioid Misuse, "a first-of-its-kind, one-stop-shop for rural leaders looking for federal funding and partnership opportunities," the High Plains Journal reports. The Working Group is co-chaired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Rural areas have been particularly hard-hit by the opioid epidemic; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that death rates from drug overdoses in rural areas have surpassed rates in urban areas. And cash-strapped communities often have a hard time dealing with such a surge, and don't have the human resources to find and apply for grants that could help, the High Plains Journal reports.

The Rural Resource Guide is the second tool for fighting the opioid epidemic that the federal government has released this month. Earlier this month the Agriculture Department launched the Community Assessment Tool, an interactive database that helps community leaders figure out how and why the opioid epidemic is hurting their areas.

In addition to the USDA and Office of National Drug Control Policy, the working group that created the Rural Resource Guide had representatives from the departments of Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing, Justice, Labor, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs; the Corporation for National and Community Service; and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Fatal deer disease may be spreading across Southeast

226 counties in 23 states have reported chronic wasting disease in wild cervids (U.S. Geological Survey map)
A disease that cripples deer, usually found in the West and Midwest, may be spreading across the Southeast. A white-tailed deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Mississippi this month, the second deer confirmed to be carrying the disease in the state, Dan Chapman reports for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"I would be shocked if we only had these two," William McKinley, deer program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, told Chapman. "These deer died of CWD. The first deer was tested and retested and notched the highest possible CWD score. He was contagious for well over a year. I’m not confident we won’t find others."

CWD is a prion disease, like mad-cow disease in cattle, that attacks the central nervous system of cervids — animals in the deer family, including moose, elk and reindeer. It's progressive, always fatal, and there are no treatments or vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the disease incubates, sometimes for years, seemingly healthy infected animals can shed prions in blood, sweat or urine and potentially infect other animals, Chapman reports.

No humans are known to have been infected with CWD, but studies show risks to monkeys that were fed meat from CWD-infected animals. Infection rates for wild deer in disease-prone areas are about 10 percent, but can hit nearly 80 percent among captive deer. Illegal transportation of deer across state lines to captive facilities is considered the main cause of CWD's spread, Chapman reports. 

The CDC recommends that hunters in disease-prone areas avoid eating deer and elk parts known to harbor prions, including the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, and lymph nodes. 

NYT provides in-depth look at rural hospital closure trend

It is well-known that rural hospitals are shuttering at alarming rates in recent years, but Austin Frakt of The New York Times provides a fine summary of the issue with facts, statistics, relevant studies and links to articles of interest. Read more here.

Rural children, pregnant women in N.Y. state often exposed to pesticides 'unsafe at any level of exposure,' study finds

People in rural areas of New York, especially pregnant women and children, are frequently exposed to pesticides in their homes, according to a newly published study from Cornell University in Ithaca.

"Researchers sampled 132 rural homes in Chenango, Columbia, Essex, Franklin, Wyoming and Hamilton counties," Tom Wilber reports for the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. "In all the homes, they found residue of five different 'organophosphate' pesticides — a class of chemicals that another recent study found to be unsafe at any level of exposure. Many of the chemicals are used in especially large quantities on farms. Exposure risks range from reproductive and developmental problems to cancer."

The most common were picloram acid, a herbicide, and malathion, an insecticide; they and the other chemicals can drift through doors or windows from nearby farms or lawns and can also enter a home on feet, clothes or pets. Such chemicals are slower to dissipate once inside because they're protected from the weather that usually breaks them down. The chemicals linger for a particularly long time on carpets, which can disproportionately affect crawling children or children who drop toys or food on the carpet and then put them in their mouths, Wilber reports.

"A recent study by the National Resource Defense Council published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Medicine found no safe level of exposure to any organophosphate pesticide for pregnant women and their babies," Wilber reports.

How farm life motivates four female candidates in Ky.

Left to right: Robin Webb, Rose Ross Elder, Jessica Elliott, Regina Bunch Huff (photos provided)
In a year with an unusually large number of women running for office, Lynn Pruett of rural Kentucky's The Farmer's Pride profiled four who say the values they learned from farming inspired them to seek office. Though all four have grown tobacco, there are differences too: "They come from different regions and are more diverse in party and politics than one might imagine in a traditionally 'red' state," Pruett reports in an article reprinted in The Daily Yonder.

Calloway County (Wikipedia map)
Rose Ross Elder is running a non-partisan race for city council in Murray, a town of about 18,000 in Calloway County. The retired math teacher was raised with her nine siblings on a 200-acre farm near Murray, and her father was a sixth-generation farmer in Calloway County. That background shaped Elder's values. Because she has so many siblings, she had to learn early about compromise and teamwork, and her father taught her that a good harvest only came from personal effort. Elder says the people of Murray and Calloway County are kind but don't trust local government. "Daddy taught us that if we were kind to the horses, we would get kindness back. I expect that works with people, too," Elder told Pruett.

Mercer County (Wikipedia map)
Jessica Elliott, 33, who is running for property valuation administrator in Mercer County, would be the youngest PVA in Kentucky. Though she has been a farm and residential appraiser for two years, she and her husband Steve also farm cattle and sheep on 600 acres, and until this year planted tobacco too. She is secretary of the local Republican Party. The mother of three knows all about hard work: "When I was 35 weeks pregnant with Gracie (now 3), Josie and I packed 5-gallon buckets to feed my 60 baby Holstein calves, making four or five trips each night. I did that every day right up until my C-section," she told Pruett. Her experience as a farmer led her to become an appraiser and then run for office.

State Senate District 18 ( map)
Democrat Robin Webb is seeking re-election in Senate District 18, which comprises Boyd, Carter and Greenup counties. Soon after she was first elected to the House in 1988, she participated in negotiations for a bill to establish a fund to help tobacco farmers transition from the crop and expand Kentucky's agricultural economy. Webb, an attorney and farmer, said the bill is a model for agricultural diversification. "Tobacco paid my way through college and it was a way to give back," she told Pruett. Her childhood spent helping her father and grandfather farm cattle and pigs taught her to work long hours and pay attention to details, which she says have served her well in her professional life.

State House District 82 ( map)
Republican Regina Bunch Huff, a former educator, is running for re-election as state Representative for Whitley and part of Laurel counties. Because of her childhood on the family tobacco farm in Whitley, she "learned the relationship between sweat equity and sales early as well as understanding that in farming, there are factors beyond a farmer’s control in production and price," Pruett reports. Bunch says she understands how expensive and uncertain farming is these days and how that deters young people from entering the profession. And though she supports strong borders, she understands agriculture's dependence on migrant labor and supports laws that recognize it.

Rural Americans increasingly OK with government help for community problems like opioids, jobs

Belle, Mo. (Sperling's Best Places map)
Though "rural Americans can take a dim view of outsiders from Washington, D.C., (or even from the state capital) meddling in their communities," rural problems have reached such heights that many residents have a more favorable view of government help, Frank Morris reports for NPR.

In this summer's "Life in Rural America" survey by NPR, Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 58 percent of rural Americans polled said they want outside help with community problems. The two biggest problems most rural areas face are economic stagnation and drugs like opioids and methamphetamines, Morris reports.

Belle, Missouri, for example, has been struggling since the local shoe factory closed decades ago. The town of 1,500 increasingly relies on grants to pay for basic maintenance but that money is hard to obtain. And drugs--and drug-related crime--are also hurting the town. But reporter Roxie Murphy of the local Maries County Advocate calls Belle a "proud town" that isn't giving up, Morris reports. That's consistent with the survey's results too.

"It is not all a world of hopelessness, as many others have described," said Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard. "There's a great deal of optimism that 'we can deal with these issues if we can get outside help.'"

Monday, October 29, 2018

Weeks after Hurricane Michael struck, some rural residents of the Florida Panhandle still need help

Though utilities have been restored in Panama City and other metro areas in the Florida panhandle, some rural residents say they still lack power, sewer and water services more than two weeks after Hurricane Michael ravaged the Gulf Coast, Tamara Lush reports for The Associated Press.

About 180,000 people live in Bay County, where Panama City is located, and 14 percent of them live in poverty. Mark Ward, 49, is one. A generator powers his mobile home, he stores food in coolers, and grills out. "It’s a struggle. You feel frustrated because our local government seems to care more about the tourism industry than the hard-working people," he told Lush. "You go off some of these dirt roads that are still unpaved, these houses are crushed. These people have no resources."

The storm did more than cut off power; it destroyed many homes, especially flimsily built mobile homes. And residents who use insulin or other medications that must be refrigerated are in dire straits if they don't have access to a cooler or generator, Lush reports. Though the Red Cross has brought some supplies, neighbors have been helping each other as much as they can, offering space to sleep, water, showers, and food.

Residents who live in poverty will have a hard time recovering from the disaster: the moisture and wreckage left by the storm are likely to spur the growth of mold, and many residents don't have property insurance to help rebuild damaged or destroyed homes.

Meth, cheap and available, makes a comeback in the U.S.

Though the opioid epidemic has garnered the lion's share of headlines, methamphetamine use is on the rise across the U.S. "Even in rural communities ravaged by decades of experience with the drug, meth is on the upswing thanks to its relatively low price, availability and a shortage of treatment options," Frank Morris reports for NPR.

Partly because the U.S. tightened access to common meth ingredients like pseudoephedrine, "Methamphetamine is now the domain of Mexican drug cartels that are mass-producing high-quality quantities of the drug and pushing it into markets where it was previously unknown," Morris reports.

Meth and opioid abuse trigger many of the same social problems. Beyond health risks, which include getting hepatitis A from risky behavior while high, drug abuse spurs theft and prostitution. Children of users suffer too, as their parents leave them unsupervised or sell food and use rent money to buy more drugs.

"The meth problem has basically exploded across every race and social-economic class that you can imagine" and is reaching people and places it never did before, Sgt. Mark McClendon of the Missouri Highway Patrol told Morris.

Sperling's Best Places map
Because the government has prioritized fighting the opioid epidemic, there aren't many intensive treatment resources for uninsured meth users, and there are no government-approved medications to treat meth addiction, Morris reports. Faith-based initiatives appear to be trying to fill in the gap, at least in southeastern Missouri.

Dustin Siebert, who used to use and manufacture meth, founded one of them — the Matthew 25 Project — in the Missouri Bootheel town of Qulin (pop. 450). He preaches to meth addicts and their loved ones that God meant for people with addictive personalities to be addicted to religion instead of drugs. "Because the problem is addiction," he told the group recently. "Until they figure out why people want to get high and use drugs, it's always going to be something else."

Fact Check Monday: No evidence to support charge that 'inaccurate and fraudulent reporting' divides the country

By Al Cross, Director and Professor
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

As editor and publisher of The Rural Blog, I have tried to keep it almost entirely fact-based, with no advocacy, except for issues that advance the cause of journalism as a servant of democracy, such as open-government laws. And for the sake of fairness and credibility, we have tried to balance our Monday fact-check items between those critical of Democrats and Republicans. Today, the former imperative outweighs the latter one.

As I told the Rotary Club in Bowling Green, Ky., last week, there is a war on journalism in this country, waged by people who want to discredit sources of news and information that are unfavorable to them, and to set themselves up as the preferred source of information for their followers. You may think is just about the national news media, but we have reported example after example of how distrust of journalists is having an effect on rural and community journalists and their employers.

That's why journalists at all levels need to be concerned, and speak out about, the latest series of Twitter posts in which President Trump blames the division in our country on the news media. We have become so accustomed to this invective that many of us just ignore it, but now the stakes are higher, because the division has led to death.

The deadliest attack on Jews in American history, Saturday's shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, was perpetrated by a man who had posted frequently on social media about the "migrant caravan" that has become a key pre-election talking point for Trump, who has used immigration as an issue from the day he entered politics.

Earlier, a Trump fan in South Florida was charged with sending pipe bombs to several prominent Trump critics, and a white man in Louisville who had tried to enter a predominantly black church killed two African Americans at a Kroger and told a man as he left, "Whites don't kill whites." The shooter has a violent history, but police branded it a hate crime. The reasons for the shooting are unknown, but it fits a pattern of increased violence linked to racial and religious prejudice.

So, our fact-check for today is this: There's no proof that the president's rhetoric is causing more violence, but there is circumstantial evidence. His accusation that anger is caused by "inaccurate and even fraudulent reporting" by the news media is completely unsupported by evidence. The fraud is being perpetrated on social media, which have no verification, not by journalism, which practices a discipline of verification and corrects its errors. Trump's tweet appears to be a reaction to critics who blame him for the violence; they have been quoted in news media, or have offered their views on broadcast shows that offer more opinion than fact -- and add to the confusion between the two. The president seems to be capitalizing on that confusion between reporting and commentary.

One responsibility of journalists and their employers is to prevent confusion, through clear and factual reporting and responsible commentary. An increasing responsibility is to explain how journalism works, and to defend it from irresponsible commentary. Community journalists, who are close to their audiences and remain credible among them, are in the best position to do that. Do it.

UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "said 'it’s hard to know' if the heightened political rhetoric in the Trump era and during fiercely contested midterm elections are an impetus for violent hate crimes," Ronnie Ellis reports for CHNI News Service.

“The political rhetoric is always pretty hot before an election,” McConnell told Kentucky reporters Monday. “But I think the whole tone in the country right now needs to be ratcheted down, and these horrible, criminal acts only underscore the need for all of us to dial it back to a more respectful place.” Ellis adds: "But when a reporter asked the Senate president if Trump’s off-the-cuff comments on Twitter and at his campaign rallies may have contributed to the climate of disrespect, McConnell walked away without answering."

Older, rural, male doctors in the Southeast and West prescribe the most opioids to seniors, study finds

"Older male doctors in the South and in rural Western states are prescribing the most sedatives and opioids to seniors, according to a new University of Michigan study, Robin Jefferson reports for Forbes. "And those receiving the drugs are more often than not less educated, from areas with lower incomes and at higher risk for suicide. States with the highest intensity of prescribing were Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia, Florida and Louisiana." Minnesota, Alaska, New York, Hawaii and South Dakota had the lowest rates.

The potentially inappropriate prescribing of such drugs may contribute to opioid overdose, the study's authors found. Commonly prescribed sedatives, called benzodiazepines, include Xanax, Valium and Ativan, and are generally meant for anxiety. But benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers are two of the most-abused prescription drugs in the world, and many patients being prescribed them have no formal diagnosis of anxiety or insomnia. Jefferson reports.

The study was based on data about all prescriptions for non-cancerous patients written by primary care providers from 2011 to 2015 for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, combined with county-level health data and socioeconomic data.

"The study found that primary care doctors, rather than psychiatrists, wrote 62 percent of all benzodiazepine prescriptions, a fact that offers more evidence that older adults are much less likely than younger adults to see a psychiatrist," Jefferson reports. "The researchers say this ‘polypharmacy’ of drugs that act on the central nervous system and are most commonly used for anxiety, sleep and behavior issues, is concerning because of the unique risks it poses to older adults. Combining such medications can put seniors at higher risk for falls as well as create problems with driving, memory and thinking."

Analysis of trade war's impact on ag, and potential impact of new trade deal, coming at Farm Foundation Forum Wed.

How has U.S. agriculture been affected by the trade war? How will it be affected by the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement? An analysis commissioned by Farm Foundation will be released Wednesday, Oct. 31, as part of the Farm Foundation Forum, to be held from 9 to 11 a.m. ET at the National Press Club, 529 14th Street NW in Washington, D.C.

The analysis by Purdue University agricultural economists. "is one of the first to give a detailed look at how the USMCA, as well as retaliatory tariffs imposed by several nations, will impact the economic viability of the food and agriculture sector, from farmers and ranchers to suppliers, processors and manufacturers," Farm Foundation President Constance Cullman said in a news release, which said, "As the landscape of global trade has changed in recent months, the implications have not often been clearly understood."

Cullman will moderate the orum with panelists Dominique van der Mensbrugghe, director of the Center for Global Trade Analysis at Purdue, and Joe Glauber, senior fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute and former chief economist for the Department of Agriculture. Audience questions will be welcomed.

There is no charge to participate in the Forum, but registration is requested.  Register HERE if you plan to attend in person; HERE for a free, live audiocast made possible by a grant from Farm Credit. Audio will be posted on the Farm Foundation website, which has presentations and audio files from past forums.