Saturday, September 19, 2020

As campaigns hit the head of the stretch, editor says they should put more of their ad budgets into newspapers

Political candidates could get more bang for their buck, and help local democracy, by putting some of their advertising money into struggling local newspapers, Wilson (N.C.) Times Editor Corey Friedman writes in his column for Creators Syndicate.

"The prevailing wisdom on political advertising is that it can further entrench supporters and opponents, but it isn’t likely to sway many undecided voters," Friedman writes, citing research on TV ads. Meanwhile, the pandemic has shrunk newspaper ad revenue that was already shrinking, and "An infusion of campaign advertising may be enough to keep some struggling publications afloat."

Friedman cites research suggesting that when newspapers close, taxes and fees are likely to increase and government borrowing costs may go up. "Your federal, state and local lawmakers ought to care whether their constituents have a newspaper that covers city council and school board meetings and explains how proposed new laws would affect them," he writes.

"Too many candidates let consultants convince them print is dead and what they really need is another shouty TV commercial or a glossy mailer comparing their opponent to Hitler," Friedman writes. "Local papers have a rich legacy of serving their communities, and that translates to trusted and respected brands. Marketing research firm Comscore says advertisers on high-quality news websites enjoy a 'halo effect' where reader loyalty translates to positive association with sponsor messages."

Also, newspapers "serve the audience candidates need to reach. Seven out of 10 frequent voters say they read local news in print or online, and 77% make campaign contributions," Friedman writes. "Most importantly, candidates will be communicating their support for journalists’ work in a tangible way. That ought to be worth more goodwill than the YouTube ads we all skip with a swipe and a sigh."

Friday, September 18, 2020

Emails show meatpacking industry largely drafted Trump's order that kept plants open as the pandemic intensified

Meatpacking plants have been a major vector for the coronavirus in rural areas, and many states and counties were ordering them closed to slow the spread of the disease. But in late April, President Trump ordered that plants must stay open in order to supply food. 

"Emails obtained by ProPublica show that the meat industry may have had a hand in its own White House rescue: Just a week before the order was issued, the meat industry’s trade group drafted an executive order that bears striking similarities to the one the president signed," Michael Grabell and Bernice Yeung report. "The draft that Julie Anna Potts, the president of the North American Meat Institute, sent to top officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture was written using the framework of an official executive order and stressed the importance of the food supply chain and how outbreaks had reduced production — themes later addressed in the president’s order."

It isn't clear what USDA and White House officials did with the draft, and the final wording of the executive order wasn't verbatim, but Trump's order emphasized all the points Potts proposed, setting in stone her suggested order to keep meatpacking plants open, Grabell and Yeung report. The ProPublica story provides multiple examples of striking similarities between Potts' draft and Trump's order.

"The draft executive order was one of hundreds of emails between the companies, industry groups and top officials at the USDA since March," Grabell and Yeung report. "Together, they show that throughout the coronavirus crisis, the meatpacking industry has repeatedly turned to the agency for help beating back local public health orders and loosening regulations to keep processing lines running."

Trump promised Appalachian voters he'd save coal; he didn't, but they are expected to give him credit for trying

President Trump clobbered Hillary Clinton in Kentucky and West Virginia in 2016. His promise to revive the ailing coal industry wasn't the only reason, but it was a big factor. His failure to fulfill that promise won't likely hurt him much in the election though, Bill Estep and Liz Moomey report for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Eastern Kentucky coal jobs averaged 3,813 in 2016's second quarter. "In the same period this year ... the industry employed an average of just 2,256 people in the region, according to the most recent report from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet," the reporters write. "Statewide, coal jobs in the second quarter of 2020 averaged 3,760, down from 6,517 in the same period in 2016."

It could be tempting to attribute the coal-sector slowdown to the pandemic, "but the industry was at a low point in Kentucky even before that. The number of jobs in the state averaged 4,608 from Jan. 1 through the end of March, down by more than 2,000 from the 6,517 reported in the same time in 2016," Estep and Moomey report.

Before the pandemic struck, the industry was on the ropes already because of falling demand and cheaper alternatives, Rebecca Elliott and Jonathan Randles report for The Wall Street Journal.

Nationwide coal employment figures don't look much better: "The industry employed 50,400 people the month Trump was elected," Estep and Moomey report. "It rose for a time during his term, but in February, before the coronavirus recession took hold, U.S. employment was back at 50,400, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The coal industry's troubles aren't expected to dent Trump's popularity in Central Appalachia. Kentucky and West Virginia are considered such safe bets for Trump that neither campaign is focusing on them. Many voters are willing to give him credit for his efforts to help the coal industry even if they haven't worked, Estep and Moomey report.

Quick hits: Report slams FEMA for failing to help repeatedly flooded homes; abandoned gas wells left to leak methane

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

A top official at the Department of Health and Human Services has taken a leave of absence after posting a Facebook rant promoting conspiracy theories about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the pandemic. Read more here.

The pandemic has more people thinking about diseases that spread from animals to humans. Here's an overview of major outbreaks caused by such diseases over the past 200 years. Read more here.

The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general slammed the Federal Emergency Management Agency for failing to help tens of thousands of people whose homes have repeatedly flooded. Read more here.

Gas companies are abandoning wells, leaving them to leak methane indefinitely. Read more here.

West Virginia environmental regulators are proposing fine reductions for water pollution violations for a coal company owned by the state's billionaire governor Jim Justice. Read more here.

President Trump announced $13 billion in new pandemic aid to farmers at a rally in Wisconsin. Read more here.

Don't forget: Radically Rural virtual summit is Sept. 24

This year's Radically Rural Summit, an all-day, online-only event, is coming up on Sept. 24, and tickets are still available

The summit features six programming tracks: Main streets, community journalism, entrepreneurship, arts and culture, land and communities, and clean energy. The community journalism track includes these sessions:

What's at Stake? Newsrooms increase online revenue and readership using data: What causes a non-reader to subscribe? What can be done to better retain existing readers? Who is having success among small news operations using research? And how are reporters and editors leading the effort? With traditional advertising in sharp decline, community news organizations are using research and data to find ways to increase paid readership and membership. Amy Kovac-Ashley of the American Press Institute will lead a panel of Autumn Phillips, managing editor of the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier; Les High, publisher of The News Reporter in Whiteville, N.C.; and Liz White, chair of the Record-Journal Media Group in central Connecticut. (9-10:45 a.m. ET) 

Transformation: Rural news breaks out in all sorts of new ways: New journalism models with promise – digital start-ups, non-profit and co-op ventures, radical new thinking at small news organizations – are springing up across the country, suggesting ways these can be replicated at the small-town level. Kristen Hare of the Poynter Institute leads a panel of Jim Iovino, assistant professor of media innovation at West Virginia University; Larry Ryckman, editor and founder of The Colorado Sun; Les Zaitz, editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in eastern Oregon; and Tamika Moore, managing producer of Red Clay Media in Alabama. (11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. ET)

Crazy Good: 50 idea that will make a difference: A romp through some of the best ways to increase audience and revenue from game-changing news organizations, with a lively show-and-tell on tactics, techniques and products (including examples of outstanding covid-19 coverage). "You will leave with a magazine profiling new approaches and ideas," the website says. "Looking for an ROI on attending Radically Rural? This is it." Led by Linda Conway, executive director of the New England Newspaper and Press Association, and Terrence Williams, CEO of the Keene Sentinel, co-sponsor of the conference. (2-3:45 p.m. ET)

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Appalachian commission says 22 of its counties raised their economic-status grade in the last year, while 11 fell a notch

Twenty-two counties in "official Appalachia" gained a grade in economic status in the past year, while 11 fell a notch on the Appalachian Regional Commission's five-point scale, according to the ARC's latest County Economic Status map. The Rural Blog has added plus signs in counties that moved up a level and minus signs in those that dropped. Most gains were in Southern Appalachia. For an Excel spreadsheet of the county-level data on which the map is based, click here.
ARC map, adapted by The Rural Blog; for a slightly larger and sharper version, click on it.

Investigation shows how CDC's slow, cautious response to pandemic contributed to its spread, especially in rural areas

Harrison County, Kentucky, Judge-Executive Alex Barnett leads the pledge of allegiance for a county Fiscal Court meeting as Magistrate Dwayne Florence and Treasurer Melody McClure join in. Barnett told USA Today, "I am no expert in health . . . I am an expert on growing cattle and tobacco. I rely on the CDC for guidance." (USA Today photo by Jack Gruber)

A bombshell USA Today package details how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to effectively respond to the growing coronavirus pandemic, contributing to its spread across the U.S.—especially in small towns and rural areas.

"Reporters reviewed 42,000 pages of emails and memos obtained from health departments and interviewed more than 100 community leaders and public health experts, including current and former CDC officials," Brett Murphy and Letitia Stein report. "The agency has received widespread scrutiny for yielding to political pressure from the White House. These interviews and records provide the most extensive look yet at how the CDC, paralyzed by bureaucracy, failed to consistently perform its most basic job: giving public-health authorities the guidance needed to save American lives during a pandemic."

State and local authorities sought help and guidance from the CDC starting in January, but the CDC ignored questions, gave conflicting advice, brushed off calls to take the pandemic more seriously, and as late as April, continued to downplay the potential harm of the coronavirus, USA Today reports.

"In the most extreme cases, the CDC undermined health officials advocating a more aggressive approach to control the spread," Murphy and Stein report. "The agency went so far as to edit a government science journal in late March to remove a Washington state epidemiologist’s call for testing throughout senior assisted-living facilities. 'I would be careful promoting widespread testing,' the CDC editor noted."

Julia Donohue (USA Today photo by Jack Gruber)
The story highlights how the CDC's missteps hurt small towns such as Cynthiana, a Kentucky town of 6,400 that took the agency's advice to continue life as normal, Murphy and Stein report. In early March, Cynthiana resident Julia Donohue got covid-19, the first confirmed case in the state. But the local hospital she went to had received no urgent warnings about community spread, and the more than 50 hospital workers who came into close contact with her did not wear masks or other protective gear that was in short supply. Cynthiana became the epicenter of a statewide outbreak.

Harrison County Judge-Executive Alex Barnett told USA Today that heeded the CDC's advice that it wasn't that big of a threat. He spent the next two weeks posting pictures on Facebook of himself and his wife eating lunch at different local restaurants, hoping to convince others that it was safe. "For the two weeks from when Donohue fell ill until the governor shut down the state, Barnett said he did not realize how much the small city of Cynthiana was at risk," Murphy and Stein report. 

"I am no expert in health when it comes down to it. I am a farmer," Barnett told USA Today. "I am an expert on growing cattle and tobacco. I rely on the CDC for guidance." However, Barnett did try to help the local newspaper inform Cynthiana residents. Two days after Donohue's test came back positive, Barnett agreed to fund delivery to every mailbox in the county of a special edition of The Cynthiana Democrat explaining the best known facts about the coronavirus. 

Editor Becky Barnes, who won the 2020 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian, said she proposed the extra because people needed to know the facts, and not everyone had access to the internet. Meanwhile, Kentucky health officials were getting impractical advice from the CDC, if they received any replies to questions at all, Murphy and Stein report.

16 newsrooms, few with much rural reach, get in journalism philanthropy project; most rural is The Aspen (Colo.) Times

On Wednesday, the Local Media Association announced the first 16 news organizations that will participate in a pilot project aimed at better understanding how philanthropy can support journalism. But none of the organizations are truly rural, and few have significant rural audiences; that matters because rural papers are more likely to be in financial dire straits and less likely to have the know-how or resources to pursue badly needed philanthropic funds.

The Center for Journalism Funding, operated by LMA with funding from the Google News Initiative, is a six-month lab with two goals: to drive at least $2.25 million in funding for journalism projects to the 16 news organizations combined, and to learn enough in the process to "publish an extensive industry playbook on funding journalism through philanthropy," says a news release.

Of the 16 news organizations chosen, the most rural by population is The Aspen Times in Colorado; Aspen's population is around 7,000, but it's a major resort area with a high median income. Nogales International is in the Tucson metropolitan area, and the Bozeman Chronicle is in a city that will surely exceed 50,000 population in this year's census and thus become a metro area. The list includes two larger news organizations with rural audience, The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. and

Biden courts Black farmers in Southern swing states

Joe Biden knows he's not going to win the overall rural vote, but narrowing President Trump's lead in rural areas, especially in battleground states, could make a big difference in the electoral college math. So the Biden campaign has been pursuing rural voters, especially Black farmers, who make up a small but potentially significant share of the rural vote, Ximena Bustillo reports for Politico

"Black farm producers, who number almost 49,000 nationally, are concentrated in Southern swing states, including North Carolina, Florida and Georgia. When combined with other farmers of color, also a focus of the Biden campaign, the total swells to 260,000 producers. Many say it's the first time in years a presidential nominee has paid attention to their needs," Bustillo reports. "Black farmers have long struggled to get equal access to USDA programs that help build credit and address civil rights complaints. They have pushed the government for more enforcement to retain land that has been in their families for generations at a time when farmers, generally, are facing unprecedented economic headwinds due to the pandemic and trade war disruptions." Biden has released a plan meant to help non-white farmers better access credit and capital, campaign senior policy adviser Seema Sadanandan told Bustillo. 

Though Trump likely has a narrower lead in rural areas this year than he did in 2016, Biden still has an uphill battle to win over rural voters, especially farmers. A poll conducted in late July found that 75 percent of farmers surveyed said they would vote for Trump.

Trump census plan might lower congressional representation for some rural residents

"A Trump administration plan to use the census to exclude from congressional representation immigrants who are living here illegally might inadvertently exclude many U.S. citizens living under the radar in states such as Alaska, New Mexico and West Virginia,"  Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. "Last week, a federal appeals court in New York blocked the administration’s strategy, ruling that 'the President does not have the authority to exclude illegal aliens' from congressional representation since the Constitution calls for 'total population' as the basis for apportioning seats. But the ruling allowed federal work on identifying immigration status to continue, in case the ruling is overturned by a higher court."

Sept. 21 virtual summit to explore connections between food security and national security

Agri-Pulse will host a virtual summit on from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Sept. 21, in which a host of experts will discuss how food security and national security are interconnected.

The 2020 Agri-Pulse Ag & Food Policy Summit will feature a diverse array of speakers, including world-famous chef José Andrés, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall, Senate and House Agriculture Committee leaders, and more.

Click here for more information or to register.

Dick Cardwell, leader for open government in Indiana and longtime defender and advocate of newspapers, dies at 86

Cardwell with his wife Marcia
Services will be held this weekend for Richard "Dick" Cardwell, who served more than 35 years as executive director and general counsel of the Hoosier State Press Association and led the fight in the late 1970s for passage of Indiana's open-meetings and open-records laws, of which he was the chief author. He died Sept. 1 and was 86. A private interment will be held Saturday and a celebration of his life will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. ET Sunday at the Country Club of Indianapolis. He was a big golfer.

Cardwell represented the newspaper industry before the Indiana General Assembly on First Amendment causes and chaired the publication board at Indiana University. He won many awards for his work and was a member of the course-rating panel for Golf Digest, which let him "travel all over the country and world playing the finest golf courses," his obituary says. "He kept meticulous records of his golf rounds, including number of holes played, strokes, and which clubs he used. As an example, his stroke average for over 140 rounds played in 2000, at 67 years old, was 75. His family never tired of hearing his stories of playing golf with Arnold Palmer or Sam Snead. Dick never met a stranger and could strike up a conversation and find common ground with virtually anyone." Cardwell and his wife Marcia, who died in 2017, had four children, 11 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Rural spread of coronavirus eased a little last week, but rural counties still disproportionately hard-hit

New coronavirus infection rates from Sept. 5-12. Daily Yonder map;
click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
Though coronavirus deaths and new infections fell a little in rural America last week, more than one-third of the nation's 2,000 rural counties continued to have high rates of new coronavirus infections. "In addition, for the fifth week in a row, rural counties continued to produce a disproportionately larger share of the nation’s new covid-19 infections and deaths," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder's weekly analysis of the pandemic in rural America.

Rural covid-19 deaths fell below 1,000 last week for the first time in two months, clocking in at 970, Murphy and Marema report.

The number of red-zone rural counties fell from 806 to 701 during the week of Sept. 6-12, the first significant drop in more than two months. Red zones are defined by the White House Coronavirus Task Force as counties with 100 or more new cases per 100,000 in population. The number of rural red zones has held steady or increased since mid-July while metropolitan red zones have fallen consistently in the same time period, Murphy and Marema report.

Wildfires weaken watersheds and set the stage for flooding; presidential candidates weigh in

The wildfires that are ravaging the American West "are weakening watersheds and setting the stage for deadly mudslides and flooding and, in some places, threatening to poison critical water supplies," Hannah Northey reports for Energy & Environment News.

Such has been the damage that the fires have become a campaign issue for President Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. "With more than two dozen major fires in California alone last week during an unprecedented wildfire season, they're no longer an afterthought for campaigns that – seven weeks from Election Day – would typically be hyper-focused on engaging voters in swing states such as Florida, Michigan and Ohio rather than addressing disasters in California, Oregon and Washington, three states solidly in the Democratic column,"  Dino Grandoni reports for The Washington Post.

Both candidates held competing press conferences about the wildfires on Monday, Grandoni reports. Biden called Trump a "climate arsonist," criticized his record on the environment, and warned of worsening environmental disasters should Trump be re-elected. "Donald Trump’s climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes,” Biden said from Wilmington, Del. "But if he gets a second term, these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating and more deadly."

Trump, who spoke from Sacramento, blamed the fires entirely on poor forest management and did not comment on climate change though several public officials encouraged him to during the press conference, Grandoni reports. Last year, Trump frequently blamed California wildfires on state-level forest management; he alluded to that view in Monday's press conference, but Gov. Gavin Newsom noted that 57 percent of the state's forests are managed at the federal level and only 3% at the state level. Newsom also asserted that climate change, not just forest management, is to blame for the fires.

"Fire researchers say a century of rising temperatures and decades of fire suppression policies, which have allowed flammable material to build up in forests, are both contributing to the blazes," Grandoni reports.

No fund-raising dinner this year, but today and today only, your gift to the publisher of The Rural Blog will be matched

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

When I was running or helping run weekly newspapers, every couple of months we would have a sponsorship page, promoting a good cause with the help of advertisers who were recognized with a small box or just a line noting their sponsorship. My favorite publisher called them "tin cup" ads, because we were sort of like a beggar on the street, rattling a tin cup. Today, we rattle the tin cup.

The biggest fund-raising activity for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is the annual Al Smith Awards Dinner, when we present the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian (co-sponsored by the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and often the national Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism, if that's where the recipient(s) want to receive it. But there's no dinner this year, due to the pandemic. We hope the situation will be different at this time next year.

In the meantime, today offers us a one-time chance to make up that deficit. Today and today only, gifts to the institute will be matched, as part of a University of Kentucky initiative and a donor to our college. Click here for the special matched-giving page, then click on "Communication and Information Match." It will ask you to designate a fund. Click "Other" and you will get a box into which you should type, "Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues Endowed Fund." We wish it were simpler, but this special procedure is needed to get the matching money.

Thanks for your support, and thanks for reading The Rural Blog, our national publication. We also publish Kentucky Health News, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, and the Midway Messenger, a mostly online newspaper for a rural town, with most of the work being done by students in my Community Journalism classes in the UK School of Journalism and Media. Your gift helps support all three publications, and the Institute's mission, to help rural journalists define the public agenda in their communities. That mission has recently expanded to include the sustainability of rural newspapers; they are getting more of their revenue from their audiences these days, and we hope you will help us do likewise.

New program aims to help seniors discern social-media 'fake news', especially critical during election and pandemic

It can be difficult to tell real news from fake on social media, especially for seniors who aren't as internet-savvy. But a new digital-literacy project from the Poynter Institute aims to help. MediaWise for Seniors offers free online courses to help older Americans sniff out and fight online misinformation, Paula Span reports for The New York Times.

The MediaWise program began in 2018 with funding from Google, and at first focused on teens and college students. But they recently decided to retool the program for seniors. "The online behavior of older Americans during the last presidential campaign alarmed scientists who study communications, politics and technology," Span reports. Seniors were at least twice as likely to share fake news on Facebook, the social media platform they use most, during the 2016 election. That's especially concerning because older adults are far more likely to register and vote than younger adults.

"There was a desperate need to educate this older age group, not only because of the election but because of the coronavirus," program manager Katy Byron told Span. Seniors are the highest-risk age group for poor outcomes from the coronavirus.

Navajo leader says the key to slowing the coronavirus in his community was listening to public health officials

"Earlier this year, the Navajo Nation Reservation was a major hot spot for coronavirus cases. Now, it's seen a day without a single positive case," Sacha Pfeiffer reports for NPR. "It's a turning point in its battle against the virus. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez attributes that to Navajo leaders and citizens heeding the advice of public health officials."

Nez said that Navajo leaders not only accepted recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, but that they also elevated them into law by making them public health emergency orders, Pfeiffer reports. Further, Navajo leaders have required residents to wear masks since mid-April, and have limited outside visitors via roadblocks. 

The Navajo have also aggressively tested residents: 99,000 people on the reservation, more than 50 percent of its population, have been tested for the novel coronavirus, with about 10,000 positive results, Pfeiffer reports. They have also hired contract tracers and people who have been infected or are at high risk voluntarily quarantine themselves for the good of the community, Nez said.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

More major agriculture events canceled due to pandemic

"The ongoing covid-19 pandemic claimed two more agricultural-related events on Monday. For the first time, events slated for early 2021 were canceled," Russ Quinn reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "The 2021 National Western Stock Show and 2021 World Ag Expo were both canceled due to health and safety restrictions. The events were called off as organizers of both shows said they were not able to figure out plans to allow for large crowds and still follow local and state health and safety restrictions, according to separate news releases."

The NWSS will resume Jan. 8-23, 2022, in its normal home of Denver, according to event organizers. They considered holding a modified show with a reduced capacity, but couldn't figure out a way to do it safely. They note that the event draws more than 700,000 attendees and had an economic impact of nearly $120 million in the month of the show alone.

The cancellation of the World Ag Expo will be the first in the event's 52-year history, organizers said in a press release. It is scheduled to resume Feb. 8-10, 2022, in Tulare, California.

Read more here for a list of many North American agriculture events that have been canceled because of the pandemic, including the Calgary Stampede, the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin, the World Pork Expo in Iowa, and at least a dozen state fairs.

Trump administration courts ethanol sector with help for E15 fuel and denial of old oil-refinery waivers still pending

The Trump administration courted the ethanol sector this week with a pair of announcements.

Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted "that he’ll remove federal roadblocks to the sale of 15 percent ethanol gasoline in standard fuel pumps that currently facilitate the 10 percent blend," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's Weekly Agriculture. "As far the administration is concerned, just about any filling station can now sell gas with the higher blend of ethanol without having to replace its entire underground infrastructure, a major obstacle to increased E15 sales."

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will deny all pending gap-year small-refinery exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2011-2018. "The EPA has yet to decide the fate of 31 pending waiver requests for 2019 and 2020, but the announcement ends what has been an agonizing period for the ethanol and agriculture industries. The ethanol industry stood to lose billions of gallons of fuel demand had the waivers been granted," Todd Neeley reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

The moves could help Trump's chances with corn growers and biofuel producers frustrated by his ethanol policies, McCrimmon reports.

Trump/Biden fact check: Inaccurate claims on a coronavirus vaccine, mail-in voting, the trade deficit and more

President Trump and Joe Biden are increasingly seeking to discredit each other as election season enters its final weeks. That often means exaggerated, misleading or false claims that leave voters misinformed. So starting today, The Rural Blog will run a more-or-less-weekly fact check of major claims from both campaigns that have been conclusively found less than factual.

Though the Biden campaign is responsible for a few whoppers, the Trump campaign has been churning out a virtual Gish gallop of claims at such a volume that it's difficult to respond to. "All presidential candidates depict opponents in the worst possible light. Trump uses outright fabrications against ... Biden," John Harwood writes for CNN. Here are some recent fact-checks from

In a Labor Day press conference and the next day at a North Carolina rally, Trump made several unsupported or inaccurate statements about a coronavirus vaccine, and also distorted comments made by the Biden/Harris campaign, Jessica McDonald writes. Trump said Biden and running mate Kamala Harris had spread anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. Biden and Harris say they support properly approved vaccines but have echoed concerns in the scientific community about releasing a vaccine that hasn't been well-vetted. Trump also said 30,000 people were being tested with one vaccine and the results are "looking unbelievably strong." That's false, McDonald reports: no trial has yet enrolled 30,000 people, and no one knows how well the vaccines are performing yet.

In a Michigan campaign speech, Biden falsely claimed that the U.S. trade deficit had "hit an all-time high" under Trump. "It is true that the trade deficit for goods and services has grown under Trump compared with the levels under his predecessor, Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president. But the deficit was at much higher levels between 2004 and 2008 under President George W. Bush than it has been under Trump," Rem Rieder reports.

At campaign rallies in Nevada, Trump twisted remarks made by Biden, Lori Robertson and Robert Farley report. Biden said that local law enforcement using surplus military equipment in a neighborhood looks "like the military invading" and said that "they become the enemy." Trump took those words out of context and said that "Biden called law enforcement the enemy."

Also at the Nevada rallies, Trump also called Biden "a complete disaster on swine flu" and mischaracterized comments from Biden's former chief of staff that the Obama administration "did every possible thing wrong" in 2009. Trump repeated that comment and said it was about the administration's overall response. The former aide said he was talking only about delays in vaccine production, Robertson and Farley report.

"A Biden campaign TV ad falsely claims that a government analysis of President Donald Trump’s 'planned cuts to Social Security' shows that 'if Trump gets his way, Social Security benefits will run out in just three years from now," D'Angelo Gore reports. "The Social Security Administration’s chief actuary analyzed 'hypothetical legislation' that would eliminate the payroll tax that funds Social Security — not a proposal from Trump. The president has said he won’t cut benefits."

Trump has repeatedly made false, misleading, and unsubstantiated claims about mail-in voting in recent weeks. He said that Democrats are "cheating" and "dirty fighters" who are mailing out "80 million unsolicited ballots" in order to help Biden win the election. None of that is supported by fact, Eugene Kiely reports.

Smithfield and JBS face federal fines for failing to protect slaughterhouse workers from pandemic

"The U.S. Labor Department has cited Smithfield Foods and JBS for failing to protect employees from the coronavirus, making them the first two major meatpackers to face a federal fine after outbreaks at slaughterhouses infected thousands of workers," Tom Polansek and P.J. Huffstutter report for Reuters. The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed fining Smithfield $13,494 and JBS $15,615."

Specifically, Smithfield's plant in Sioux Falls was cited for "failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm," OSHA's complaint said. At least 1,294 plant workers were sickened and four died from the coronavirus this spring, Polansek and Huffstutter report.

OSHA cited JBS's plant in Greeley, Colorado, where six workers have died from the virus and 290 have tested positive. According to the complaint, employees were unable to remain socially distant at work. JBS has already been fined twice for coronavirus-related safety violations at Minnesota plants: $28,000 for four violations a Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant in Cold Spring, and another $29,400 for five violations at a pork plant in Worthington, Polansek and Huffstutter reports.

Both companies said the citations were undeserved. They have until about the end of the month to respond and put safety measures in place, Polansek and Huffstutter report. The citations "did little to quiet complaints from labor unions and safety advocates, who said the Trump administration needs to do more to protect workers critical to the nation's food supply," they report. David Michaels, a George Washington University environmental and occupational health professor, who was the assistant labor for OSHA in the Obama administration, said the fines are "not even a slap on the wrist."

Research: Rural residents pay higher health insurance rates

Rural residents pay more for health insurance and have fewer choices for insurance providers, according to a newly released study in the Russell Sage Foundation journal, Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. The higher premiums are related to both the lack of competition among insurers and the tendency of rural residents to be older and in poorer health.

University of Minnesota public health professor Jean Abraham studied choice and pricing for individual insurance plans across the United States between 2015 and 2019 to assess market vulnerability and volatility. Market vulnerability measures how many insurers are in an area and what they charge for premiums, whereas volatility is how much a marketplace changes over a given time period, Carey reports.

"Abraham’s found that markets with higher volatility and vulnerability have smaller populations and are more rural, have a higher percentage of non-white people, lower average wages, a higher percent of the population reporting fair or poor health status, and are more likely to be in states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid," Carey reports. "What she found, she said, was that rural areas were more likely to only have one insurer and higher premiums. The cause, according to Abraham, most likely relates to the lack of competition, both in the insurance market and in the healthcare market."

Monday, September 14, 2020

Nursing homes in Ky. (and maybe other states) with the most covid-19 deaths had fewer registered nurses

Stanford Care and Rehabilitation reported only 23 minutes of registered-nurse care per patient day in the last quarter of 2019. It's had many deficiencies, and 18 of its residents have died of covid-19.
Nearly 600 people have died from covid-19 in long-term-care facilities in Kentucky, and almost one-third of those have come from just eight nursing homes. One thing those eight facilities had in common was a relatively low number of registered nurses on staff spending less time than average with residents, according to a recent study. It could be the same in other states.

"On average, Kentucky nursing homes reported 45 minutes of RN staff time per resident day during the fourth quarter of 2019, the most recent period for which data is available from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services," John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "That was close to the national average. But the eight Kentucky nursing homes with the most covid-19 deaths reported an average of only 24 minutes."

The problem isn't unique to Kentucky, according to a report released last month from the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Despite the federal rules, one in every seven nursing homes nationwide failed to meet the minimum nurse staffing levels for at least 16 days in 2018," Cheves reports. The report notes that residents fare more poorly when fewer RNs are on duty during the weekends, and that ombudsmen see increased reports of serious ailments such as urinary-tract infections and bedsores then.

Lack of qualified staff also has repercussions for the pandemic. RNs are "usually are the only ones on a nursing-home staff qualified to create an infection-control plan, spot and assess infections and determine who should see a doctor or go to the hospital," Cheves reports. But RNs are usually paid more than less-qualified staff, and nursing homes are struggling with extra pandemic-related costs even though the federal government has provided some aid. That can make cutting RN hours an attractive way to save money.

Federal law requires only that nursing homes have "sufficient" staff to meet residents' needs. "Some states set their own more rigorous staffing standards for nursing homes, but Kentucky long has resisted such calls, dismissing them as impractical," Cheves reports. "Instead, legislative leaders are promising to pass legal liability protection in the 2021 session to block certain lawsuits over COVID-19 infections."

Report: local-access cable channels play an increasing role in informing rural communities during pandemic

Local public-access TV stations don't often get much respect, and many view them as a relic of the past. But during the pandemic, many rural communities have harnessed and expanded access to such stations to help the public stay informed and connected, a critical function especially in areas without a local newspaper or radio station, Patricia Aufderheide, Antoine Haywood, and Mariana Santos report for The Daily Yonder. Aufderheide is a communications professors and Santos a PhD student at American University in Washington, D.C. Haywood is a PhD communications student at the University of Pennsylvania.

Public-access stations, also called public, educational and governmental (PEG) access media, "exist in perhaps 1,500 communities across the U.S. They exist wherever local governments have made them a condition of granting right-of-way access to cable companies. They hark back to the 1970s, when grassroots movements demanded access to mass media," Aufderheide, Haywood and Santos report.

The researchers wanted to find out how PEG-access media responded to the pandemic, so they issued a survey in late May through early June with the help of the PEG national association, the Alliance for Community Media, and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors. About 20 percent of PEG stations in the U.S. answered the survey, and a quarter of those respondents were in small towns or rural areas, they report.

The researchers saw many of the same patterns in both large and small communities:

  • PEG-access media became more valued and more accessible in their communities overall.
  • PEG staffers frequently helped community members with tech support for programs such as Zoom.
  • Many PEG stations began carrying educational programs.
  • More PEG stations began hosting and broadcasting meetings (or more meetings) for local government and education officials as they tried to figure out how to respond to the pandemic. Local residents "showed up in record numbers and used new interactive functions to participate in the proceedings."
  • PEG stations created or expanded local news shows to aggregate and report important pandemic news and cover local meetings and press conferences.
  • With people so isolated, PEG stations became "a virtual public square" that helped communities stay connected. They hosted school graduation ceremonies and holiday celebrations, and encouraged local residents to share video diaries or tips on coping strategies.
But, the researchers note, PEG-access stations often have few resources, especially rural ones, and depend heavily on volunteers who could not help during the pandemic. "Staffers reported working around the clock, with demands only increasing," the researchers report. Also, the broadband gap often made it more difficult to host interactive content in rural areas.

PEG stations could build on this success in rural communities, but local governments "need to prioritize PEG when they give cable companies franchises, and when they renew them," the researchers write. "They need to build PEG expertise not only into crisis planning, but into the daily information flow of the community. And we all need broadband policies that treat broadband like the essential utility service it really is."

Rural water and sewage utilities, often left out of pandemic relief, struggle to keep operating when customers can't pay

Many rural water and sewage utilities struggled to pay for long-needed maintenance even before the coronavirus pandemic. But with so many residents out of work and unable to pay their water bills, rural utilities are finding themselves stretched too thin to stay fully operational.

"Rural water and wastewater systems have largely been left out of federal and state pandemic relief, and yet they play critical roles in local economies. Homes rely on them, of course, but so do small businesses such as eateries and large companies such as manufacturers and processing plants," April Simpson reports for Stateline. "As the virus stretches further into smaller communities, these systems are fighting for their survival under long-standing economic and structural weights."

The vast majority of public water utilities are rural, though the larger urban ones serve more people overall. "Of 150,000 public water systems, 97 percent are in communities of 10,000 residents or fewer, according to the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, a national network of nonprofits whose work includes assistance to and training for water and wastewater systems," Simpson reports.

"With many states maintaining a moratorium on water shutoffs, water systems have fewer ways to deal with unpaid bills. Some advocates worry the moratoria are permitting customers to dig themselves into a deeper hole since they’ll be on the hook to pay their growing bill eventually. Meanwhile systems are providing service for free without any assurance that a local government would step in to help," Simpson reports. "Municipal and nonmunicipal systems are generally funded by user rates, not tax dollars. Small systems may not have the reserves to call on when customers facing hardship are unable to pay their bills."

Though many large water and sewage systems also face funding and maintenance issues, smaller and rural utilities have fewer resources, usually serve fewer people, and don't have as many employees who can run things if one of them becomes infected or must stay in quarantine, Simpson reports.

Rural fire departments face extra challenges

Rural fire departments are often staffed by volunteers who see it as a way to serve their communities. But being a volunteer firefighter or emergency medical technician "involves much more than just showing up for emergencies. In many ways, rural volunteer fire districts must work harder than 'career' departments to secure adequate funding, to maintain a workable infrastructure, and to recruit and properly train enough crew members for their needs," Kat Bryant reports for The Daily World in Aberdeen, Washington.

Because fire-department funding is mostly based on locally assessed taxes, less-populated areas get less funding. But sometimes state law requires volunteer fire departments to provide extra services that they don't get compensated for, Bryant reports.

Assistant Fire Chief Shari Cutright of Fire District 8 in Pacific Beach, Washington, told Bryant that, for example, their EMTs must transfer some patients to paramedics for more advanced treatment. "Under state mandate, if a person is having difficulty breathing, it’s automatic that we have to meet up with paramedics, and they transfer the patient," Curtright said. "We get nothing from that; they get everything."

"And by 'everything,' she means the ALS transporter [the company the paramedics work for] charges not only the patient, but also District 8 for that run," Bryant reports. "That is generally how it works for the rural fire districts: [districts that provide only basic life support] must pay either monthly or per-transport fees to neighboring providers for paramedic coverage as needed."

Poor road and communications infrastructure can also complicate response for rural fire departments. Nick Falley, a firefighter and EMT with Fire District 7 in rural Washington, told Bryant it's difficult for volunteer firefighters to lobby local governments to address infrastructure problems. "When I bring it up with the county, they say we have these radio board (meetings) that are scheduled at times when our volunteer chiefs are at their (day) jobs" Falley said. "Career departments have the resources to vouch for their infrastructure, and then we kind of get the slim pickins — and we’re out in the areas where we really need it."

Rural people with disabilities, at higher risk and with fewer resources, struggle to remain independent during pandemic

Rural Health Information Hub map based on U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey data from 2014-2018; click the image to enlarge it.
"From mental health strain caused by social isolation to life threatening circumstances, people with disabilities living in rural America are exposed to higher-than-average risks during the covid-19 pandemic," Jan Pytalski reports for The Daily Yonder. But some of those risks aren't from the virus itself, but from the lack of available medical supplies, staffing, or transportation difficulties. Rural residents with disabilities face higher risks during the pandemic, often with fewer resources.

Read more here.