A digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. Links may expire, require subscription or go behind pay walls. Please send news and knowledge you think would be useful to email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter @RuralJournalism
Friday, May 14, 2021
Corn growers demand Biden climate plan prioritize ethanol
After legislature balks, Mo. governor breaks promise to back Medicaid expansion approved by 53% of voters last year
Ad agency promotes advertising to support local news media, saying ad folks are culpable in journalism's decline
Boston-based advertising agency Allen & Gerritsen has a new initiative called "Protect Our Press" to support and preserve local, professional newsrooms across the nation through advertising."Protect Our Press calls on agencies, brands, publishers and individuals to take a pledge," Evelyn Mateos reports for Editor & Publisher. "It asks agencies to create a meaningful target, such as 20 percent of their programmatic budget to news sites; brands to review and rethink their approach to local news investments; publishers to create smarter, better value for Protect Our Press participants, and individuals to subscribe to one or more local news publishers."
First-of-its-kind study links air pollution from farms, mainly livestock, estimating nearly 18,000 U.S. deaths a year
|Washington Post graphic breaks out estimates produced by study; click on it to enlarge.|
Quick hits: Wyoming may sue to protect its coal markets; farmers switch tax status as benefits in Subchapter C shrink
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new law in Wyoming created a $1.2 million fund to be used to sue other states that choose to use renewable energy instead of buying its coal. Read more here.
A bipartisan Senate bill aims to improve health-care access for new and expecting mothers in rural America. The bill was introduced in 2019, but died in committee. Read more here.
The deadline to apply for the National Science, Health and Environment Reporting Fellowships has been extended through Monday, May 17. Read more here.
Farmers are converting from Subchapter C corporations as C-corp tax benefits shrink. Read more here.
Study: Covid reporters report emotional trauma and stress from the demands of the job. Read more here.
An op-ed from prison-reform organization Vera Institute for Justice talks about why reimagining safety looks different in rural America. Read more here.
Thursday, May 13, 2021
Manchin says he favors a scaled-back bill on elections
|ABC's Rachel Scott interviews Sen. Joe Manchin|
"The Democrat from West Virginia told ABC News exclusively that he intends to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, a more narrowly tailored piece of voting rights legislation that he said he believes could muster bipartisan support even as voting legislation is becoming a flash point between the two parties," Rachel Scott reports.
"I believe Democrats and Republicans feel very strongly about protecting the ballot boxes allowing people to protect the right to vote making it accessible making it fair and making it secure and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, if we apply that to all 50 states and territories, it's something that can be done -- it should be done," Manchin told Scott. "It could be done bipartisan to start getting confidence back in our system." That bill, named for the civil-rights leader and former House member who died last year, would restore federal monitoring of election laws in states with histories of racial discrimination.
Census showed slow population growth, but also displayed continued movement among states in their rankings
|Washington Post graph shows changes in population rank of states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. To enlarge, click on it.|
"The story of the U.S. population is one of fluidity," report Harry Stevens and Nick Kirkpatrick of The Washington Post. "Of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, more than half jumped ahead or fell behind others this year, despite state population totals that showed the nation’s slowest population growth since the 1930s. Compared with a century ago, the shifts are even more significant, with states rising by as many as 33 positions or falling by as many as 16. No single explanation can capture the complexity of these population shifts. Within any given region, some states have flourished while others declined. As some economies faltered, new industries sprung up and attracted migration from inside and outside the country."
EPA finally says changes in the environment show climate change is intensifying, partly because of human activity
The report joins "a growing body of evidence that climate effects are happening faster and becoming more extreme than when EPA last published its 'Climate Indicators' data in 2016," Dino Grandoni and Brady Dennis report. "EPA Administrator Michael Regan said he wants to make clear to the entire country the dangers of rising temperatures in the United States."
“We want to reach people in every corner of this country because there is no small town, big city or rural community that’s unaffected by the climate crisis,” Regan said. “Americans are seeing and feeling the impacts up close with increasing regularity.” Along with the report, EPA updated its climate webpage to inform the public on how climate change is affecting communities.
Low-income households can get $50 federal discounts on home broadband, $100 on computer purchases
The Federal Communications Commission is offering a $50 discount on your home broadband bill, reports Mike Snider of USA Today.
The benefit is "part of the roughly $900 billion Covid-19 relief package passed by Congress in December," Snider writes. It gave the FCC $3.2 billion for the program, in which more than 800 wireless and broadband providers are participating.
You qualify "if you also qualify for the Lifeline program, the program that helps low-income Americans purchase broadband access. You also qualify if you are on Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP," Snider reports. "Any household with income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines is eligible, as are those in the free and reduced-price school lunch program and school breakfast program. Also eligible: those who had a substantial loss of income since Feb. 29, 2020 and are at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers."
The program offers a discount of up to $50 a month toward broadband, up to $75 a month on tribal lands. Snider reports, "Eligible households also can receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to buy a laptop or desktop computer or a tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase." Signup for the program opened Wednesday.
"Internet connectivity has been vital during the coronavirus pandemic as more Americans worked from home and more students attended school at home," Snider notes, quoting acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel: "We all know that Internet access is essential for modern life. This pandemic has made it abundantly clear that broadband is no longer nice to have, it’s need-to-have, for everyone, everywhere."
Rep. Greene chases, taunts Rep. Oscasio-Cortez
Two Post reporters "witnessed Ocasio-Cortez exit the House chamber late Wednesday afternoon ahead of Greene, who shouted 'Hey Alexandria' twice in an effort to get her attention. When Ocasio-Cortez did not stop walking, Greene picked up her pace and began shouting at her and asking why she supports antifa, a loosely knit group of far-left activists, and Black Lives Matter, falsely labeling them 'terrorist' groups. Greene also shouted that Ocasio-Cortez was failing to defend her 'radical socialist' beliefs by declining to publicly debate the freshman from Georgia."
“You don’t care about the American people,” Greene shouted. “Why do you support terrorists and antifa?” The object of her taunts didn't stop, "only turning around once and throwing her hands in the air in an exasperated motion. The two reporters were not close enough to hear what the New York congresswoman said, and her office declined to discuss her specific response."
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Bipartisan postal-reform bill includes provision to let papers send many more sample copies in their home counties
|Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and U.S. Rep. James|
Comer, R-Ky. (Photo from Government Executive)
A three-line section of the bill, labeled "Rural newspaper sustainability," would let papers mail many more sample copies to non-subscribers in their home counties at the same rate they pay the Postal Service to deliver papers to subscribers. The current limit is 10 percent of annual home-county circulation; the bill would make it 50%.
The 10% limit has been in federal law "for more than a century," said the National Newspaper Association, which lobbied for the change as part of a broader reform of the Postal Service. NNA Chair Brett Wesner, an Oklahoma publisher, said the provision would help small newspapers recruit subscribers.
As newspaper circulation has declined, papers reach the sample-copy limit sooner, said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, which publishes The Rural Blog. He said the higher limit would make papers more attractive vehicles for advertising and public service, as some have done with sample-copy editions in the pandemic.
NNA said it was "cautiously optimistic that the Postal Service Reform Act of 2021 would finally clear the many hurdles to enactment." It thanked the sponsors "for recognizing the need of community newspapers to regain subscribers lost to poor postal service and the effects of the pandemic."
The bill is sponsored by the leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which has postal issues in its jurisdiction. The chair is Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York; the ranking Republican is Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, who pushed for the sample-copy provision. Comer said the bill, combined with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's 10-year plan, 'will help put USPS on the road to fiscal stability, make it more efficient and sustainable for generations, and ensure continued service to the American people."
UPDATE, May 13: The committee approved the bill without amendments, then moved on to a related bill with more contentious issues such as mailed ballots. Comer told the panel, "In this bill, Republicans have ensured rural Americans continue to have access to their local newspapers and not be forced to pick up a national paper because the local paper went bankrupt."
The committee is scheduled to mark up the bill Thursday, a session that may reveal dissension in both parties over issues that have long been contentious. The bill is co-sponsored by Government Operations Committee Chair Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.).
The bill would continue the mandate for six-day delivery, a major concern in rural areas. It would require the Postal Service to have an online, publicly available dashboard to track its performance. Maloney said that adds "transparency to ensure the Postal Service provides the high quality of service Americans expect and deserve." NNA had hoped for specific measurement of on-time rural mail delivery, but it said the dashboard would allow "any person could look up a specific address to determine service performance to that address," so research could measure rural delivery times.
The bill's major financial boost to the Postal Service would be elimination of the "2006 mandate to fund retiree health benefits well into the future, a significant cost for USPS, at least on paper. The agency has defaulted on billions of dollars in annual payments to the retiree health fund," Jory Heckman of Federal News Network reports. "The legislation would require postal employees to enroll in Medicare when they turn 65. The bill wouldn’t require current retirees to enroll, but would give them a three-month grace period from late-enrollment penalties if they opt to do so."
UPDATE: NNA issued a news release in which Wessner said, "“This bill does not give us everything we want, nor one thing we really need, which is some assurance of postage rate stability,” Wesner said. “But it does open the door for much-needed postal reform and it sets us on a path for refinements as a bill moves through Congress. What is most important to us is that Congress acts and acts quickly to shore up universal service. The very real effects of the delays on Capitol Hill are being felt in our business, as we lose subscribers to poor service and we are forced to recognize that the mail system has become much less dependable than in the past. To the extent this deterioration is because of USPS’s financial weakness, it is incumbent upon Congress to get moving to help fix it.”
Commercial fishers push back against mask mandates
Commercial fishing crews are fighting mask mandates they say are impractical and unsafe.
In February the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention required that anyone on public transportation wear a mask, and the Coast Guard applied that to all vessels, including small commercial fishing crews, Paige Winfield Cunningham reports for The Washington Post.
In a hearing with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Tuesday, Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., asked CDC director Rochelle Walensky to change the rule. "Not only is a wet mask dangerous out on the open water — these guys are used to relying on sign language on the boat, and with the mask it’s a real safety issue," Hassan said. Murkowski said fishermen had told her they only wore masks because they worried about getting caught by the Coast Guard and fined or otherwise penalized."Walensky seemed aware of the issue during yesterday’s hearing but didn’t give any specific answers. She said the agency is working on new agency guidance," Cunningham reports.
Some rural areas in East run short of gasoline from panic buying after cyberattack on major pipeline
|The Clinton County News in Albany, Ky., ran these photos of lines at local gas pumps.|
Rural areas, which are more likely to be at or near the end of fuel-truck routes and have many long commuters who fill their tanks more than once a week, have seen panic buying due to the shutdown of a major fuel pipeline from a Russian cyberattack, and some are running short.
"More than 1,000 gas stations in the Southeast reported running out of fuel," The Associated Press reports. "Government officials acted swiftly to waive safety and environmental rules to speed the delivery of fuel by truck, ship or rail to motorists and airports, even as they sought to assure the public that there was no cause for alarm."
"Gasoline has been in short supply at stations in several Southern Kentucky towns," reports Lexington's WKYT. "It started Monday in Clinton County, then spread to Wayne County." Both are on the Tennessee border and get most if not all of their wholesale fuel from Tennessee. The Clinton County News headlined, "Out of gas: Monday's run at local pumps leaves tanks empty."
New rural coronavirus infections fell 12% last week, to lowest level since July 2020, when surges began
|Rate of new coronavirus infections, by county, May 2-8|
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version
Last week, there were 27,502 new coronavirus cases in rural areas, a 12 percent drop from the previous week's total of 42,462 — the lowest level seen since July. Likewise, additional deaths related to Covid-19 fell 14% to 677 from the previous week's 734 deaths."The declines in cases and deaths came as rural counties surpassed 4.5 million total cases of Covid-19 and 90,000 Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic early in 2020," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder.
Click here for more data, charts and analysis from the Yonder, including regional analysis and an interactive map with county-level data.
Water wells at more risk of drying up; researchers have recommendations to help
- Dig a new, deeper well
- Sell the property if digging a new well is unaffordable
- Divert or haul water from alternative sources like a nearby river or lake
- Reduce water use to slow or halt groundwater level declines
- Limit or abandon activities that require a lot of water, such as irrigation
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Farmers seek specifics from Biden administration on carbon-cutting agriculture measures, which could be pricey
Residents in a rural Maine community—including a veteran journalist—pitch in to save the local monthly paper
|Harpswell is in Cumberland County, Maine,|
across Casco Bay from Portland. (Wikipedia)
Fisherman Bob Anderson ran the Harpswell Anchor for 22 years, mostly as a one-man operation. He never had to solicit ads because people usually brought them to him. "Sadly though, after the pandemic arrived and most happenings in this fishing community on Casco Bay were put on hold, Anderson decided to stop the presses," Iovino reports. "That was in October. But by the end of 2020, a group of residents felt the loss of their community news source was too big of a blow, and started working on a way to bring the Anchor back to life."
One big help was nearby resident Doug Warren, who grew up nearby and retired there after a 32-year career at The Portland Press Herald, The Miami Herald, and The Boston Globe. "In a short amount of time, Warren and this group of concerned residents were able to put together enough funds [about $30,000] to purchase from Anderson the name, archives, website and other pieces of the now-defunct Anchor, and are planning to revive it as a nonprofit publication by the end of this month," Iovino reports.
The group plans to fund the publication through ads, donations and grants, and is revamping the website. In an effort to secure more community support, they also sent a survey to every household in the area to ask what kind of stories they want to see the Anchor cover. Meanwhile, they're looking for a full-time editor, though Warren is pinch-hitting for now. Read more here.
Covid roundup: FAQs about Pfizer vaccine for tweens; stories from all over rural America about vaccine hesitancy
Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and vaccination efforts:
The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine has just been approved for ages 12 and up. It was once more difficult to obtain in rural areas than other vaccines, but recent shipping adjustments have helped make it more accessible. Read more here.
During the pandemic, poor infrastructure and medical access exacerbated mental-health problems in rural Colorado. Read more here.
Kentucky adults who get vaccinated at a participating Kroger or Walmart can get a free lottery ticket. Read more here.
Montana's state government will offer free vaccines to Canadian truck drivers from Alberta who regularly travel to the U.S. Read more here.
Hospice and long-term care organizations are in talks with the Biden administration to expand palliative care Medicare coverage for long-haul Covid-19 patients. Read more here.
Anderson County, Texas, has the lowest coronavirus vaccine rate in the state, with only 15 percent of residents age 16 and up vaccinated. A local doctor and former mayor has spent months trying to get her rural neighbors vaccinated, but it hasn't been easy because of widespread suspicion. Read more here.
Rural Georgia sees vaccine hesitancy as supply outweighs demand. Read more here.
As vaccine demand dips, community health centers take the lead. Read more here.
Vaccine hesitation drives lower rates in rural Missouri. Read more here.
Families and communities are divided over the vaccine in rural Montana. Read more here.
Rural community colleges could get a financial boost from restoration of Pell grant access to prisoners
Package looks back on meatpacking workers through the pandemic, what's happening now, and what's next
The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has done an outstanding job reporting on the meatpacking industry over the past year. Now, they've published a large package that looks back on the pandemic's effect on workers, what's happening now, and what they predict for the future.
The package includes a timeline, stories from workers in their own words, first-person retrospectives from the reporters, and more. It's a worthy read.
Monday, May 10, 2021
Rural N.C. publisher starts journalism nonprofit to cover issues in four poor counties, gets $495,000 grant
|Les High (photo provided)|
|The Border Belt (NNA map)|
Rural health journalism workshop online June 21-23
The workshop is open only to AHCJ members, but it's easy to register, and memberships are $60 a year for most. "Judging from past such workshops, it will be worth the price of membership," says Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, and editor and publisher of Kentucky Health News. Click here for more information about the workshop and how you can sign up.
Small size of most local law-enforcement agencies makes police reform harder for them, say experts
Police reform is a hot topic. Metropolitan police departments have gotten most of the attention, but most police forces serve smaller communities, and the smaller size may make reform more difficult.
"Experts say that while smaller departments have their benefits, including being able to adapt to their communities and hire officers with local ties, these agencies also are typically able to avoid the accountability being sought as part of the national movement to restructure and improve policing," Mark Berman reports for The Washington Post. "These departments’ often limited resources and the decentralized structure of American law enforcement complicate efforts to mandate widespread training and policy changes, experts say."
Tuesday, May 11 webinar to go over twice-yearly update of commodity price estimates
At 3 p.m. May 11, the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service will host a free webinar to go over the newly released Commodity Costs and Returns estimates. From the website: "Updated twice a year, these estimates are useful for informing stakeholders, including policymakers, agribusiness, and researchers, of current and historical costs and returns associated with major U.S. commodities. The estimates are also featured in numerous ERS reports and serve as the basis for research."
During the webinar, ERS economist Samantha Padilla will provide an overview of the Commodity Costs and Returns data and walk participants through accessing and using the data product. Click here for more information or to register for the webinar.