|Gun deaths by county type (Washington Post chart; click on image to enlarge it)|
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @RuralJournalism
Friday, June 25, 2021
Biden announces plan to improve firearms enforcement, says it won't affect responsible gun owners
Infrastructure deal has $65 billion for broadband, but nothing for water and sewer work or 'human infrastructure'
"It would include some existing infrastructure programs, but also provide $579 billion in new money over eight years to patch cracking highways, rebuild crumbling bridges, speed rail traffic and more equitably spread high-speed internet access," the Times notes. "The plan would also pour billions of dollars into waterways and coastlines washing away as a warming planet raises sea levels, and $7.5 billion into financing a half-million electric vehicle charging stations, all part of Mr. Biden’s climate pledges."
Biden wanted to raise corporate taxes to pay for the plan, but the deal avoids raising taxes. It would be paid for by repurposing unspent pandemic relief funds, selling petroleum reserves, and $140 billion to be generated by a $40 billion hike in the Internal Revenue Service enforcement budget.
The compromise required big concessions from Democrats, and "its passage through Congress was thrown in doubt later Thursday, after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized a two-track plan to pass a second spending bill later," likely with only Democratic votes, Reuters reports. Biden said he would not sign the bipartisan bill unless the other bill also come to his desk.
Here's how major parts of the deal compare to the American Jobs Plan that Biden unveiled in March:
- The new agreement calls for $65 billion for broadband expansion to rural and other underserved areas, rather than the $100 billion Biden proposed.
- Biden's proposals to modernize drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems were eliminated from the deal.
- Also eliminated was "human infrastructure": $400 billion for Medicare to fund home care for seniors and the disabled, and $200 billion for free universal preschool and other childcare.
- Biden's proposal had included $213 billion for affordable housing, but that funding was not included in the compromise. It could be included in the Democrats' budget package.
- The compromise has a $49 billion increase in public-transit funding, compared to the $85 billion Biden originally proposed.
- Passenger and freight rail would get $66 billion in new funding, down from the $80 billion proposed by Biden, the leading fan of passenger rail.
- Electric vehicle technology would get $15 billion, not the $174 billion Biden wanted.
USDA releases thousands of historical watercolors of American fruit and nut cultivars for free download
|Arkansas Black apples paintings from 1895 to 1921. More than half the images in the USDA archive are apples.|
Between 1886 and 1942, the Agriculture Department commissioned artists to document quickly changing fruit and nut cultivars across the United States at a time when color photography wasn't widely available, Sebastian Smee reports for The Washington Post. A recently published book features many of them, but the USDA has also made the more than 7,500 paintings in its Pomological Watercolor Collection available to the public, downloadable in high resolution to capture every gorgeous detail.
Quick hits: Rural libraries could become telehealth hubs; book details Black Appalachians' coal camp experiences
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 email@example.com.
A new book details the overlooked experience of Black Appalachians in coal camps. Read more here.
Commentary: Rural libraries could use newly available funding opportunities and technologies to become a major player in providing telehealth access. Read more here.
Many rural high-school students want to take Advanced Placement courses, which can award college credit, but school staffing, budgets, and broadband access can make that difficult. Read more here.
More states are considering and passing bills to grant overtime pay to farmworkers. Read more here.
Thursday, June 24, 2021
Federal judge blocks USDA debt relief for minority farmers
At Rural Health Journalism Workshop, Vilsack makes case for extending pandemic-related food programs
|Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack|
Vilsack, a former Iowa governor in his second stint as secretary, noted that Congress has the last word on many changes USDA is considering and that the "onus is on us" to make the case for them.
"We know from studies, that SNAP does reduce poverty. We know that it does improve health outcomes. We know that it reduces obesity rates among children of low income families. We know that it provides a better opportunity for these youngsters to be better learners, which results in higher graduation rates," he said, adding that SNAP helped farmers and rural economies.
Vilsack touched on several other topics at the workshop, including issues around climate change, rural hospitals, and meat-industry safety standards. This item may be updated.
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
An epicenter of the Delta variant in the West shows its threat; hospitals are filling up there and in rural Missouri
|Mesa County (Wikipedia map, adapted)|
"State officials have targeted the county in their efforts to step up vaccination rates. But while they have identified a variety of ways, they are still looking for more," reports Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. "Gov. Jared Polis came to town Tuesday to ask area medical officials and business leaders for ideas on how to do more, especially now that the Delta variant of the virus accounts for nearly all of the new infections."
Vaccines work against the Delta variant, but not enough people are vaccinated, physician and medical-school professor Dhruv Khullar warns in The New Yorker: "People who’ve been fully vaccinated can, by and large, feel confident in the immunity that they’ve received. But those who remain susceptible should understand that, for them, this is probably the most dangerous moment of the pandemic."
New rural coronavirus cases fall to 14-month low
|New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, June 13-19|
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version
Last week, new rural coronavirus infections fell to the lowest level in 14 months and Covid-19-related deaths fell to the lowest rate in a year, Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder.
Rural counties saw 14,200 new coronavirus cases from June 13 to 19, a 15 percent decrease from the week before and nearly 95% lower than the pandemic's January peak. "The last time there were so few new cases in a one-week period in rural counties was mid-April 2020, when more than half of the nation’s 1,976 rural counties still hadn’t reported their first case," Murphy and Marema report. Rural deaths fell 25% from the week before to 395.
Click here for charts, regional analysis and an interactive county-level map from the Yonder.
Ike Adams, chronicler of Appalachian culture, dies at 72
"Ike loved writing because he loved people," Loretta Adams wrote in what served as his final column. "He felt an intense obligation to the papers and to the folks that followed his columns. He loved writing about his family and friends in eastern Kentucky and growing up on Blair Branch. Those tales were most often filled with humor and love for those mountains and the people who lived there."
Scientists seeking answers in mysterious bird deaths in South and Midwest, ask public to clean bird feeders
|Sick blue jay (Ky. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources)|
States using federal relief/stimulus money to address park maintenance backlogs made worse by pandemic visitors
"Nearly every state saw a surge in visitors to its state parks during the pandemic, which brought attention to the maintenance and upgrades necessary to deal with the record crowds," Alex Brown reports for Stateline. "Now, with state budgets suddenly flush with billions of dollars in federal relief and longstanding parks issues getting newfound attention, many governors and lawmakers of both parties are directing massive investments toward their state parks."
State and national parks typically have large maintenance backlogs that were made worse by the pandemic. Many visitors to state and national parks have been first-timers who don't know park etiquette, and many visitors (new or not) have sprayed graffiti on natural formations, left human waste and trash all over the place, and damaged soil by going off designated trails.
But parks haven't had the funds to deal with that backlog. "State park leaders say their agencies are among the first to be targeted for budget cuts during tough economic times. "Between 2008 and 2019, spending on state park operations fell from $3 billion to $2.5 billion nationwide, according to the Property and Environmental Research Center, a Montana-based free market environmental think tank," Brown reports. "State park leaders across the country say it will take anywhere from a year and a half to five years to complete the projects their states are now funding. But they expect the legacy of that work to extend further." One noted that many state parks still have buildings and trails built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
AppHarvest stakes 2 more greenhouses in Appalachian Ky.
|Tomatoes growing at AppHarvest's flagship site in Morehead (Image from WKYT-TV )|
AppHarvest, the company building huge, high-tech greenhouses in Kentucky to grow vegetables and fruits, wants to have 12 sites by the end of 2025, and new locations announced Monday near Somerset and Morehead "will put the company nearly halfway there," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A 30-acre greenhouse near Somerset will grow strawberries and a 15-acre one in Morehead will have leafy greens."
Fed chair and other economists point to falling lumber prices as evidence that inflation isn't a big threat to the economy
Lumber prices skyrocketed over the past year, with futures exceeding $1,600 per thousand board feet in early May. "But since then, the prices of those same plywood sheets and pressure-treated planks have tumbled, as mills restarted or ramped up production and some customers put off their purchases until prices came down," Matt Phillips reports for The New York Times. Lumber futures "are down more than 45 percent from their peak, slipping below $1,000 for the first time in months. That’s still high — between 2009 and 2019, prices averaged less than $400 per thousand board feet — but the sell-off has been gaining momentum over the last few weeks. The price has fallen in 11 of the last 12 trading sessions, including a 0.5 percent drop to settle at $900.80 on Friday."
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and other economists say the lumber market illustrates why they're not worried about sustained price increases for other goods such as cars and groceries. Jan Hatzius, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, told Phillips: "Many of the extreme price spikes we’ve seen in recent months are likely to reverse for Econ 101 reasons."
The lumber market's cooling off "offers lessons that are likely to guide policymakers as they run the economy at full throttle, accepting what they regard as a temporary bout of inflation in hopes of generating more than 10 million new jobs," David Lynch reports for The Washington Post. "Lumber’s wild gyrations show that today’s hiring troubles and shipping delays reflect short-term reopening kinks, not a lasting shift that will push prices higher and higher."
Study says farm consolidation hurts rural areas by limiting opportunities for young farmers, limiting soil conservation
|Change in cropland held by large farms. Union of Concerned Scientists maps; click to enlarge.|
For decades, rural population has shrunk along with the number of farms and farm families, as farms have gotten bigger. That has changed the landscape of rural America, in many ways not for the better. Now a study from the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzes the change in another way.
The study also sees environmental impacts: "Because more farmland in larger farms tends to be rented rather than owned, there is less incentive to invest in measures to improve farmland for the long term by building soil health. In short, when farms grow bigger and farmers grow fewer, bad things happen."
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Many superintendents quitting after pandemic school year; rural districts may have a harder time finding replacements
Study finds three essential elements state governments need to effectively expand high-speed internet in rural areas
States all over the country have created programs aimed at expanding broadband connectivity; the most successful ones have three core components, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study.
The first is a dedicated broadband office, meaning a centralized entity with a full-time focus on expanding broadband access, including distributing funds and working with local governments to plan and build capacity and support.
Providing planning and technical assistance for local and regional entities is the second element, the study says. That includes strategic planning with defined goals, cultivating stakeholder buy-in and identifying existing assets. Technical support should encompass network design, business planning, and more.
Competitive grant programs are the third key element the study highlights. Such programs provide internet service providers with limited subsidies to expand service to rural and underserved areas. Well-designed grant programs should ensure that applicants' proposals meet local needs, reduce deployment costs in high-cost areas, and (ideally) match funds from the applicant with eligible partners, such as local governments, to cover the project's costs.
Former U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico nominated for USDA undersecretary of rural development
|Xochitl Torres Small|
When President Biden announced her nomination on Friday, he cited her previous work in economic development in rural communities New Mexico, Algernon D'Ammassa reports for the Las Cruces Sun News.
"Throughout her career, Torres Small has employed her experience organizing in vulnerable, rural communities to achieve lasting investments that combat persistent poverty," said a White House statement.
The granddaughter of migrant farmworkers, she eventually became an attorney focused on water issues before winning a seat in Congress on her first run for public office. She served on the agriculture committee during her single term from 2019 to 2021.
"If confirmed, Torres Small would be in charge of a mission area with wide-ranging responsibilities, including rural electric cooperative loans, broadband expansion, community development and infrastructure funding, value-added producer grants, and funding for renewable energy and biofuel projects," Jacqui Fatka reports for National Hog Farmer. "The rural development undersecretary position was previously eliminated under a restructuring of USDA when establishing the trade undersecretary but re-established under authority in the 2018 Farm Bill."
Pandemic roundup: Delta variant likely to dominate soon; public-private partnership gets ruralites vaxed in Ohio
Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and immunization efforts:
The delta variant will likely become the dominant coronavirus strain in the U.S. in the coming weeks, according to a new analysis. Read more here.
In Athens County, Ohio, pop. 65,000, the health department has gotten nearly 25,000 locals vaccinated through a partnership with Ohio University and the Athens City School District. Read more here.
In California's Salinas Valley, once a Covid hotspot, more than two-thirds of farmworkers are vaccinated against the coronavirus thanks to efforts public-private partnerships. Read more here.
State and local governments in the South are trying to get more people vaccinated; that takes overcoming economic barriers to access, like a lack of transportation, and fighting misinformation that makes many wary of vaccines. Read more here.
For some people, grief for a loved one who died from Covid-19 is complicated by misinformation and attitudes about the virus among family and friends. Read more here.
In a recent American Medical Association webinar, the chief medical officer of the Marshfield Clinic Health System in Wisconsin discusses challenges to vaccinating rural communities. Read more here.
Millions of Americans racing to get federal rental assistance before moratorium expires; see county-level map
Monday, June 21, 2021
First-of-its-kind interactive map from feds shows gaps in broadband service, in some cases at the neighborhood level
|Screenshot of the Indicators of Broadband Need interactive map. Click the image to enlarge it.|
The Biden administration's first-of-its-kind interactive map shows the rural-urban broadband gap in sharp relief from different perspectives and sources that you can choose. The county-level map, a product of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, allows users to explore different datasets about broadband access and toggle layers to show data about racial minorities, tribal lands, poverty, and more.
Surveyed rural bankers still optimistic about economy but worry about drought, inflation and federal bank regulations
|Creighton University chart compares current month to last month and year ago; click here to download it and chart below.|
A June survey of rural bankers in 10 Midwest states that rely on agriculture and energy found they still have strong expectations for the economy, but are concerned about cybersecurity, inflation, drought, and more. The Rural Mainstreet Index is a survey of bankers in about 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300 in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Contrary to Biden's remark, reporters don't need a negative attitude, but a problem-solving stance, rural journalist says
That prompted Paul Stevens, moderator of the Connecting email newsletter for retirees and friends of The Associated Press, to ask, "Is negativity toward life a requirement to be a good reporter?"
"I say that just the opposite is true. I crossed the Rubicon Saturday and am now officially a part of the OPA's Half Century Club. Throughout those 50 years, I've said or thought every day that I have the best job in the world. I get up each morning with no idea what the day will bring. Maybe I'll be talking to a police officer who saved a little child from wandering into a busy street, discovered the child was alone because Mom worked a day job and a night job to keep her family fed, clothed and housed, but sometimes the overnight sitter fell asleep early. The cop found a place for the child to spend the nights safely. I got to write about it, spreading the word about an important service. Maybe I'll get to see a major figure make a surprise visit to town and make a speech that makes history, which I get to record. Maybe I'm able the next day to follow up on an elderly lady who was swindled and in the process found she had a lot of company. Maybe I missed a day's sleep following up tips, but in the end we wrote the story, the swindlers were jailed and the victims' money was returned. Each day I have had the chance to go into the world, follow the news where it takes me and when I'm satisfied the facts are solid and I can write a compelling story explaining what those facts mean -- and how they can be used to fix a problem. I love history, I love talking to people, and I love history -- especially writing about it.
"That's my job every day -- studying history, talking to people, looking for documents and places to research, writing about it and hopefully create something that will make the world a little better place. It sounds corny, but I still wonder how I got lucky enough to work doing what I love, actually get paid to do it. If I'm really lucky, maybe I'll inspire another young historian/story teller/collector of fascinating people with fascinating stories to share. If that's having a negative view of life, then perhaps we all should adopt it? I prefer that sometimes those 'negative' questions are asked because the reporter or editor has the same joy about going to work in the morning -- that when the sun sets in the evening the world will be just a little bit better place."