|Robert B. Trapp|
|Española, N.M., in Rio Arriba County|
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
|Robert B. Trapp|
|Española, N.M., in Rio Arriba County|
The Black Lung Association will hold a free webinar at 11 a.m. ET Monday, April 25, to discuss the medical care needed by miners with black-lung disease.
From the website: "Incidents of black lung have increased sharply over the past 20 years, especially in Appalachia. Caring for the miners afflicted with this progressive and deadly disease is challenging, meaningful, and very necessary work. Join us in April to learn from an expert panel about how the disease is contracted, how it affects the body, how it is diagnosed and treated, and how you can support ailing miners professionally and personally."
A recent study found that black-lung disease is becoming more common and more severe among younger miners in Central Appalachia because of industry shifts that have increased exposure to silica dust. At the same time, the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which helps pay for many miners' medical care, is at risk of insolvency.
The panel will feature:
Here's a roundup of recent news stories about the pandemic and vaccination efforts:
Older Americans reflect on what the pandemic has taken from them. Read more here.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 87% of U.S. children who were hospitalized with Covid-19 during the Omicron surge were unvaccinated. Read more here.
The long-term consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are starting to become clearer, writes the former editor of DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Read more here.
The U.S. death toll from Covid-19 will soon surpass 1 million if it hasn't already. The Atlantic's Ed Yong writes about how many Americans who have lost someone feel their grief has been "intensified, prolonged, and even denied by the politics of the pandemic." Read more here.
Kaiser Health News takes a snapshot of a rural Pennsylvania county with one of the highest Covid-19 death rates in the nation. Read more here.
Diabetics have been one of the hardest-hit groups by the coronavirus. Experts hope policymakers will notice and increase efforts to address the nation's diabetes crisis. Read more here.
The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first breath test to detect the coronavirus. Read more here.
The recent ruling that vacated the Biden administration's mask mandate for public transportation has dealt another blow to the dozens of small mask factories scattered across the country. Read more here.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent agency Congress created during the Great Recesssion, launched an initiative last month to focus on financial issues rural Americans disproportionately face. This week, CFPB issued a follow-up report detailing the banking disparities rural Americans often contend with.
"The report highlights that many of these communities lack access to physical bank branches, are more likely to seek credit from nonbanks, and are heavily affected by medical bills. The CFPB will be expanding its efforts to address these and other challenges facing the people and families of rural America," CFPB reports. "Local financial institutions, such as community banks and credit unions, often offer products and services that fit the local economic terrain. However, rural communities are experiencing a fast-paced exodus of in-person banking services, with rural communities 10 times more likely than urban communities to be located in banking deserts. In fact, the Federal Reserve has identified more than 2,100 existing and potential banking deserts across the country with more than 1,500 located in rural areas."
Other key findings of the report:
|Chart from New England Journal of Medicine also shows 84% rise in deaths from drug overdose and poisoning.|
The gun-death rise was seen across most demographics and types of firearm death. However, gun deaths increased much more than gun related suicides, among minors as well as in the population overall, the researchers found. The university launched a $10 million Firearm Injury Prevention Research initiative in 2019 to overcome the lack of federal funding for such research.
A recent University of Washington study, meanwhile, looked at youth ages 12 to 26 in rural areas who carry handguns, and found six distinct patterns in the age of initiation, duration, and frequency of when they carry guns. The researchers used self-reported data from youth and young adults in 12 rural communities across seven states. Though most rural youth rarely or never carried, the likelihood of handgun carrying tended to increase steadily with age, with no peak through age 26. Among urban youth, in contrast, youth were most likely to carry at age 21, and likelihood declined after that. Overall, researchers said their findings suggest that rural communities should begin promoting handgun safety early, and that safety programs need to be tailored to rural contexts.
Columbia Sportswear, based in Portland, Oregon, is a $5.5 billion outdoor-clothing juggernaut, and the family that owns it is passionate about philanthropy. The extended family's Roundhouse Foundation, launched in 2002, initially focused on supporting arts projects with grants, but in the past few years has become more involved in creative problem-solving in the state's rural and tribal communities, Ade Adeniji reports for Inside Philanthropy.
When Gert Boyle, the daughter and heir of founder Paul Lamfrom, passed away in 2019, she left a large sum to the foundation that her daughter Kathy Deggendorfer says triggered "an explosion of growth," Adeniji reports. Deggendorfer, husband Frank and daughter Erin Borla now run the foundation; they sat down with Adeniji to talk about "how Gert envisioned the family’s philanthropy, how grantmaking has grown to tackle creative placemaking in underfunded rural communities, and now, on the heels of a huge bequest, where the family plans on taking their philanthropy next."
|Wikipedia locator map, adapted|
|Art Cullen (Photo by Clay Masters, Iowa Public Radio)|
|New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, April 11-17|
Map by The Daily Yonder; click on the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
Rural deaths related to Covid-19 fell by about 12% from the week before, while Covid deaths in metropolitan areas fell by about 5% in the same time period. The weekly death rate was about 40% higher than the metro rate, and has been higher than the metro rate for almost a year, Marema reports."The cumulative death toll from the pandemic is also higher in rural counties than metropolitan ones. Since the start of the pandemic, 172,000 rural Americans have died from Covid-19, which equates to about one death for every 267 rural residents," Marema reports. "Metropolitan counties have recorded 771,290 Covid-related deaths, which equates to about one death for every 366 metropolitan residents."
The Associated Press announced Wednesday what it calls "a significant expansion of AP’s approach to politics, democracy and elections coverage," which will "include everything from elections and campaigns to threats to democracy, voter attitudes, misinformation, how elections are administered and the impact of new voting laws. Crucially, this team will connect its reporting to people across the country, particularly to historically marginalized communities who face new hurdles to the American right to vote – and have their votes be counted. This is a new approach for AP, but one that amplifies the AP’s long-standing commitment to fact-based reporting on elections, politics and public opinion. That remains the core of our mission."
The plan includes two new posts, a national political reporter and a an editor with a title not seen before: "The democracy news editor will lead our coverage of the mechanics of the American democracy and the challenges it faces, including voting rights and access, election administration, misinformation and much more. This editor will work with beat reporters in Washington and across the U.S. to identify legislation, court cases, election misinformation and political influence that impacts election outcomes." They will answer to Steven Sloan, the new deputy Washington bureau chief for politics and elections.
If you're at a weekly newspaper that doesn't subscribe to AP, why should you care? Because AP sets the standard for evenhanded, accurate coverage, and that's all the more important at a time when millions of Americans have lost faith in the news media and the electoral system. Also, AP has shown a willingness to help non-subscribers who want to provide coverage that gives necessary facts. In December, at the request of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, it made available to non-subscribing weekly newspapers its comprehensive investigation that debunked claims of widespread vote fraud in the six states that decided the 2020 presidential election. With millions of Americans still believing "the big lie" about that election, the story is still highly relevant.
|One of the March front pages of The Llano News|
|Permits and violations at surface coal mines in Kentucky, 2013-February 2022|
(Inside Climate News graph from Ky. Energy and Environment Cabinet data)
"The Biden administration announced Wednesday it will deploy U.S. Department of Agriculture staff into at least 25 rural areas in five states to help local communities with accessing federal economic development dollars, Covid recovery aid and infrastructure funding," Kerry Murakami reports for Route Fifty. "What’s being dubbed the Rural Partners Network will initially work with selected communities and tribes in five states: Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and New Mexico."
Here's the full list of communities that will initially receive assistance; they include three tribes in Arizona, groups of counties in the other states, plus two localities in Georgia, one in far western Kentucky and the public housing authority in Doña Ana County, New Mexico.
Many rural areas have difficulty figuring out what grants they're eligible for and may not have the tech know-how, time or staff to apply for them, a senior official told reporters. "USDA’s Rural Development division is leading the initiative, working along with 16 federal agencies and regional commissions," Murakami reports. "While staff for the program—who are trained in community development—will come from USDA, they will help communities navigate the complex federal funding process for all agencies."
The communities in the pilot program "were selected based on factors like economic distress and the readiness of local stakeholders to participate in the effort," Murakami reports. "The Biden administration has plans for the program to expand to Nevada, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Tribal communities in Alaska by the end of August, officials said. It could later spread to all 50 states, but that would depend on congressional approval of funding in the fiscal 2023 budget."
"Winds of March, we welcome you; there is work for you to do . . . " --Unknown author
|More wind turbines are being built offshore.|
(National Renewable Energy Laboratory photo)
"Wind turbines in the continental U.S. produced 2,017 gigawatthours of electricity on the 29th, according to data from the EIA. While there have been days in the past when wind generation separately outpaced coal and nuclear generation, the 29th marked the first day that it surpassed both power sources," Zack Budryk reports for The Hill. "The milestone comes a little more than two years after nationwide wind capacity outstripped nuclear capacity in September 2019. This did not immediately result in higher wind power output than nuclear, because wind generators are designed to run at lower capacity than nuclear generators."
The ascension was brief, and influenced strongly by seasonal forces: Wind speeds are generally high in the spring and weather is temperate; that means wind power is often at its annual peak just as nuclear and coal reduce output, Budryk reports. EIA does not forecast that wind will pass up coal or nuclear for a full month anytime in the next two years.Still, the milestone is a harbinger of greater reliance on wind power. "The Biden administration has made increased wind-power installations a central part of its agenda to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by half by the end of the decade," Budryk reports. "The Interior Department has signed off on a number of offshore wind projects, including most recently the first wind power lease off the Carolinas in late March. The Biden administration has set a goal of leasing 30 gigawatts’ worth of offshore wind power."
"Eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder, are some of the most fatal mental illnesses. Yet treatment options are sparse, particularly in rural states," Carly Graf reports for Kaiser Health News. "Emergency-department visits for teenage girls dealing with eating disorders doubled nationwide during the pandemic, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same report notes that the uptick could be linked to reduced access to mental-health services, a hurdle even more acute in rural states."
Patients with more severe cases may need inpatient or residential treatment, but such programs are far and few between in rural areas, often forcing patients to drive hours away or even leave their state — and supportive family — to get help, Graf reports.
There are gender and racial disparities in who gets treatment for eating disorders, too: "A third of people with eating disorders are men, a group that is underdiagnosed and undertreated. Although Black, indigenous, and other people of color are no less likely to develop an eating disorder, they are half as likely to be diagnosed or receive treatment," Graf reports.
Increasing access to telehealth may help more rural patients access care, but cost is still a common barrier in rural areas, Graf reports.
The federal government sent $46 billion in pandemic housing aid to states, preventing an estimated 1.3 million evictions, but much has been left unspent by Republican-controlled state and local governments. That has put rural renters at a higher risk of losing their homes.
"Now, after repeated warnings from the Treasury for states to act quickly or risk losing funds, the Biden administration is yanking some of the unused money back and sending it to more populous states that are eager for it," Pranav Baskar reports for The Boston Globe. "In March, the Treasury reclaimed $377 million in rental aid, including $11 million from Nebraska, $45.3 million from Montana, and more than $39 million from West Virginia. North Dakota returned nearly half its funds. The federal government then sent that money to New York, California, and New Jersey — states that clamored for more help to weather a severe housing crisis."
Some housing experts believe the government gave rural states more aid money than they needed, but some advocates say it's not that rural areas don't need the money, just that politics and poor infrastructure kept the money from being distributed, Baskar reports. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska "has declined to spend $120 million in federal housing assistance funds, claiming the aid risks turning Nebraska into 'a welfare state'," Baskar reports.
The National Low-Income Housing Coalition told Baskar that most states have used most of the first round of funds, but "Fifteen states are still sitting on big piles of money: Republican-controlled Ohio and Georgia have approved a little more than one-third of their first round of funding, and have yet to dip into the second. In South Dakota, only 10 percent of the first batch of $120 million in rental assistance reached households," Baskar reports. "Congress is unlikely to replenish the program. So Treasury officials are telling states to put other federal funds from the trillions in Covid aid that’s been disbursed in recent years toward affordable housing and eviction prevention. But advocates doubt state officials would redirect the funds to other housing efforts if they’re opposed to using them for eviction prevention."
|Owsley County, Kentucky|
In southeastern Kentucky, "The surge in prices has rippled throughout the region, where people already have to drive far to commute to work or school, visit family and run their businesses," Corinne Boyer reports from Owsley County, one of the nation's poorest, for Eastern Kentucky University's WEKU-FM.
Fuel distributor Bob Riley, who serves Owsley County's gas stations, told Boyer the higher costs mean stations hit their credit limit sooner and can't buy as much gas from him. Riley hits his own credit limit sooner, restricting the amount of supply he can have on hand.
Increased fuel prices drive up prices on goods, too, Riley told Boyer: "It also has a big effect on that hot dog you just brought at Kroger's and the produce, all your goods because everything's—at some point in the distribution chain—carried by a truck."
Commuting for college or work has become more prevalent "as population and investment declines in rural parts of the country," Boyer reports. Some people have had to cut back on work hours because they can't afford to drive far away to work at a low-wage job.
Megan Warner, who works at the Owsley County Library, said many city dwellers may not understand what it's like to live in a rural area where jobs don't pay well and housing is limited. "People tell you a lot, too, that you just need to get out there and work hard," Warner told Boyer. "It's hard to work hard when they basically just push you down with all these high prices that probably aren't going to get any lower anytime soon."
Dee Davis, president and founder of the Whitesburg-based Center for Rural Strategies, suggested ways policymakers could help rural communities if gas prices remain high: "Minimum wage can go up. It has been too low, too long. And we can make earned income tax credits permanent."
Two weeks ago, President Biden announced the release of a million barrels of oil per day from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Last week, he announced that E15 fuel, which contains more ethanol, will be available for sale this summer.
Kentucky is about to gain thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs making electric-vehicle components, but some conservative Kentuckians are treating the notion of EVs with contempt on social media, reports C. Josh Givens, a reporter for The Hancock Clarion in Hawesville, Ky.. He writes that was confused, since two recently announced battery-manufacturing projects represent the two largest economic-development projects in state history. Last week Envision AESC, a Japanese firm, announced a $2 billion investment to build a power-cell and module facility in Bowling Green. In 2021, Ford Motor Co. announced it would build two battery facilities near Elizabethtown."One would think such huge projects would be celebrated all across the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and certainly they are celebrated in some circles, but don’t tell that to the cheerleaders of fossil fuels for vehicles and energy production," Givens writes. "Kentuckians have a choice here: either embrace this burgeoning economic shift in our state or get left on the outside looking in. The plants will be built, workers will be hired, and the economic landscape will be altered. Kentuckians must accept that all things change, and many times those changes are for the better and transform our lives in exciting ways. And no amount of laughter, vitriol or putting your head in the sand is going to stop that."