Friday, August 05, 2022

Kentucky novelist Silas House reflects on floods, compassion, climate change, and Appalachian resilience

Silas House hangs pictures to dry at the Hindman Settlement School after the floods. (Photo provided to Garden & Gun)

Kentucky novelist Silas House offers up two pieces on the recent flooding in Central Appalachia.

In the first, for Garden & Gun magazine, House recounts his journey to help preserve historical documents at the Hindman Settlement School, where he and his husband often teach in the Appalachian Writers' Workshop. The school began as a boarding school 120 years ago, but since 1977 has served as a hub for Appalachian writers and for the community in general. It still is, in the wake of the flood; the school is offering food and supplies to all comers, House writes.

"The help being provided at the Settlement School is indicative of the general attitude of people in the region," House writes. "Nobody is waiting for anyone else to come do the work. The people have armed themselves with rakes, hoes, and shovels. They’re moving debris and directing traffic alongside officials. Pentecostal church groups and organizations like Queer Kentucky are working together to organize collection centers and deliver supplies."

In a piece for The Washington Post, House reflects on the nation's response to the flooding, the resilience of Appalachians in the face of repeated disasters, and why the poor are so often hurt the most by disasters (which, increasingly, are caused by climate change). 

Though many Americans responded to news of the floods with compassion, others said Kentuckians got what they deserved for electing Republican senators and representatives who haven't supported legislation meant to address climate change. But House, whose family lost almost everything in a flood when he was a child, asks people to be more compassionate: "We can be better people by imagining ourselves in the most desperate situations of others."

He meditates on his complicated love for Appalachia, despite his frustration with its conservative voting. "You can love a place to your bones and still not completely understand it. We are people who have fought for labor rights and the environment for decades," House writes. "I’m the grandchild of a coal miner who lost his leg to the mines and years later gave his breath to them as well when he died of black lung, like so many others. We’ve fueled this nation with our timber, coal, gas, soldiers, music, literature and more for two centuries. Some of us stay here because we have no other choice; my family didn’t live in the flood plain because we wanted to but because we were poor."

House says climate-change disasters will most hurt the poor and powerless, and such people often live in places rich in natural resources. "It behooves the corporations that control these lands to keep the people poor and under their thumbs so they can suck the resources dry with the least amount of interference. The poorer the person, the less power they have to fight back or effect legislative change," he writes. "This has always been the case in Appalachia, where we are up against huge businesses and the government but also centuries-old stereotypes that were at least partly born to more easily snatch our natural resources."

Rural coronavirus infections were steady in last two weeks

New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, July 26-Aug. 1
Map by The Daily Yonder; click on the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

"The number of new Covid-19 infections in rural America remained level last week compared to two weeks ago, according to a Daily Yonder analysis," Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder. "New infections declined by about 5% compared to the previous week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rural counties reported approximately 110,600 new infections, down 5,400 from two weeks ago. New cases in metropolitan counties also remained relatively stable, dropping about 3% compared to two weeks ago."

Pilot programs in Iowa and Virginia aim to address rural housing shortages with 3D-printed structures

A 3D house printer in action. (Photo by Today)

A new Iowa State University project aims to help address the state's rural housing shortage with a novel approach: designing 3D-printed houses, ISU assistant professor of industrial design Pete Evans reports for ISU. The ISU College of Design’s 3D Affordable Innovative Technologies Housing Project has received a $1.4 million grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority for the initiative; the project will be fully funded at $2.14 million.

3D printing works in a similar way at any scale: a nozzle on a moveable gantry spits out a material that hardens into the shape you want. Tech labs use plastic filament, but housing "printers" use cement. Building houses by 3D printing "can lower construction risks, reduce material usage and waste, allow faster response to natural disasters, and provide affordable, resilient and sustainable housing," Davis reports.

The notion is rising in popularity worldwide; Politico's Lorraine Woellert reports that manufacturing company Alquist is using the tech to build 200 affordable housing units in rural Pulaski, Virginia, over the next three years.

Rural areas in Iowa and elsewhere have had housing shortages since about 2008, which has contributed to a spike in demand and prices. Addressing that shortage is necessary in order to attract and support more workers, Davis writes.

"Nationwide, rural housing issues are often overlooked," College of Design dean Luis Rico-Gutierrez told Evans. "For Iowa State, they are central to our priorities as a land-grant institution. This funding allows us to address all aspects of the process, from planning to developing new building codes through construction and the impact on the quality of our lives."

The $1.4 million grant will pay for materials and equipment such as a 3D construction printer and the components to operate it, other robotics and mechanical necessities, and web technologies to support the project, Davis reports. Future funding will help project leaders develop a curriculum to train Iowa Central Community College students to operate a 3D construction printer, conduct further research, and bring in companies across the state as partners.

Rural S.C. school district addresses shortage of in-school therapists by hiring private mental-health providers

American teens have been facing a growing mental-health crisis in recent years, one which the pandemic has exacerbated. Meanwhile, as a recent New York Times series details, it's increasingly difficult for teens to access mental-health care—especially in rural areas. With licensed providers in such short supply, school therapists can be a critical resource.

"School-based mental health therapists are seen as a particularly effective way of getting help to students who need professional support," Sara Gregory reports for The Hechinger Report and the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. "Since children are already at school, parents don’t have to take off work to get them to appointments. They miss less class because the commute to a therapist’s office is only a walk down the hall."

But in rural Cherokee County, South Carolina, the public school district couldn't fill any of its seven open positions for therapists by the beginning of the school year last year, Gregory reports. So Christina Cody, a health and wellness specialist for the district, had an idea: Why not bring in licensed professionals from private practice? 

The district was able to bring in two counselors during the last school year by using an outside staffing agency instead of going through the state Department of Mental Health, Gregory reports. That has afforded the district some breathing room while the state works on ways to bring in more mental-health professionals, chiefly through raising the starting salary.

Quick hits: Honeybees have feelings, too; $50 million in venture capital raised to bring more doctors to rural America

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

The U.S. must embrace climate-smart agriculture, but some provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act meant to encourage such practices are off the mark, write an environmental studies professor and a Harvard Law School policy fellow. Read more here.

A company has raised $70 million in venture capital to bring more doctors to rural America. Read more here.

Aging farmers and ranchers are much more likely to die by suicide than their younger counterparts, a new study shows. A big part of that may be because they're less likely to talk about mental-health struggles. Read more here.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department have announced a new pilot program to help 11 underserved rural communities get proper wastewater sanitation. EPA and USDA will partner with state and tribal governments to help communities identify and pursue federal funding opportunities. The communities are in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, West Virginia, and on tribal lands. Read more here.

The Department of Health and Human Services will distribute more than $15 million in grants to help rural communities combat drug abuse and overdose deaths related to psychostimulants such as methamphetamines and cocaine. The rate of overdose deaths associated with psychostimulants is generally higher in rural areas. Read more here.

Scientific experiments indicate that bees are surprisingly intelligent and appear to have basic emotions, according to a new book. Read more here.

Speaking of: the critter commonly known as the Asian giant hornet or murder hornet (which eats honeybees) is getting a gentler name: the Northern giant hornet. The name change proposal to the Entomological Society of America cited the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic, and posited that "connecting a scary insect, already associated with murder and attempted eradication, to Asia, might stoke more anti-Asian sentiment," Oliver Whang reports for The New York Times.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Many rural Republicans rejected Kansas abortion measure

New York Times map; click the image to enlarge it.
On Tuesday Kansans turned out in record numbers to reject, by a 3 to 2 margin, a ballot measure that would have negated a court decision that established a right to abortion in the state constitution. "In a state where Republicans far outnumber Democrats, Kansans delivered a clear message in the first major vote testing the potency of abortion politics since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade: Abortion opponents are going too far," Katie Glueck and Shane Goldmacher report for The New York Times.

Many Republicans and rural residents rejected the proposed constitutional amendment. "Despite red-and-blue maps suggesting that the political fault line of our era runs between urban and rural areas, much of the countryside joined cities like Wichita and Kansas City in voting down the amendment," native Kansan Sara Smarsh writes for the Times. "Fourteen Kansas counties that went for Mr. Trump in the 2020 presidential election, as well as all five that went for Joe Biden, saw majority votes against the amendment. Even in counties where most voted yes, sizable numbers voted no."

More than 463,000 Republicans voted in the U.S. Senate race and more than 451,000 in the gubernatorial race, but the amendment only got around 375,000 votes; that means Republicans who showed up to vote for the other races either voted against the amendment or left it blank. Kansas has a closed primary, but all registered voters could vote on the amendment. 

Some conservatives said they rejected the amendment because they remembered how dangerous it was for women before abortion was legal. Another possible reason: "Abortion-rights supporters used conservative-sounding language about government mandates and personal freedom in their pitch to voters, and made a point of reaching out to independents, Libertarians and moderate Republicans," Mitch Smith, Lauren Fox and Elizabeth Dias report for the Times.

NYT map, adapted by The Rural Blog, of its estimates; click on it to enlarge.
Opponents of a similar amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot in Kentucky were encouraged by the Kansas result, Kentucky Health News reports, and a Times analysis estimated that 53% of Kentucky voters would support abortion rights in the referendum, based on how demographics predicted results of recent abortion referenda. The Times made estimates for every state.

More broadly, "Both Republicans and Democrats caution against conflating the results of an up-or-down ballot question with how Americans will vote in November, when they will be weighing a long list of issues, personalities and their views of Democratic control of Washington," Glueck and Goldmacher report. However, "a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this week showed that the issue of abortion access had become more salient for women 18 to 49 years old, with a 14-percentage-point jump since February for those who say it will be very important to their vote in midterm elections, up to 73%. That is roughly equal to the share of voters overall who said inflation would be very important this fall — and a sign of how animating abortion has become for many women."

Affiliation with another facility and focus on outpatient services are keys to survival for rural hospitals, studies show

"As rural hospitals begin to face the financial pinch of life without Covid-19 stimulus funds, two new studies have found ways they are more likely to keep the doors open," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder.

The first study, by the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program, "found that changing payment policies, methods, and conditions to support outpatient services is a key to rural hospitals’ financial sustainability," Carey reports. "Researchers found that hospitals that focus their budgets on the services their communities are actually using are more financially successful. The study found that the typical rural hospital gets nearly 75% of its revenue from outpatient services. By focusing their budgets on those services, as opposed to spending more money on what it needs to provide inpatient services, a rural hospital can improve its financial situation."

The second study found that "financially struggling hospitals are more successful if they affiliate themselves with another health-care facility," Carey reports. "Between 2007 and 2019, the percentage of rural hospitals in financial distress increased from 25% to 30%, the study said. Looking at 2,237 rural hospitals operating in 2007, the study found that 140 had closed by 2019. Of those, the proportion that affiliated with another hospital increased from just over 31% in 2007 to nearly 47% in 2019. Among the financially distressed hospitals in 2007, those affiliated with another hospital had a lower risk of closure."

However, financially stable hospitals were more likely to close if they affiliated with other health-care organizations, possibly because less-solvent affiliates helped drain their reserves, Carey reports.

Book: American opioid industry operated like a drug cartel

In the new book American Cartel, Washington Post journalists Scott Higham and co-author Sari Horwitz "make the case that the pharmaceutical industry operated like a drug cartel, with manufacturers at the top; wholesalers in the middle; and pharmacies at the level of 'street dealers,'" Terry Gross reports for NPR. "What's more, Higham says, the companies collaborated with each other — and with lawyers and lobbyists — to create legislation that protected their industry, even as they competed for market share."

"Higham says that big pharma fought to create legislation that would limit the DEA's ability to go after drug wholesalers," Gross reports. "The efforts were effective; more than 100 billion pills were manufactured, distributed and dispensed between 2006 and 2014, during the height of the opioid epidemic. Meanwhile, both federal and state DEA agents are frustrated by the ways in which their enforcement efforts have been curtailed." Read more here.

Innovative program, with high-school grads conditionally accepted to medical school, aims at rural doctor shortage

Marshall University's BS-to-MD program's first graduates, this year.
Rural America has a growing shortage of doctors; Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. aims to help mitigate that shortage in the state with an innovative seven-year "BS-to-MD" program that helps promising rural students become doctors, with the understanding that they will serve in rural areas after graduation, Dr. Kay Miller Temple reports for the Rural Health Information Hub.

Here's how it works: Promising high-school students are conditionally accepted to medical school, and in the meantime are given mentoring opportunities as they earn their undergraduate degree on an accelerated schedule. Once they get their bachelor of science degree, Marshall waives their medical-school tuition, Temple reports.

The program, which began in 2015, takes 10 students a year, and has nearly 30 undergraduates and around 35 medical students. Jennifer Plymale, the medical school dean and director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Rural Health, told Temple that while the program seeks under-served students rather than specifically rural ones, about half come from rural areas because West Virginia is largely rural. 

"About 50% of our students matched in primary-care specialties," Plymale told Temple, and added that about 30% of students matched to in-state residencies. "Both of these statistics – in addition to community of origin — are important since specialty choice and training location have been proven by research to be strong indicators of final practice type and practice site. We have great faith that when our first cohort complete their residencies, they will either practice in rural West Virginia, in rural areas of nearby states, or, if choosing an urban setting, will be more mindful of the needs of rural patients."

Many nursing homes sue residents' families, friends for debt

"Pursuing unpaid bills, nursing homes across this industrial city have been routinely suing not only residents but their friends and family," Noam Levey reports for Kaiser Health News. "The practice has ensnared scores of children, grandchildren, neighbors, and others, many with nearly no financial ties to residents or legal responsibility for their debts "The lawsuits illuminate a dark corner of America’s larger medical debt crisis, which a KHN-NPR investigation found has touched more than half of all U.S. adults in the past five years."

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted for this project, about one in seven adults with health-care debt said they've been threatened with lawsuit or arrest, and 5 percent said they've been sued for debt. "The nursing-home industry has quietly developed what consumer attorneys and patient advocates say is a pernicious strategy of pursuing family and friends of patients despite federal law that was enacted to protect them from debt collection," Levey reports. "Nursing homes have gone after some families for tens of thousands of dollars. In a few cases, debts surpassed $100,000."

Nursing homes often justify the lawsuits with the admissions paperwork that friends and family sometimes sign without realizing they could be pursued for debt. Many people settle rather than go through costly, time-consuming court battles. "In most cases reviewed by KHN, the people sued didn’t have an attorney, which can be expensive," Levey reports. "In nearly a third, the nursing homes won default judgments because the defendants never responded, a common phenomenon in debt cases. In many cases, lawsuits sought interest rates as high as 18% on top of the debt." Nursing homes and their attorneys say they have to go through the courts to get bills paid, and that it's unfair to other residents and county taxpayers to allow residents who have assets to not pay what they owe. 

By federal law, nursing homes are prohibited from "requiring a resident’s relatives or friends to financially guarantee the resident’s bills," Levey reports. "Facilities cannot even request such guarantees. But consumer advocates say nursing homes slip the admissions agreements into papers that family members sign when an older parent or sick friend is admitted. Sometimes people are told they must sign, a violation of federal law. Sometimes there is barely any discussion."

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Deadly traffic accidents are still far more likely to be rural

Traffic death rates (rural, urban and overall) per million vehicle miles traveled (NHTSA graph)

Though only 19 percent of Americans live in rural areas, rural roads account for 31% of miles traveled in vehicles, and 43% of motor vehicle traffic fatalities in 2020 happened in rural areas, according to the latest figures published by the Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The frequency of fatal accidents per mile traveled increased markedly in 2020, more so in urban areas than rural, but 2020 was the second consecutive year that the rural rate increased, after two years of decline. Here are detailed findings from the report:
  • Of the 38,824 motor vehicle traffic fatalities in 2020, 16,665 (43%) happened in rural areas, compared to 21,650 (56%) in urban areas, and 509 (1%) in areas of unknown land use.
  • Rural traffic fatalities increased by 2% from 2019 to 2020, while urban traffic fatalities increased by 9% in the same time period.
  • Speeding was a major factor in 28% of rural traffic fatalities in 2020, compared to 30% of urban traffic fatalities that year.
  • Fatalities related to alcohol-impaired driving increased by 9% in rural areas from 2019 to 2020, compared to a 17% increase in urban areas in the same time period.
  • Alcohol-related traffic fatalities in both rural and urban areas increased from 28% in 2019 to 30% in 2020.
  • Front-seat passengers in rural and urban areas had similar rates of seatbelt use, with about 89.9% of passengers in rural areas vs. 90.5% of urban passengers.
  • Vehicle passengers in rural traffic fatalities were slightly less likely than their urban counterparts to be wearing a seatbelt in the wreck that killed them, at 52% vs. 49%.

100-year-old weekly newspaper in the mountains of Virginia begs for a buyer; tomorrow's edition might be its last

Front-page notice in the July 28 edition (Photo by Patty Lucas)
The weekly Virginia Mountaineer has served rural Buchanan County for a century, but tomorrow's edition might be its last if a buyer can't be found. It's still going full speed for now, providing vital updates via Facebook for readers after the recent flooding that devastated the region.

The paper would be missed if it stopped running, locals in the county seat of Grundy told Greg Jordan of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. "It’s the best weekly newspaper consistently published in this area that I’ve ever seen," Buchanan County Public Library director Brian Shortridge told Jordan. "It shocked me when I picked up the paper today and saw that. They have such a rich history. My whole week is based around the Wednesday paper, and it’s been that way almost my entire life."

Buchanan County, Virginia
(Wikipedia map)
Publisher Sam Bartley cited familiar reasons for considering the move: declining population, not enough local and regional advertisers, and competition from digital news media, Jordan reports. The latest edition is essentially a cry for help, asking any interested parties to call about buying the paper. "I’m just hoping for the best for the paper," Bartley said.

The announcement is an opportunity for locals who might be able to save the paper through volunteer work and nonprofit funding, said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, which publishes The Rural Blog. Buyers might expand the paper's digital footprint, which is limited to its Facebook page and a stub website.

End of pandemic-era free school lunches could mean more students going hungry, suffering stigma, or falling into debt

"The healthiest meal students typically receive during the day isn’t at their dining room table — it’s in their school cafeteria," Nadra Nittle reports for The 19th, which is named for the constitutional amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote and calls itself "an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy."

Nittle writes, "That finding from Tufts University researchers is just one reason child nutrition experts have urged Congress to pass legislation that would enable schools nationwide to provide free meals for all students. Pandemic-era waivers that made universal free school lunch a reality the past two years have expired, and this fall, students will once again have to qualify for free, reduced or full-priced meals based on need."

Child-nutrition experts predict more kids will go hungry this fall, especially considering the recent increase in food insecurity in households with children, the first such rise since 2011. "There are going to be many struggling families next fall who don’t apply for meal programs or who don’t qualify for benefits," Lori Adkins, president of the nonprofit School Nutrition Association, told Nittle. "The ones that do qualify for benefits, our programs will continue to provide that safety net, but for those that are on the cusp, I’m worried about them. Sometimes it is that single-parent household with children, and they have limited resources, and sometimes they can fall through that safety net."

The end of pandemic-era free school meals also likely heralds the return of school meal debt, Kalyn Belsha reports for Chalkbeat, an education-coverage nonprofit: "That’s because families who qualify for free meals may not realize they have to fill out paperwork again, and then struggle to pay the fees. Other students who ate for free during the pandemic might rack up debt before realizing their families don’t meet the low income thresholds."

Such debt can have big consequences for students, who can be shamed for having to eat cold sandwiches or even denied the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities. Some school districts have even sent families to debt collectors, Belsha reports.

Starlink's satellite-based service can't reach enough people to close the rural broadband gap much, consultant says

Elon Musk's Starlink may seem like a promising solution to rural broadband woes—after all, a satellite requires no "last mile" cable installation—but its technical limitations mean it's unlikely to be a universal solution, telecommunications consultant Tim Fararr writes for Fierce Wireless.

One of the biggest challenges: Starlink relies on an unobstructed signal to reach households, but the satellites are positioned so low in the sky that trees, mountains, or even other buildings are far more likely to block the signal for at least part of the day, Farrar writes.

That's particularly problematic "because this satellite is not simply in one fixed direction, where trimming of a tree or relocation of the antenna to a different spot on the roof may be able to solve the problem," Farrar writes. "Instead the serving satellite will sometimes be to the north, and at other times it may be on the west or east side of a customer’s home. In these circumstances there may be no unobstructed site for the antenna on the customer’s property."

Overall, while Starlink is "an admirable first attempt" to bring rural Americans broadband through satellites, "it cannot and will not become the only option for satellite broadband in the U.S. or around the world, because in many areas at least some potential customers will be unable to access Starlink, due to capacity limitations and/or the difficulty of securing a reliable line-of-sight to the constellation," Farrar writes.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Manchin won promise from key Democrats to complete controversial pipeline as part of reconciliation package

As part of last week's surprise reconciliation bill from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Manchin secured a promise to complete the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline to carry natural gas from West Virginia to market, Lisa Friedman reports for The New York Times.

Manchin's office revealed Monday "details of the side agreement he struck with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Biden," Friedman reports. "It would ensure that federal agencies 'take all necessary actions to permit the construction and operation' of the gas line."

A federal appeals court has overturned permits issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, "saying that their analyses about adverse impacts on wildlife, sedimentation and erosion were flawed," Friedman reports. "The delays have been so extensive that the project’s certification from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will expire in October. The developers are seeking an extension for a second time."

The deal would give the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit jurisdiction over all future legal challenges, "taking the case away from the Fourth District, where environmentalists had found success," Friedman notes.

Lightly regulated 'forever chemicals,' given out in sludge fertilizer, are so ubiquitous they're in rain at unsafe levels

Scientists are increasingly alarmed about the health risks of exposure to synthetic substances often dubbed 'forever chemicals.' Adding to those fears: A recent Stockholm University study shows that the chemicals are so ubiquitous that rainwater in most places on Earth contains amounts of the chemicals that "greatly exceed" safe levels, Matt McGrath reports for the BBC. In short, "There is no safe space on Earth to avoid them."

Polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, are used in everything from fast-food wrappers and water-repellent clothing to non-stick cookware and firefighting foam. They're designed to be sturdy, but that means they also last a long time in the environment, and also in the human body, and "Soil around the world is similarly contaminated, evidence suggests," McGrath reports.

There are a few reasons for that: Rainfall is one, but PFAs are present in common pesticides. Also, many farmers are offered free or inexpensive sewage sludge as fertilizer—which often happens to have unsafe levels of PFAs. Thousands of acres of farmland near Chicago has been contaminated with the chemicals. "During the past six years alone, federal records show, more than 615,000 tons of sludge from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago has been plowed into 29,000 acres near the nation’s third largest city," Michael Hawthorne reports for the Chicago Tribune. "Only the Greater Los Angeles area distributed more sludge to farmers between 2016 and 2021." A 2011 study of Chicago-area farmland found some of the highest PFAs concentrations in the nation.

"Researchers and public health advocates are increasingly concerned because some PFAS build up in human blood, take years to leave the body and don’t break down in the environment. Others transform over time into more hazardous compounds, increasing the risk that grains, beans, hay and produce grown in sludge-amended soil could be tainted for years to come," Hawthorne reports. "Long-term exposure to tiny concentrations of certain PFAs can trigger testicular and kidney cancer, birth defects, liver damage, impaired fertility, immune system disorders, high cholesterol and obesity, studies have found. Links to breast cancer and other diseases are suspected. Yet forever chemicals remain largely unregulated."

Social networks often make it hard to leave Appalachia

Paul Francis of Garrett, Ky., says he's leaving because floods are too much. Others are staying. (AP photo by Dylan Lovan)

The record flooding in Eastern Kentucky is only the latest hardship in a region rocked by the opioid crisis and the decline of coal. And though some locals say they've had  it and will move, the strong social network makes many more hesitant to leave, Dylan Lovan reports for The Associated Press.

"Social capital is really important," Ann Kingsolver, an Appalachian Studies professor at the University of Kentucky, told Lovan. "Those are the resources that people have through investing in social networks of kin and neighbors over many years— a kind of wealth beyond monetary value." She noted that many young adults moved back to rural Appalachia during the Great Recession in 2008 in order to access housing and child care.

And there are other benefits, she noted: Though there aren't many rental homes or hotel rooms in Eastern Kentucky, disaster victims often get clean-up help and temporary shelter from family and neighbors, Lovan reports. That includes Pam Caudill. She lives on the same street as her son in the unincorporated Floyd County community of Wayland, and said he's been a big help in cleaning up since floodwaters hit her home.

Caudill illustrates another reason why so many stay. She has considered moving to a less flood-prone area, but her home is all she has left of her husband, who died from a heart attack in May. "I have thought about it, but here’s the thing: It took everything that me and my husband could do to buy a house," Caudill told Lovan, weeping. "It’s hard to let go of something that you worked so hard for."

Finances and housing stock are also frequent barriers to moving away, though Lovan's story doesn't explicitly mention them. Eastern Kentucky has some of the lowest-income counties in the nation, and many residents may not be able to afford to move to a less flood-prone town where housing is more expensive, especially seniors on a fixed income. And available housing in higher, drier areas nearby simply may not exist.

Aug. 4 webinar will discuss new transportation grant program for rural and tribal communities

At 3 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 4, the U.S. Department of Transportation will host a free webinar to discuss its new Reconnecting Communities pilot discretionary-grant program for tribal and rural governments. 

From the website: "The RCP discretionary grant program is the first-ever Federal program dedicated to reconnecting communities that were previously cut off from economic opportunities by transportation infrastructure. Funding supports planning grants and capital construction grants, as well as technical assistance, to restore community connectivity through the removal, retrofit, mitigation, or replacement of eligible transportation infrastructure facilities.

The webinar will provide an overview of the program, applicable examples, and explain eligibility and matching requirements. See the RCP website or click here to register.

Monday, August 01, 2022

In cleanup after a flood, how to stay safe and healthy

Disaster workers in high heat, like that forecast in
Kentucky this week, take breaks and keep hydrated.
The extent of the devastation caused by the flooding in Eastern Kentucky is still not fully known, as the death toll is 37 and rising, but cleanup has begun even as search-and-rescue operations are still going on. That overlap, and the urgency that many feel in such situations, could create even more danger as people risk their safety and health in trying to recover.

"As people try to re-enter flood-damaged properties, the risk of serious injury and even death is high," Anna Goodman Hoover, an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, told Kentucky Health News. She shared a package of "vetted materials from various agencies and environmental/disaster organizations that provide safety information for re-entering, cleaning up, etc." and KHN published most of the list.

The material comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The college's Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health has put the material on a web page.

Local journalists should explain to readers how states ensure electoral integrity; this webinar recording can help

False claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election have left many Americans confused and distrustful of the electoral process. Local journalists can and should take the opportunity to inform readers about how elections are run at the state level to help mitigate the spread of misinformation and increase voter confidence.

To aid in that, here's a recording of a webinar held July 26 by the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution. The webinar "explored how electoral processes are managed in the states, the level of security these processes have, and the vital role of secretaries of state in guaranteeing that every vote is safe, accessible, and counted as the 2022 midterms near," according to the webinar's website. "Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D-Ariz.) presented a keynote address and participate in a fireside chat with Brookings’s Elaine Kamarck. Afterward, an expert panel further discussed the ways in which American elections are managed at the state and local levels."

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Iowa weekly reports on local native who was journalist but runs on Trump's vote-fraud lie for Ariz. governor, and leads

Kari Lake (Screenshot of part of North Scott Press website)
UPDATE, Aug. 4: The Associated Press called the race for Lake, who faces Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in the general election.

When she was growing up in eastern Iowa, Kari Lake was on the student newspaper staff at North Scott High School in Eldridge, starting a career in journalism. Today, she is the leading Republican candidate for governor of Arizona in Tuesday's primary, waving Donald Trump's flag and "focusing heavily on border security, Christianity in public schools, and perpetuating Trump’s lie about fraud in the 2020 presidential election," reports Mark Ridolfi of The North Scott Press, in a "Local girl makes splash" story that is more incisive than most. 

Ridolfi reports on locals who have made financial contributions to Lake's campaign: "Most, but not all, support her politics." Susan Castro, a Republican and retired teacher, told him, "She doesn’t follow everything I believe in. But No. 1, she’s local. No. 2, she’s a woman." Still, "Lake’s hard right turn into politics surprised some of her Scott County friends and acquaintances."

Lake was a broadcast journalist for most of her adult life, starting out in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois, which includes Scott County. From 1994 until last year, she was at KSAZ-TV in Phoenix. "Arizona voting records show she registered as an independent, and later as a Democrat in 2008," Ridolfi reports. "She supported Obama in his first run against Arizona Sen. John McCain. In June 2021, she said America’s long war in Afghanistan motivated her move to the GOP."

Ridolfi quotes at length from C-SPAN's recording of Lake at July 22 rally, including: “This generation had so many things taken from them. They didn’t get prom. They didn’t get to ask the girl to prom. Didn’t get first kiss. It didn’t have to happen this way. They know who’s with them and who’s against them. Fake news won’t even cover it. They just want to attack us. How many of you don’t watch the corrupt corporate news anymore?” Speaking of President Biden, she said, “Fake news wants us to believe that guy got 81 million votes.” The Washington Post looks at Lake's ideas for elections.

UPDATE, Aug. 2: Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review does a deep dive into the Lake story: When she retired, she said, “I found myself reading news copy that I didn’t believe was fully truthful, or only told part of the story, and I began to fear that I was contributing to the fear and division in this country by continuing on in this profession. . . . Not everyone is dedicated to telling the truth, but thankfully many of you have figured that out. I promise you: if you hear it from my lips, it will be truthful.”

Weekly's investigation of local resident's jail death in another state prompts more coverage and a criminal investigation

In May, a Kentucky woman jailed on drunk-driving charges in Virginia died in custody. When her family wasn't satisfied with the explanations they received, they went to their local newspaper, The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg. The weekly's Sam Adams investigated, and his reporting has prompted a criminal investigation, the Eagle reports.

Sherri Delynn Cook
"The daily media in Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee ignored the story for several days, but at some point a current or former Virginia law enforcement officer made sure the Va.-Tenn. media saw our coverage," Eagle Publisher Ben Gish told The Rural Blog. "They then began to report on the death . . . I am almost certain the entire matter would have been buried if The Eagle hadn’t started covering it — and covered it pretty aggressively, through Sam and our very limited resources. So community newspapers do still matter!"

Adams reported that Virginia's regional jail in Duffield told the family of Sherri Delynn Cook that she had been released on bail at 8:49 p.m., but "In reality, she had died more than an hour earlier, at 7:36 p.m., according to documents accompanying her ashes back to Kentucky." In his follow-up story, he reported, "When the family couldn’t find her . . . they kept calling back. Finally, at 9 p.m. on May 21, Fine said, they were told that Cook was dead. By that time, she had been dead at least 25 hours."