The proposed budget sent to Congress last Thursday was rife with steep cuts to a number of federal agencies, including many this writer is personally interested in, such as the EPA, NASA, and NOAA. But closer to home, for me, were the cuts in funds to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).
The two Washington-based organizations are charged with diversifying the economies of coal producing states in Appalachia, that includes the states of eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania. The two groups have recently focused their activities on "distressed" counties and coal towns.
The Appalachian Regional Commission
Since 2015, ARC has invested $175.7 million in building new highways and broadband infrastructure as well as helping former coal communities to develop other industries, such as recreation and tourism. But the ARC has done so much more for the region since its inception in 1965. And just so you know, the ARC is a stand-alone organization.
We're talking about schools, health care facilities, water and sewer systems and so many other improvements to the lives of those living in the region. And while many of the improvements were seen as coming out of "pork barrel" politics, what was good for one county or community actually helped to improve the whole area and a number of states.
Not only that but if we talk about last year, alone, ARC created or saved 23,000 jobs and provided another 25,000 households with essential infrastructure, like plumbing and running water. And everyone can agree, the program is popular with both Democrats and Republicans.
The Economic Development Administration
The EDA is not a stand-alone organization but an agency within the Department of Commerce
. It is mandated to provide technical assistance to economically distressed communities and generate new employment, help retain existing jobs and stimulate industrial and commercial growth through a variety of investment programs, so it's a little different in its focus from the ARC and more dependent on the Congressional budget.
The EDA has been providing about $250 million per year to its programs and during the Obama years, has mainly focused the majority of its grants to coal communities around the region. But this is not to say others have been left out. The EDA also provides help to non-coal communities in providing trade adjustment assistance to companies impacted by imports.
It is absolutely ridiculous that Trump would even propose these cuts, let alone suggest they are less important than building up our military defenses. In the first place, he outright lied to a whole segment of the population with his hollow promise to bring back the coal industry.
Folks, it will never come back to its former glory - For any number of reasons.
Trump's budget doesn't address how assistance will be provided to the thousands of retired coal miners who are now at risk of losing their pensions and health care benefits because of all the coal company bankruptcies.
Thom Kay of Appalachian Voices, an advocacy group that works on environmental issues in the region said, “It’s possible they were just looking for cuts wherever they could find them and didn’t realize what this meant.” Well, let's hope Trump finds out real quick what this means.