Let’s hope President Donald Trump’s shot across the bow has gotten the attention the Appalachian Regional Commission and members of Congress who represent the mountain region.
Trump has proposed cutting funding to the little-known federal agency that was created better than 50 years ago to fight poverty in central Appalachia. Unfortunately, the lion’s share of the billions of dollars that have funneled through the Appalachian Regional Commission over the decades have missed central Appalachia entirely.
Over the years, the agency’s funding has often missed the mark, helping get Mercedes-Benz and BMW assembly lines rolling in Alabama and South Carolina, covering the cost of an improved intersection so tourists could more easily get into an amusement park in Pennsylvania, and paying for a bronze statue of Olympic track legend Jesse Owens in Alabama.
Yet, much of the Mountain Parkway leading into (and out of) the heart of Appalachia has remained a two-lane route, although work is now underway to remedy that thanks to Gov. Matt Bevin.
For too long, the Appalachian Regional Commission has been used as a congressional slush fund. The agency was created to help the poverty-stricken central Appalachian region gain economic parity with the rest the nation. That was the intent when President Lyndon B. Johnson visited the Kentucky mountains in April 1964, coming face to face with the ugliness of real deprivation and being deeply moved by what he saw. Johnson declared war on poverty on the day of that visit, saying the objective would be total victory.
It’s been a long, costly war, but the hoped-for victory has been elusive. Funds needed to fight the war on poverty in central Appalachia have all-to-often been diverted to places that fall into the broad geographic bounds of Appalachia but have little else in common with the real Appalachia where poverty and joblessness remain everyday facts of life.
Kentucky Today looked at “real unemployment” in the region last year, finding that, in many central Appalachian communities, more than half of working-age adults don’t have jobs and, amid all the hopelessness, have given up on looking for work.
Trump is right to look closely at whether federal funding should continue to the Appalachian Regional Commission. But instead of cutting the funding and eliminating the agency, he should fully fund the agency and insist that every dollar reach the battle lines in central Appalachia so that America might finally win the longest war she has ever fought.