CARLISLE, Ky. (AP) — Tabbatha Tubbs laughs at the thought of Washington politicians decreeing her hometown Appalachian. After all, there’s not a mountain in sight from this gently rolling countryside best known for its thoroughbred horse farms.
This is picturesque Bluegrass country: Black wooden fences surround grazing thoroughbreds. Golden stalks of tobacco hang from tiered barns. And herds of fat beef cattle mow their way across fields of green grass.
It’s hardly the heart of Appalachia, the rugged hills where President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty some 44 years ago. But like it or not, Tubbs and her neighbors are now residents of the impoverished region, at least in the eyes of the federal government.
“It’s funny, I think,” Tubbs said last week, glimpsing out at the landscape from the window of her Carlisle beauty salon.
Folks in the heart of Appalachia aren’t amused that President Bush, with the stroke of his pen, has redrawn Appalachia’s geographic boundaries in a way that could take federal money away from some of the poorest communities in the United States.
Bush signed a measure Oct. 9 that gives 10 additional counties in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia a cut of about $87 million in federal money set aside this year for poor mountain communities to pay for economic improvements. The money will be distributed by the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal agency that has been fighting poverty in the mountain region for more than 40 years…
Poverty indicators show the contrast between counties in the heart of Appalachia and the new additions. For example, the federal government sent more than $12 million worth of food stamps in 2006 to Kentucky’s Harlan County, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Nicholas County, where Carlisle is located, received just $1.1 million.
Annual jobless rates in Harlan County ranged from 13 percent in 1997 to 9.1 percent last year. In Nicholas County the range was 4.4 percent to 6.4 percent for the same periods.
The redrawn map upsets Karen Phillips, a teacher in a community where 75 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches because their families are considered poor. Other areas of the country face economic hardships, Phillips conceded, but not like central Appalachia.
“The poverty here is so much worse than anywhere else,” Phillips said. “You see that in the housing, in the age of cars people drive, in the clothing that kids wear to school.”
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, defended the expansion, saying each of the additional 10 counties face similar economic problems and therefore “meet the criteria” to receive more financial support….
The legislation signed this month not only expands Appalachia’s boundaries, but also calls for $510 million to be spent in the region over the next five years to build roads, install water lines, fund educational improvement projects, encourage economic development, even purchase computers for poor children. The proposed spending total is a $64 million increase over the last 5-year allotment.
That could have meant more money for core Appalachian counties, Eller said, if politicians hadn’t opted to spread it across a larger area. “When you continue to expand the counties, ultimately it creates a smaller pool of resources for use in the most severely distressed areas of the region,” he said.
Certainly there is no other area in the country that we can even think of that is as desperately poor as Appalachia, which needs this money. However, the continued expansion of ARC — right before a presidential election — seems really desperate. As the mainstream media is constantly reminding us, Appalachia is the home of some of the most ridiculous racist sentiments held by voters during this election. Never mind the fact that poverty in the region hasn’t been solved by either side in Washington.