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Rural News

Montana Governor Visits Rural Critical Access Hospital to Announce Facility Upgrades | Posted on June 29, 2017

Governor Steve Bullock Friday visited the Missouri River Medical Center in Fort Benton and announced that the Critical Access Hospital will receive $800,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for mechanical system upgrades to its aging facility.As a Critical Access Hospital, the Missouri River Medical Center must have emergency staff on hand at any given time. In a rural area, that could mean the difference between life and death for residents where the next closest medical center is a 45-minute drive to Great Falls.The grant will help fund the replacement of failing or outdated mechanical equipment, including emergency generators, a new fire alarm system, and a new heating and cooling plant. Additionally, funding to the Missouri River Medical Center will allow the hospital to retain 65 full-time, good paying jobs.

Rural Communities Must Empower Youth

Daily Yonder | Posted on June 28, 2017

The future of rural America depends on attracting younger generations to make a life in smaller communities. That means listening to young people, responding to their interests, and sharing power.  Community leaders need strategies to keep its youth. First and foremost, is to understand their value as leaders. As Seemiller states, the youth wish to be engaged and make a difference in their communities.Leaders can set up opportunities for the youth to become active in the community and not just as token youth appointees. Mentoring and leadership programs are a good start. Youth appointments to boards and commissions will benefit communities. The digital skills of the youth can be utilized to tell the community’s story and expand local businesses via enhanced business websites and more effective social media marketing. Their creative thinking and problem solving can advance communities when given the opportunity.

WI:Walker signs fish farm bill

Minneapolis Star Tribune | Posted on June 28, 2017

Gov. Scott Walker has signed a bill that loosens fish farm regulations. Under the Republican bill, fish farms no longer need permits to discharge material into a wetland if the wetland was created for fish farming. Natural water bodies can serve as fish farms and farms wouldn't need permits to construct or enlarge artificial water bodies connected to a navigable waterway. New permit conditions will be prohibited unless needed to meet water quality standards.

GA: Senator Lucas to lead rural work group committee

Macon Telegraph | Posted on June 28, 2017

State Sen. David Lucas has been named chairman of a committee tasked with improving rural Georgia. The political veteran will guide the meetings for the Senate Rural Georgia Study Committee that begin this summer. The committee deals with similar issues as a House Rural Development Council that will create policy ideas on issues such as health care and education in rural communities.

Rural and Urban Differences in Air Quality, 2008–2012, and Community Drinking Water Quality, 2010–2015

Center for Disease Control | Posted on June 28, 2017

Patterns for all three air-quality measures suggest that air quality improves as areas become more rural (or less urban). The mean total number of ozone days decreased from 47.54 days in large central metropolitan counties to 3.81 days in noncore counties, whereas the mean total number of PM2.5 days decreased from 11.21 in large central metropolitan counties to 0.95 in noncore counties. The mean average annual PM2.5 concentration decreased from 11.15 μg/m3 in large central metropolitan counties to 8.87 μg/m3 in noncore counties. Patterns for the water-quality measure suggest that water quality improves as areas become more urban (or less rural). Overall, 7% of CWSs reported at least one annual mean concentration greater than the MCL for all 10 contaminants combined. The percentage increased from 5.4% in large central metropolitan counties to 10% in noncore counties, a difference that was significant, adjusting for U.S. region, CWS size, water source, and potential spatial correlation. Similar results were found for two disinfection by-products, HAA5 and TTHM. Arsenic was the only other contaminant with a significant result. Medium metropolitan counties had 3.1% of CWSs reporting at least one annual mean greater than the MCL, compared with 2.4% in large central counties.

Republicans' Proposed Medicaid Cuts Would Hit Rural Patients Hard

NPR | Posted on June 26, 2017

For the hundreds of rural U.S. hospitals struggling to stay in business, health policy decisions made in Washington, D.C., this summer could make survival a lot tougher. Since 2010, at least 79 rural hospitals have closed across the country, and nearly 700 more are at risk of closing. These hospitals serve a largely older, poorer and sicker population than most hospitals, making them particularly vulnerable to changes made to Medicaid funding."A lot of hospitals like [ours] could get hurt," says Kerry Noble, CEO of Pemiscot Memorial Health Systems, which runs the public hospital in Pemiscot County, one of the poorest in Missouri. The GOP's American Health Care Act would cut Medicaid — the public insurance program for many low-income families, children and elderly Americans, as well as people with disabilities — by as much as $834 billion. The Congressional Budget Office has said that would result in 23 million more people being uninsured in the next 10 years. Even more could lose coverage under the budget proposed by President Trump, which suggests an additional $610 billion in cuts to the program. That is a problem for small rural hospitals like Pemiscot Memorial, which depend on Medicaid. The hospital serves an agricultural county that ranks worst in Missouri for most health indicators, including premature deaths, quality of life and even adult smoking rates. Closing the county's hospital could make those much worse.And a rural hospital closure goes beyond people losing health care. Jobs, property values and even schools can suffer. Pemiscot County already has the state's highest unemployment rate. Losing the hospital would mean losing the county's largest employer."It would be devastating economically," Noble says. "Our annual payrolls are around $20 million a year." All of that weighs on Noble's mind when he ponders the hospital's future. Pemiscot's story is a lesson in how decisions made by state and federal lawmakers have put these small hospitals on the edge of collapse.  Back in 2005, things were very different. The hospital was doing well, and Noble commissioned a $16 million plan to completely overhaul the facility, which was built in 1955."We were going to pay for the first phase of that in cash. We didn't even need to borrow any money for it," Noble says while thumbing through the old blueprints in his office at the hospital. But those renovations never happened. In 2005, the Missouri legislature passed sweeping cuts to Medicaid. More than 100,000 Missourians lost their health coverage, and this had an immediate impact on Pemiscot Memorial's bottom line. About 40 percent of their patients were enrolled in Medicaid at the time, and nearly half of them lost their insurance in the cuts.Those now-uninsured patients still needed care, though, and as a public hospital, Pemiscot Memorial had to take them in."So we're still providing care, but we're no longer being compensated," Noble says.And as the cost of treating the uninsured went up, the hospital's already slim margins shrunk. The hospital went into survival mode.

Judge reverses key ruling in $1.4 billion timber class action

Capital Press | Posted on June 23, 2017

A judge has ruled that counties can’t sue the State of Oregon for financial damages, potentially undermining a $1.4 billion class action lawsuit over state logging practices.Linn County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Murphy has reversed an earlier ruling in the case, which held that Oregon’s “sovereign immunity” doesn’t bar counties from seeking such damages.In his most recent June 20 decision, Murphy has agreed with Oregon’s attorneys that counties — as subdivisions of the state — cannot sue the state government for money.Murphy said he’s “well aware this interpretation contradicts” his earlier opinion, but he will provide the plaintiff counties with “the opportunity to re-plead their case in such a manner that is supported by the law if they can.”“Like peeling a very large onion this case contains complex layers of legal issues and theory that can take time to unravel,” he said.The judge has left open the possibility for the plaintiffs to seek an “equitable” remedy, such as an injunction or order that requires the state government to take certain actions without paying financial damages.

Rural divide

The Washington Post | Posted on June 23, 2017

The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States. The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of nearly 1,700 Americans — including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns — finds deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas. Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from those of people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are “very different.” That divide is felt more extensively in rural America than in cities: About half of urban residents say their values differ from rural people, with less than 20 percent of urbanites saying rural values are “very different.” Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy, who deserves the most help in society and whether the federal government shows preferential treatment to certain types of people. President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans.The Post-Kaiser survey focused on rural and small-town areas that are home to nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population. These range from counties that fall outside metropolitan areas such as Brunswick, Va. (population 16,243) to counties near population centers with up to 250,000 residents such as Augusta, Va. (population 74,997), close to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia. Urban residents live in counties that are part of major cities with populations of at least 1 million, while suburban counties include all those in between.The results highlight the growing political divisions between rural and urban Americans. While urban counties favored Hillary Clinton by 32 percentage points in the 2016 election, rural and small-town voters backed Trump by a 26-point margin, significantly wider than GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s 16 points four years earlier.But popular explanations of the rural-urban divide appear to overstate the influence of declining economic outcomes in driving rural America’s support for Trump. The survey responses, along with follow-up interviews and focus groups in rural Ohio, bring into view a portrait of a split that is tied more to social identity than to economic experience.“Being from a rural area, everyone looks out for each other,” said Ryan Lawson, who grew up in northern Wisconsin. “People, in my experience, in cities are not as compassionate toward their neighbor as people in rural parts.”

Review of sage grouse agreement could turn partners into adversaries

Daily Yonder | Posted on June 23, 2017

A public-private agreement has managed to preserve the habitat of a threatened species while accommodating hunting, fishing, ranching, and energy development. Interior Secretary Zinke says he's revisiting the agreement. That could lead to the sage grouse qualifying as "endangered," which would mean a far less flexible approach to conservation. “The sage grouse initiative, the collaboration, up to now it’s been working,” said O’Toole, owner of Ladder Ranch along the Wyoming and Colorado border.“It’s the collaboration that’s the key. Everybody involved has been trying to prevent the whole sage grouse effort from the conflict and litigation that could from a listing” of the bird as an endangered species.The sage grouse team involves ranchers along with the Bureau of Land Management, U. S. Forest Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture, state agencies and non-governmental partners. The success of the collaboration, including its public-private partnership, led to the 2015 decision to invest in this approach rather than list the sage grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Listing the grouse as endangered would trigger a more stringent set of regulations that limit landowner and public agency choices and could trigger litigation.

WA:Court water-well ruling imposes undue burden on rural families

Yakima Herald | Posted on June 23, 2017

Now a harsh ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court in Hirst v. Whatcom County, blocks access to water for rural families — making that life unaffordable and simply impossible for the average Washington citizen. Declaring that counties can no longer rely on the Washington State Department of Ecology to determine if there is enough water for permit-exempt wells, the court brought the state’s Growth Management Act into conflict with 80 years of water law.  Supporters of Hirst argue the court’s strict new interpretation helps salmon. However, that is just a political disguise for the underlying motivation of impeding development and stopping families from being able to live in rural areas.Permit-exempt wells were designed to decrease bureaucratic red tape for a de minimums (minimal) amount of water, in the form of 5,000 gallons per day. Supporters of the Hirst ruling say families should not be given access to this water without getting a special, and expensive, permit.The result is an effective ban, even though permit-exempt wells use far less than the permitted 5,000 gallons a day. In fact, all the rural wells in a large area have less of an effect on the natural water supply than one concentrated city-run water system.The cumulative effect of all permit-exempt wells on the total water supply amounts to less than 1 percent. Supporters of the water ban want to block access to a paltry 0.9 percent of total water consumption, and make all citizens in Washington bear the cost.What is the cost all of Washington must bear? Existing homeowners reap a windfall, since they already have wells without a permit. For people without water, however, their land has become nearly worthless. Few families can spend up to $100,000 or more for the hydrogeological studies needed to get a permit-exempt well or pay for expensive water transfers. The result is slowed rural development, decreased property tax revenues for rural communities, and lower employment rates in rural areas.