The political right and left are stuck in polarizing myths. Folks in my small Western town are divided: die-hard right-wingers on one side and so-called progressives on the other. But both appear to support those “deregistering” from the list of eligible voters for fear of federal intervention in what is a state right. I see the hard-right folks in Safeway carrying pistols. Both are likely influenced by the myths of the Old West, either consciously or unconsciously. And both are dropping off the voting rolls at an alarming rate; somewhere around 3,000 have deregistered in Colorado so far.Neither group wants President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission to know anything about them. They don’t want it known that they’re registered to vote, or what party they belong to, and they clearly don’t want to have their Social Security number put in some insecure database. Both are alarmed and suspicious that the Trump administration’s commission is really designed to suppress voter turnout.I know some of the “hard right, anti-federal” folks. It’s a small town and we tend to know one another. Usually, we can all be cordial at break time at a city council meeting.
The state Commissioner of Agriculture is bringing back the West Virginia Agriculture Advisory Board with the goal of setting up a strategic plan to revitalize production in the state. Commissioner Kent Leonhardt said though the board is required to meet quarterly under state code, neither he nor his staffers can remember this going on whatsoever. The board will consist of the commissioner, the governor and the director of the cooperative extension service of West Virginia University. The board will also appoint a steering committee to further its goals.
A north Georgia lawmaker says he thinks electric cooperatives could be a key player in filling the broadband coverage gaps in the state’s underserved rural communities.But Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said he doesn’t expect everyone under the Gold Dome to be quite so enthused by a plan to turn loose cooperatives to offer broadband. Gooch said he expects existing providers, in particular, to push back on the proposal. “It’s going to be a fight,” Gooch said in a recent interview. “I don’t think it’s going to be easy. But again, nothing down there ever is. With anything this important, there’s going to be people who are against it because of self-motives and financial reasons.“And I’m fine with that. I love to debate, and in fact, I challenge all the providers to come in and get involved and help us perfect the bill,” he added.Gooch pitched a measure earlier this year that would grant the state’s 41 not-for-profit electric membership corporations, which serve about 2 million customers, the authority to offer broadband service in some of the state’s most sparsely populated places.His measure stalled but remains alive for next year when lawmakers return.“They already have the customers, the equipment, the manpower. They have the poles already in place,” he said of the EMCs.
First and foremost, I want to assist Secretary Perdue in executing his vision for creating an environment where rural communities can prosper. In that, I am specifically focused on taking action to improve the quality of life in rural America-- from greater access to broadband connectivity and medical care to distance learning. Two issues that I am particularly passionate about are leadership and capacity development in small towns and assisting rural communities in responding to the growing nightmare of opioid misuse and the many underlying challenges that have contributed to this issue. Beyond these external goals, I would like to foster greater synergy between Rural Development and the other mission areas in USDA as well as other partners focused on rural programs within the federal family. For example, how can Rural Development work more closely with other agencies to address challenges like food insecurity and child summer hunger.
Over the years, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grants and loans have served as a lifeline for rural communities, providing critical funding for water and wastewater infrastructure, public and community buildings, and essential community service facilities. Yet the president's proposed budget zeros out allocations for Rural Development, leaving small towns with few options and bleak prospects for continued growth. Without Rural Development's services, many small communities will have to put off infrastructure or facility projects. However, "the cost of doing nothing is as costly as the project itself," said Terry Meier, community development specialist with JEO Consulting Group.When necessary projects are left on the drawing board, the quality of life in a small town is impacted along with its economic prospects.Rural Development's loans, grants, and technical assistance help communities fill resource gaps and address quality of life challenges. Funding opportunities are primarily directed toward towns and villages with fewer than 20,000 residents.
For three years, Leon and Donita Brush struggled to help their son Brian beat his opioid addiction. What began with a pill quickly spiraled out of control. A 20-year-old college student, Brian was reeling from a breakup when someone offered him Percocet to ease the emotional pain, his father said.“He just said, ‘Dad, there was no turning back. Once I started down that path, I wanted more,’” Mr. Brush said.The owner of a carpet and flooring store in this small city in southern West Virginia — in the heart of the opioid epidemic that kills hundreds annually in the state — Mr. Brush didn’t know much about addiction treatment. But he and his wife were committed to getting their son sober.They tried a 28-day rehab program. They sought help from the regional mental health center. They sent him to “Grandpa’s bootcamp.” They did private counseling. They enrolled him in the U.S. Army. Nothing worked.Brian fatally overdosed in January 2006. He was 23 years old.“Donita and I were sitting in the living room and she said to me, ‘You know, there ought to be a safe place where men can go and learn to deal with addiction, where the cops can’t capture them, where the drug dealers can’t phone them and so moms can sleep at night.’ I said, ‘Are you serious about that?’ She said, ‘Yes.’”The Brushes consulted with their pastor and visited a range of addiction treatment centers to find the right model. Two years later, they opened a 12-month residential addiction treatment program. It was the rehab they had never been able to provide for their son. Named Brian’s Safehouse, it has become a sliver of hope in a region eviscerated by addiction. Unlike most of the addiction clinics dotting Raleigh County, which prescribe methadone and Suboxone, Brian’s Safehouse uses a nonmedical approach. The 12-step treatment program, which is spread out over the course of a year, challenges residents to accept their own weakness and surrender to a new order in life: God first, sobriety second. After that, Mr. Brush said, everything else falls into place.“Our focus primarily is not so much about drugs as it is about the life-controlling issues that got them here to start with,” he said. “We deal with anger. We deal with the victim’s mentality. We deal with how to know who is safe and who isn’t. We deal with boundaries.”
Members of the Georgia House Rural Development Council said they were overwhelmed during a meeting at Bainbridge State College where they heard from rural health care leaders. Jimmy Lewis wanted a group of rural Georgia lawmakers to feel for themselves how he said rural hospital CEOs feel every day. Lewis, the CEO of a network of rural hospitals named Hometown Health, flew through slides with complicated payment formulas and national headlines about the tens of millions of people who could lose insurance under federal policy proposals."While you look at how to fix rural hospitals you need to see how overwhelming and just completely devastating the current situation is for a rural hospital simply to survive,” he said. "Sitting in on a hospital closure is worse than going to a community funeral,” As the U.S. Senate debates health care, state lawmakers are trying to figure out what they can do. Follow the example of states like Oklahoma and Texas to get more federal money, suggested Gregg Magers, who makes a living saving hospitals in states like Georgia that haven’t expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He’s the interim CEO of Memorial Hospital and Manor in Bainbridge.
Since then we had another time when phone service was out for more than 36 hours and internet service was out for two days. No explanation, just frustration.A few years ago legislation was passed in Wisconsin that gives phone companies an out if they no longer want to provide landline service. Yes, I understand in our cities and villages that landlines have gone the way of eight-track tapes.But in many parts of rural Wisconsin — particularly in the Driftless Region, where we have many bluffs and valleys — cell phones don’t work or are unreliable at best. Unless our mobile companies are planning to put up many more towers to guarantee coverage, we need landlines for safety.By that definition more than 40 percent of rural Wisconsin — more than 700,000 households — are in the dark. There’s a movement to increase broadband spending, but I’m concerned that many of those funds will be used to increase the speed of service in communities rather than make the effort to connect those without.Nearly a century ago technology was creating a divide between urban and rural America. History may be repeating itself.
Motorists don’t like to pay more at the pump, and lawmakers worry that if they raise taxes on gasoline, they’ll be voted out of office. But states rely on those taxes to build and maintain roads and bridges. With revenue lagging, those structures have been falling into disrepair in many places. Despite the tough politics, 26 states have raised taxes on motor fuels in the past four years. The eight states that raised taxes this year include Tennessee and South Carolina, deep-red states dominated by fiscal conservatives.Lawmakers say the sorry condition of their state’s roads and bridges compelled them to act.
In 2012, Grant Township became a target for fracking waste. Oil and gas producer Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE) applied for a permit to pump toxic chemicals used in drilling operations into an injection well beneath the community. Residents were alarmed. Injections can induce earthquakes, and wells can leak, contaminating water supplies. The chemicals used in fracking have been linked to cancer, infertility and birth defects. "We live in an area that doesn't have public water. We all live off springs and private wells," said Judy Wanchism, 74-year-old native of Grant Township. "You ruin our water, our home is no good anymore. Nothing. You have to have water in order to live, to water your plants, to drink, to bathe, everything … I don't know how else to say it. Water is life, and without water, you don't have a life." Wanchism and her neighbors shared their concerns with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to no avail. Regulators must listen to the public, but they don't have to take those concerns into account. The EPA issued the permit to PGE. The people of Grant Township couldn't win. "We thought they would protect us. They wouldn't," said Wanchism. "You have to figure out ways to protect yourself, and that is basically what we did." In 2015, a federal judge overturned the part of the ordinance blocking the operation of an injection well. Grant Township, she said, had exceeded its authority as a second-class township. Residents responded by adopting a home-rule charter, which gave the community more legal authority.In an ironic twist, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is now suing Grant Township, arguing its home-rule charter violates state law. "We shouldn't be fighting the DEP," said Wanchism. "The DEP should be protecting us and helping us."Grant Township is now countersuing the DEP for failing to protect the community. A state court will hear oral arguments this fall. Residents are also dealing with legal fallout of the original ordinance. PGE claims Grant Township owes the company for damages incurred by blocking the injection well.