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Appalachian Regional Commission funding on the chopping block

Appalachian Regional Commission funding on the chopping block

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The Appalachian Regional Commission, which funds millions of dollars in economic development projects in the coalfields, is among the agencies that would lose money if President Donald Trump’s budget proposal passes Congress.

To pay for increased spending for the military, national security and veterans, Trump would eliminate money set aside for several independent agencies financed by the government, including the ARC and the National Endowment for the Arts, two agencies that fund projects in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Since its creation in 1965, the ARC has spent more than $23 billion in parts of 13 Appalachian states, including Tennessee and Virginia. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pumped into the region to assist in a variety of projects intended to create jobs and infrastructure.

Most recently, in January, the ARC announced $950,000 for the Power Lineman Career Education Program at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, and about $1.3 million was granted to the Abingdon-based Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing for the Heart of Appalachia Economic Transition Project.

In the months ahead, Congress will decide whether to adopt the president’s recommendations.

Although Trump’s budget proposal eliminates ARC funding, U.S. Reps. Phil Roe of Tennessee and Morgan Griffith of Virginia, both Republicans, said Thursday they believe ARC funding will not be cut.

“Programs like the Appalachian Regional Commission, which does tremendous good for rural Appalachia, have bipartisan support in Congress, and I don’t expect they will be eliminated,” Roe said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the president to work towards getting our fiscal house in order and balancing our budget.”

Griffith, who had not yet had a chance to fully review the budget, said, “The ARC has provided money for a lot of good programs in the Appalachian region, particularly the hard-hit coalfields of Southwest Virginia. I do not believe that the cut will be in the final House product, and I will work to assure ARC funding.”

Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents the Kentucky region along the Virginia border, criticized the ARC proposal.

“While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive,” Rogers said. “In particular, the Appalachian Regional Commission has a longstanding history of bipartisan support in Congress because of its proven ability to help reduce poverty rates and extend basic necessities to communities across the Appalachian region.”

The National Endowment for the Arts funds a number of programs throughout the region, including projects at Barter Theatre in Abingdon. The Barter would be affected by cuts to the NEA and the ARC, according to Producing Artistic Director Richard Rose.

“It would affect our ability to develop and sustain new projects,” Rose said.

NEA funds are used to develop new shows, especially Appalachian projects, Rose explained.

“It sets an example,” Rose added. “The federal government leads the way for others.”

Rose said local and state entities could also decide to cut funding for the arts as a result of cuts to the NEA.

The Barter uses ARC funds for construction and building projects. In 2016, the Barter Foundation received a $500,000 award from the ARC to expand production capacity. Rose said the project is ongoing.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, said Trump’s budget isn’t a “balanced approach. Instead, it includes many short-sighted choices that if implemented could actually harm our country’s strength and long-term growth. The Trump budget proposes to dramatically slash public investments in programs like early childhood education, job training, scientific research, and the protection of economic and natural resources.”

Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said he appreciates the Trump administration’s effort to cut waste and encourage efficiency.

“But the fact is that until the president and Congress are willing to address the real drivers of our debt — Medicare and Social Security — we will be complicit in shackling future generations with the financial burden of our own lack of discipline,” Corker said. “That is not a legacy I want to leave.”

The senator added, “I am hopeful that the complete 2018 budget to be delivered in May will include appropriate reforms because until we address this problem head-on, discretionary spending will continue to be under severe pressure.”

rsorrell@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2531 | Twitter: @RSorrellBHC | Facebook.com/robertsorrelltn

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