Membership Messages

Fahe Advocacy Update: US Senate advances infrastructure bills; Jim King featured in Shelterforce; deciding how to spend a national settlement with opioid companies; housing market data highlights national trends but misses structural issues.

The Latest

  • Infrastructure bills with impact on Appalachia advance through US Senate before recess
  • Fahe’s Jim King highlights work of Fahe Members in Shelterforce article, identifies path to success for funders and government

Longer Term

  • There’s talk of a national settlement with opioid companies – and disagreement over who should control settlement funds
  • Trends in homeownership offer some good news for low-income families, but issues remain and costs grow

The Latest

Congress kept active heading into its August Recess by introducing or passing bills relevant to Appalachia: a five-year reauthorization of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) at $180 million, an infrastructure bill for the region, and a bill which would spur creation of a “regional energy hub” in Appalachia for ethane storage and distribution. The bills contain positive provisions, such as a $20 million investment in broadband through the ARC. However, the legislation is not without controversy. Potentially more problematic is a mechanism to move federal highway funds to the region, if they were deemed unused. We are concerned about being placed into unhelpful competition with other regions who need these investments as well. And while industry supporters of the regional energy hub are promising billions in investment and “100,000” new jobs, other residents concerned about a new cancer alley and/or returning to economic reliance on extractive industries where the wealth flows to financiers outside the region (see Blackjewel), are voicing their opposition. All three bills were included in the larger Senate Infrastructure bill, which was voted out of committee just before Senators left town. A bipartisan group of Senators supported that larger bill, and it is now on the Senate floor.

Fahe’s Jim King was recently featured in a Shelterforce interview, with the CEO of HOPE (in the Mississippi Delta) Bill Bynum, on the topic of rural community development. Fahe and HOPE are both part of the Persistent Poverty Working Group, a group of organizations who are all working toward a country where persistent poverty no longer exists. In the interview they shared what their work has in common across the rural part of their geographies, dispelled myths, and discussed what funders and governments need to learn in order to deploy resources in our regions effectively. Jim also makes a point that you’ll hear more of at our Annual Meeting in Knoxville: “In the community development field, we won’t achieve the scale we want unless we are truly in trusted relationships.”

Longer Term

A fight is brewing over funds from a potential opioid settlement. More than 2,000 state and local governments are suing drug manufacturers and distributors over damage caused by the opioid epidemic, and a federal trial is set for October. A settlement like the one state governments reached with tobacco companies in 1998 could be on the horizon, raising the question of how settlement funds should be distributed. Local governments argue they’ve been forced to spend more on police, jails, and other programs. States say they’re best positioned to design comprehensive addiction prevention and treatment programs. And a new advocacy group headed by West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and former Ohio Governor John Kasich wants to bypass state and local governments altogether, steering opioid settlement funds to hospitals, research centers, and private foundations. The choice to steer funds to hospitals, research centers, and philanthropy hubs is likely to concentrate settlement funds in a small number of communities. We’ll be doing the right thing if we ensure funds from any opioid settlement reaches the communities most affected by this crisis.

Last month, Enterprise Community Development looked at long-term trends in homeownership. Data from the second quarter of 2019 include some encouraging news: the gap in homeownership between high- and low-income households is shrinking, largely due to more low-income households buying homes rather than high-income households choosing to rent. But concerns include a gap between Black and White homeownership growing rapidly. Furthermore, the cost of housing for everyone continues its rapid rise, with the cost of homeownership in particular seeing a 45% increase nationwide since 2012 alone. The report fails to address certain structural issues with the nonfunctioning housing market that impact many of our communities in Appalachia, and we hope that in the future, national level groups will pay attention to all of America in their reports.

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