Serious questions remain about Appalachian effort

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was among the group of lawmakers who signed on to introduce a bill that would reauthorize the Appalachian Regional Commission for another five years. West Virginia is the only state to lie entirely within Appalachia, and, in theory, has the greatest stake in such a commission’s continued existence.

In discussing the reasons behind the reauthorization, Capito mentioned a new High-Speed Broadband Development Initiative.

“In order to capitalize on all the potential opportunities that broadband can offer rural America, including economic growth, we must first ensure that these communities have access to the services they need,” she said.

Such access is, indeed, essential, but while the idea behind an Appalachian Regional Commission may have started out a good one, lawmakers must not buy in to the myth that the ARC has done much of anything to truly help the people of the 13 states under its charge. In fact, as an analysis of the commission noted last month, despite 50 years of the commission’s programs – and $4 billion spent – Appalachia still falls behind in nearly every marker. The program’s leadership admits as much, with its federal co-chairman acknowledging the ARC had been forced to switch to a focus on “developing strategic partnerships.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, while pleased with the prospect of any help that might come from the reauthorization of the ARC, noted “there is still work to be done.”

Yes, there is a lot of work to be done. In deciding whether to reauthorize the ARC, lawmakers should do some serious digging about the commission’s ability to complete that work before voting to throw another several million dollars at a program that has left Appalachia stacking up against the rest of the country about as well as it did in 1965.

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