A Stronger Appalachian Regional Commission Vital to Economic Progress

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For much of its history, the Appalachian region has lagged the rest of the nation in measures of economic prosperity, health, education, and infrastructure. The region, especially central Appalachia, has been rich in natural resources like coal, timber, oil, and gas. Much of the wealth generated by these resources, however, left the region.  As such, much of Appalachia has undergone a process of “growth, without development” that resulted in intense poverty and economic struggles that made Appalachia “a region apart- geographically and statistically.”

In the late 1950s, these challenges led the governors of Appalachia to push for the creation of a new regional development program and federal agency to address the need for economic diversity, more infrastructure, better health and education, and more jobs. These efforts culminated in the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission in 1965. The purpose of the ARC is to make substantial investments in the region to improve infrastructure, reduce dependency on natural resource extraction, and enhance the ability of the region to achieve economic prosperity. The ARC has been underfunded for decades, hampering its ability to accomplish its ambitious agenda. This could change!

President Biden’s FY 2022 Budget Proposal includes an additional $55 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). On top of this request, Biden’s American Jobs Plan includes an additional $1 billion for the ARC’s Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative over the next five years. Most recently, Representative Conor Lamb (PA-17) and Representative David McKinley (WV-01) introduced bipartisan legislation that would provide an additional $1 billion in funding for the ARC’s POWER Initiative, which provides federal resources to help communities affected by job losses in the coal industry.

Despite significant progress since the 1960s, much of the region still lags behind the rest of the country in economic and social development. A substantial increase in funding is essential if the ARC is to accomplish its mission and bring Appalachia on par with the rest of the country. An increase in funding of $255 million in FY 2022 is a good step toward the kind of investments that are needed in Appalachia.

Download the full report here.

Ted Boettner

Ted focuses on pathways that bring sustainable economic development and shared prosperity to the region through research and analysis and has over 15 years of public policy experience. Prior to joining ORVI, Ted was the founding executive director of the WV Center on Budget and Policy.