It's time the Appalachian Regional Commission returned to its roots. The ARC, established by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his War on Poverty, was intended to help lift up the excruciatingly poor residents of Appalachia. Somewhere along the line, the ARC strayed.
"Early resources went to those communities that had the greatest economic potential already," said Ron Eller, a University of Kentucky professor who is writing a history of the ARC.
Those early resources, said Eller, went to urban areas "at the expense of those more seriously distressed, rural communities."
As a result, the major investments in the first 25 years of the ARC went to such cities as Pittsburgh, Chattanooga and Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C. That is not to say that the rest of Appalachia was ignored, but the lion's share of the money was funneled into the more populated areas, not into the hollows and back roads of Appalachia. This certainly can't be what LBJ had in mind.
Jesse White Jr., co-chair of the ARC, tells the Exponent and Telegram that the agency is now committing at least 30 percent of its non-highway funding to distressed counties. And, on Oct. 18, the ARC governors and co-chairs will meet in the Eastern Panhandle to approve a distressed county strategy.
West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood, who co-chairs the commission with White, says the ARC needs to change its focus.
"There are these lingering pockets of unimproved areas," said Underwood. "People keep asking on Capitol Hill, 'When are you ever going to get the problem solved?'"
Indeed. Some areas of West Virginia are not enjoying the booming economy that has benefited the rest of the nation. It's time for the ARC to complete the mission it began in 1965. Then, and only then, we can declare victory in the War on Poverty.
Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Matt Harvey, Nora Edinger and J. Cecil Jarvis.