Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced five Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant awards to help provide treatment for the growing opioid epidemic in rural central Appalachia. Vilsack made the announcement as he hosted a town hall in Abingdon to address the opioid crisis in rural America, the first in a series. In January, President Obama tasked Secretary Vilsack, who is chair of the White House Rural Council, with leading a federal interagency effort focused on rural opioid use.
The announcement is the first part of a new round of DLT projects that are to be announced this summer and includes nearly $1.4 million for five projects in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia to help rural areas address the opioid epidemic.
Prestage Foods of Iowa LLC named Wright County for its new, state-of-the-art pork processing facility. Construction is set to begin in the fall of 2016, pending finalization of county and state approvals, with completion and first shift operations beginning in mid-2018. Initially operating one shift, the plant will employ more than 900 people with a total capital investment of more than $240 million.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide by June 2019 whether to protect Monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act, per a court settlement reached with conservation groups.The settlement is the result of a federal complaint filed by the Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, which have petitioned the agency to protect Monarch butterflies. The groups say populations have fallen by 80 percent in 20 years and could be wiped out if the government doesn't act. In March a study by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that there is a substantial probability that the eastern monarch butterfly population could decline to such low levels that they face extinction. Researchers estimate that there is between 11 percent and 57 percent probability that the monarch migration could collapse within the next 20 years. In April Cornell researchers published a paper indicating that in addition to loss of summer milkweed, monarchs are threatened during the fall migration by multiple factors including habitat fragmentation, drought and insecticides.
This story is part of Divided America, AP's ongoing exploration of the economic, social and political divisions in American society.
From where Peggy Sheahan stands, deep in rural Colorado, the last eight years were abysmal. Otero County, where Sheahan lives, is steadily losing population. Middle-class jobs vanished years ago as pickling and packing plants closed. She's had to cut back on her business repairing broken windshields to help nurse her husband after a series of farm accidents, culminating in his breaking his neck falling from a bale of hay. She collects newspaper clippings on stabbings and killings in the area — one woman's body was found in a field near Sheahan's farm — as heroin use rises. "We are so worse off, it's unbelievable," said Sheahan, 65. In Denver, 175 miles to the northwest, things are going better for Andrea Pacheco. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the 36-year-old could finally marry her partner, Jen Winters, in June. After months navigating Denver's superheated housing market, they snapped up a bungalow at the edge of town. "There's a lot of positive things that happened — obviously the upswing in the economy," said Pacheco, a 36-year-old fundraiser for nonprofits. "We were in a pretty rough place when he started out and I don't know anyone who isn't better off eight years later." But then, she doesn't know Peggy Sheahan, and that makes sense: There are few divides in the United States greater than that between rural and urban places. Town and country represent not just the poles of the nation's two political parties, but different economic realities that are transforming the 2016 presidential election. Cities are trending Democratic and are on an upward economic shift, with growing populations and rising property values. Rural areas are increasingly Republican, steadily shedding population for decades, and as commodity and energy prices drop, increasingly suffering economically. The political divide goes even deeper than simply between the two parties. "The urban-rural split this year is larger than anything we've ever seen," said Scott Reed, a political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who has advised previous GOP campaigns.
The Missouri Department of Conservation banned the hunting of feral hogs on the 1,000 or so conservation areas in the state. Hunters actually make it more difficult for the state to kill feral hogs, the conservation department says. The state tries to lure groups of hogs to a trapping area with cracked corn. Pigs see a free meal and private hunters see a ready-made hunting grounds. Hunters will “take out a couple, and the rest scatter,” said conservation spokesman Joe Jerek. The Missouri conservation staffers prefer to catch and kill pigs in groups, known as “sounders,” not go running around rural Missouri chasing after hogs they thought they were about to catch. Hunters also sometimes illegally catch and move feral hogs around the state in order to give themselves more places and pigs to hunt. Besides being destructive and smart, the pigs are prodigious breeders, and a sounder needs very little time to replenish itself and then some.
Faced with overcrowded prisons and evidence that lengthy sentences don’t deter crime, more states opted this year to revamp sentencing laws and send some people convicted of lesser, nonviolent crimes to local jails, if they’re locked up at all. In an about-face after a half-century of criminal justice policies that favored long-term incarceration, Alaska, Kansas and Maryland this year joined at least 25 other states in reducing sentences or keeping some offenders out of prison. The move to end lengthy prison stays for low-level offenders is one of several steps states took this year in reevaluating criminal justice policies during legislative sessions that have wrapped up in all but a few places. Other measures would help offenders transition back into their communities after release and hold police more accountable.
States that expanded Medicaid saw a significant increase in the percentage of residents who have health insurance, according to a new report from Health and Human Resources. The growth was especially strong in rural areas. States that did not expand Medicaid also saw an increase in the percentage of residents with insurance, but the gains were not as large. The findings are especially important because states that chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act tend to have more rural residents than states that did expand eligibility for the publicly supported insurance program. “The overall coverage gains for rural individuals are particularly striking in light of the fact that uninsured rural individuals are disproportionately concentrated in states that have not expanded Medicaid,” the report says. About two thirds of the 4.5 million rural residents who are uninsured live in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. Only about half of urban uninsured live in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, the report said. “Medicaid expansion in additional states would thus be of particular benefit to rural Americans,” the report concludes. About 117 million Americans live in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, according to Census figures, while 192 million live in states that did. The combined rural population of states that didn’t expand Medicaid is about 24 percent. In states that did expand, rural residents constituted about 16 percent of the population.
Is the best representation of rural character to mandate fields remain fields as outlined in Nashville Next, or should we foster development that reflects the intent of preserving a rural look and feel? The owners of Fontanel are challenging a decision by the Metro Planning Commission that prevents them from building a conference hotel on 30 acres next to their existing property. The planning commission, in a complicated session that had it first approve and then later deny the Fontanel request, ruled that adding the 30 acres to the Specific Plan zoning that covers Fontanel’s existing 185-acre properties jeopardizes the rural component of the Nashville Next Plan, particularly 11 parcels planners want to stay undeveloped. Part of the Fontanel plan includes one of those 11 parcels.
Income inequality has risen in every state since the 1970s and in many states is up in the post–Great Recession era. In 24 states, the top 1 percent captured at least half of all income growth between 2009 and 2013, and in 15 of those states, the top 1 percent captured all income growth. In another 10 states, top 1 percent incomes grew in the double digits, while bottom 99 percent incomes fell. For the United States overall, the top 1 percent captured 85.1 percent of total income growth between 2009 and 2013. In 2013 the top 1 percent of families nationally made 25.3 times as much as the bottom 99 percent. New York and Connecticut have the largest gaps between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent. According to county-level data, Teton, Wyoming (which is one of two counties in the Jackson metropolitan area from the top of Table 2), had the largest gap between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent. In Teton, Wyoming, the top 1 percent in 2013 earned on average 233 times the average income of the bottom 99 percent of families. The next nine counties with the largest gaps between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent are La Salle, Texas (where the top 1 percent earned 125.6 times as much as the bottom 99 percent on average); Shackelford, Texas (117.1); New York, New York (115.6); Custer, Colorado (86.6); Fairfield, Connecticut (73.7); Franklin, Florida (73.4); Collier, Florida (73.2); Pitkin, Colorado (68.8); and San Juan, Washington (68.7).
It's widely known that income inequality has grown rapidly in recent decades. As it stands in the U.S., an average member of the top 1 percent of earners makes 25 times more money than an average member of the remaining 99 percent. But this is just a national figure; across the country, the ratio ranges from 5 all the way up to 233. What might be more surprising is precisely where income inequality hits those peaks. Yes, a lot of inequality is where you'd expect it: in big cities along the coasts. But there is also a more hidden inequality in America, deep pockets of extreme income gaps in a place where it might not be expected: rural America. The data comes from the Economic Policy Institute, which last week put out a report calculating income inequality county-by-county. Almost all similar studies have looked only at major metropolitan areas. This rural inequality seems to come in two forms. One, which I'll call "home-grown" inequality, is where the local industries create large income disparities. The other, which I'll call "flown-in" inequality, is where rich people who made their income elsewhere take up residence.