Trump budget would eliminate federal agencies working to boost rural Alabama economies

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(AL.com) — President Donald Trump's proposed federal budget would eliminate two agencies that spend millions of dollars each year providing services and opportunities for communities in Alabama's Black Belt and Appalachia regions.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and Delta Regional Authority (DRA) are among the lesser-known federal agencies. But their efforts have real impact on some of Alabama's rural communities.

Both ARC and DRA are federal-state partnerships that have invested tens of millions of dollars in Alabama over the past decade. They rely on public and private funding to help boost economic development, make infrastructure improvements, create jobs and otherwise improve opportunities in rural areas of select states including Alabama.

The budget plan Trump revealed Thursday would slash all federal funding for ARC and DRA and ultimately eliminate them from the federal bureaucracy.

That may win Trump political points with some hardcore fiscal conservatives, but it would have dramatic impacts on many people living in the 37 Alabama counties considered part of Appalachia and the 20 counties in the state's Black Belt.

Last fiscal year alone, "ARC awarded $5 million in projects that involved infrastructure improvement, job creation, technology upgrades and school programs and materials in" Alabama's Appalachia region, according to Jim Byard, Jr., director of the Alabama Department for Economic and Community Affairs, a state agency that partners with ARC.

"Without these investments, many projects would not be completed. We are concerned about the ability to help rural Alabama with elimination of the ARC program."

Between October 2015 and January 2017 alone, "ARC has supported 64 projects in Alabama totaling $11.2 million. These investments have been matched by $24.0 million and will attract an additional $21.6 million in leveraged private investments in Alabama," Wendy Wasserman, a spokeswoman for ARC, said via email. "They will also create or retain nearly 900 jobs, [and] train and educate more than 14,000 students and workers."

Between 2002 and 2016, DRA "has collaborated with public and private entities to invest $71.5 million in the Black Belt from 2002-2016," according to the agency.

More on this story at AL.com.
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