A high-tech business incubator. Rural high speed internet. Flood mitigation. A wide range of major infrastructure projects in our area are funded through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).
The ARC has gotten attention recently because President Trump is proposing to eliminate funding for it in his initial budget. The commission started in 1965 with a charge to boost poor rural areas, including the counties along New York's southern border. All the governors from 13 Appalachian states, including New York and Pennsylvania, work with local groups to use federal money to invest in poor areas.
Even though Trump is planning to zero out its budget, many top elected leaders - both Democrats and Republicans - have come out against those proposed cuts, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell’s promised to defend the agency.
“We are not going to allow any cuts to the Appalachian Regional Commission. It's very important to eastern Kentucky, has been for a number of years," said McConnell on Kentucky television station WYMT. "That's not going to happen.”
Here in northern Appalachia, however, Jennifer Gregory, director of the local branch of the ARC, said she’s concerned the agency could be defunded.
For one, Gregory's concerned the Southern Tier could lose political clout.
“We also have long term initiatives that I don’t know who else is going to be our local voice to DC. That's what's at risk here," said Gregory. "This budget clearly attacks rural US.”
Plus, the potential impact of a cut could hurt future job prospects for people who have been “left behind,” she said. Right now, they are funding welding classes at the Delaware-Chenango-Madison-Otsego (DCMO) BOCES.
“When a manufacturer or a business looks to locate in an area, they look for critical infrastructure," said Gregory. "Do you have water, sewer, broadband, what’s your tax base? Do you have a highway system and an airport system that it makes sense for us to locate in the Southern Tier? These are critical infrastructure pieces that haven’t been taken seriously.”
At the same time, Gregory is hopeful Congress will vote to keep the commission. It has bipartisan support from senators from Appalachian states.
President Trump is expected to propose a more comprehensive budget in May.