When California became the fifth largest economy in the world earlier this year, experts attributed the state’s economic success to the financial services, real estate and technology industries based largely in urban and coastal regions. Left out of the economic success story were many of the state’s vast rural regions. California’s rural areas are some of the most beautiful and bountiful in the world. The economies there are heavily based on natural resources and “working landscapes” that benefit the entire state. These regions provide valuable resources and commodities for all Californians, including food, water and open spaces.But many of these regions face higher poverty and unemployment rates than their urban and suburban counterparts, and struggle with a lack of well-paying jobs, limited health care services, and weakened infrastructure such as access to clean drinking water and water treatment, broadband service, efficient transportation and other critical necessities. With small populations and large geographic distances, the assets and contributions of California’s rural regions are often overlooked and not fully appreciated.To address these challenges, the California Economic Summit is advancing the Elevate Rural CA initiative, which has identified three promising “solution spaces” that will combine targeted community, workforce and economic development activities to elevate the rural areas and, as a result, the entire state. The three areas of focus are forest resiliency, water infrastructure and broadband access.
For farmers, Florence could not have come at a worse time; crops were maturing, and harvest had only begun. Depending on their production patterns, many farmers have seen several years of financial losses due to low crop prices. This leaves farmers, many of whom have not fully recovered from Hurricane Matthew two years ago, in a weakened financial condition before the hurricane hit.As we write this column, estimates of preliminary losses to agriculture in the affected states range from hundreds of million to billions of dollars. Storm water will need to recede and even then, it will take weeks or more to assess the extent of the damage. What is clear at this point is the nature of the damage.The rain and inundation from nearby streams have combined to cause significant crop losses across the Carolinas. Cotton fields with bolls that were open when the rain started have been rendered valueless while many other fields that were nearing maturity have been damaged by rushing floodwaters. North Carolina, responsible for 50 percent of the national production of tobacco, stands to incur significant losses as the rain and floodwater came during the middle of harvest for many farmers.Peanuts and sweet potatoes, where the harvest product grows beneath the soil, will see significant damage from rot in areas where the waters do not recede quickly. North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the US. This will have an impact on grocery store prices during the prime Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, depending on the extent of the damage.Corn and soybeans have also shown damage from the rains and flooding, though the price impact at the national level will be minimal.In North Carolina it is estimated that, according to industry sources, at least 3.4 million chickens died as the result of flooding. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimates that 5,500 hogs perished in the floodwaters. North Carolina is second in the nation in pork production. As the floodwaters recede farmers will be left with the cost of the disposal of these animals.The loss of electricity has negatively affected farm operations well beyond the flooded areas. In addition, there has been damage to farm homes and buildings and it will take some time to repair the damaged roads that farmers depend upon.
Rural schools are less likely to participate in district-wide free lunch and breakfast programs despite the fact that rural families typically have more economic need for the nutrition program, according to a recent analysis from USDA’s Economic Research Service. The study of the USDA Community Eligibility Program found that only a third of eligible rural schools participated in the program, while 46% of eligible schools in urban areas did. The study also found that the Southeast had the highest percentage of eligible schools participating in the program.The Community Eligibility Program allows schools to qualify their students for free breakfast and lunch based on community characteristics rather than individual family applications. Schools in high-poverty areas may offer free breakfast and lunch for all enrolled students. Alternatively, schools with slightly smaller proportion of low-income students may offer free meals to most students without having to process individual applications.
It’s 6 p.m. on a Tuesday in August and residents who have climbed the City Hall steps learn that, once again, there will be no city council meeting. So once again, they will be unable to discuss with local officials the pollution that has been plaguing their small town for the better part of a decade. Uniontown has an inordinate number of polluters for a town of 2,300, and residents say city leaders often dodge their attempts to air their grievances. There’s the landfill next to the historic black cemetery that residents opposed from the beginning but went apoplectic over when it started accepting coal ash after a spill of the waste in Tennessee. There’s the pungent odor from a cheese plant that has released its waste into a local creek, according to an environmental group’s hidden cameras. And then there’s the waste water from the catfish processing plant, which contributes to an overwhelmed sewage system that spills fecal matter into local waterways.Many residents feel all this pollution has been dumped in their backyard — and allowed to continue — because for the most part, they are black, poor and uneducated.“Look at every black community or poor community,” said Esther Calhoun, a resident who has been involved in numerous lawsuits against the town’s polluters. “The EPA is supposed to be the Environmental Protection Agency, but they’re protecting the rich. What do they do for us? Nothing.”It’s a similar story across Alabama and much of the country. Many minority communities say their towns have been targeted by polluting industries because residents have few resources to put up a fight, and state and federal agencies have largely sided with industry when locals have challenged polluters.
U.S. oil safety regulators have thrown out Obama-era requirements for crude and ethanol trains to install advanced braking systems, citing an updated economic analysis.
Late last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans to add $600 million to fund e-Connectivity, a pilot program aimed at bridging the rural digital divide by improving broadband internet access for American farmers. But the rural digital divide is wider than ever, as farmers struggle to run tech-dependent businesses without broadband. According to a 2016 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report, 39% of rural Americans don’t have broadband internet access but Daiquiri Ryan, a policy fellow at the non-profit Public Knowledge, says that number is almost certainly inaccurate.“All of that data that the FCC collects...is self-reported by internet providers and it’s only done by the census block, [which] means if one person on the census block is served by that provider...the entire census block is considered served.” But in very rural, sparsely populated areas, says Ryan, that one house with service might be the only one with actual service for miles, so when the entire area of the map shows up as served, it’s not an accurate picture.
The Department of Homeland Security announced a proposal to sharply tighten immigration rules today. Some immigrants who use welfare programs that they are legally entitled to use, like food assistance and housing vouchers, could be denied green cards because they use those programs. It's already been a rule that, in order to get a green card, an applicant can't be what is known as a public charge.It's a phrase that goes all the way back into the 19th century in our immigration laws. Basically, it means an immigrant who relies primarily on the federal government. It has been interpreted traditionally to mean cash benefits, like welfare. But this is the first time that an administration has really proposed extending the notion of a public charge to noncash benefits - the housing, the health insurance, the nutrition assistance. And it's something that the administrations have not done before, perhaps because Congress has decided that immigrants should be entitled to use these programs. We're talking, of course, about legal immigrants.
Children who grow up in rural areas have a better chance of earning more money later in life. A Penn State study confirms that report and tracks the impact of other factors affecting both urban and rural children.The farther away from a city a person is raised, the more likely they are to climb the economic ladder, according to economists, who also found that community characteristics associated with upward mobility have different effects in rural and urban locations.The researchers looked at intergenerational economic mobility in low-income children at the U.S. county level, which also allowed them to examine the effects of distance from metropolitan counties — those having populations of 50,000 or more. They found that being far removed from an urban area is beneficial to low-income children’s upward mobility, all other things being equal.“That’s a significant finding, because it suggests that policy aimed at improving mobility shouldn’t simply consider rural and urban effects but should account for how far a county is from an urban area,” said Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural and regional economics, Penn State, and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. The researchers also looked at five factors strongly associated with upward mobility. Three of these factors have a strong negative correlation: a greater share of single-mother households, a higher high-school dropout rate, and greater income inequality are linked to lower rates of economic mobility.The other two factors have a strong positive correlation: a greater share of jobs with commute times of 15 minutes or less, and a greater amount of social capital, are associated with enhanced economic mobility in a community.
Rural America faces an increasingly dire access to justice crisis, which serves to exacerbate the already disproportionate share of social problems afflicting rural areas. One critical aspect of that crisis is the dearth of information and research regarding the extent of the problem and its impacts. This article begins to address that gap by providing surveys of rural access to justice in six geographically, demographically, and economically varied states: California, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. In addition to providing insights about the distinct rural challenges confronting each of these states, the legal resources available, and existing policy responses, the article explores common themes that emerge through this multi-state lens, thus framing a richer, broader discussion of rural access to justice, with particular attention to the rural attorney shortage.
Tthe Alliance for Lawyers and Rural America (AfLARA). Designed as a convening space to be shaped by its membership, AfLARA aims to serve as a means to an end for people and organizations working near the intersection of law and rurality. In other words, AfLARA is the home at which all of us – including you – can gather, learn from one another, and work together to make the most of opportunities that serve to address rural legal needs. Membership is open to lawyers and non-lawyers alike, whether you are rural, urban, or living anywhere in between, and whether your focus is access to justice, entrepreneurship, education, healthcare, or any of the other myriad points at which law meets rural places. We are non-partisan, non-exclusionary, and eager to hear your voice.