WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—along with Senators Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)—today introduced bipartisan legislation to help local communities in Appalachia expand economic opportunity. The Appalachia Opportunity Act establishes a $100 million annual grant program to support and encourage public-private partnerships in Appalachia that will improve regional infrastructure, encourage entrepreneurship, and create jobs.

While federal-state partnerships like the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) have made great strides in helping the region modernize and adapt to economic shifts over the last several decades, the federal government and states are still largely tasked with selecting which of these projects receive funding. The Appalachia Opportunity Act establishes a competitive grant program that would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to incentivize local communities to engage in public-private partnerships that would advance local economic development projects. At $100 million annually, the new grant program would nearly double the level of federal funding specifically set aside for expanding economic development in Appalachia. The funds will come from the Dislocated Worker Reserved Fund, a program that provides assistance to dislocated workers who are disproportionately impacted by large layoffs and natural disasters.

“Federal investments and partnerships with local leaders are both critical in helping prepare Appalachian economies and communities for the future,” Senator Capito said. “As we continue efforts to give our communities the tools they need to grow and prosper, encouraging collaborative partnerships between the public and private sectors is key for ensuring success and sustainability in the region. This bill will encourage cooperation and help deliver critical new resources for economic development in West Virginia and all of Appalachia.”

“Last fall I teamed up with several Senators from the Appalachian region to co-chair The Appalachia Initiative, and today I am excited to continue our important work to tackle the unique needs facing Appalachian communities,” Senator Manchin said. “Rural communities in West Virginia are facing some tough challenges and grant programs like this will help foster the public-private partnerships needed to get local projects off the ground. This bipartisan bill is part of a comprehensive effort to help drive pragmatic, locally driven efforts to spur economic progress in Appalachian communities.” 

For ten years, the bill would provide $100 million annually to the Appalachia Innovation Program to fund ideas generated by local Appalachian communities. In order to be eligible for these grants, communities will convene public-private teams to collaborate on projects that increase economic growth and education in the Appalachian region. Teams will include representatives from local economic development boards, private companies and associations, and regional institutions of higher learning—including technical schools, community colleges, or four-year institutions.

In order to encourage collaboration across localities and improve the economy for the whole region, projects are required to involve at least two bordering counties and have access to additional sources of funding representing at least 10 percent of the project’s overall cost, either through local matching funds or private-sector investment. To be eligible, projects must also have a measurable economic impact, and seek to do at least one of the following:  

  • Create jobs.
  • Expand regional capacity of post-secondary education.
  • Grow tourism rates.
  • Benefit public health.
  • Upgrade regional infrastructure.

“BPC Action applauds the introduction of the [Appalachia Opportunity Act], which contains recommendations from Bipartisan Policy Center’s Appalachia Initiative. This bill responds to the economic challenges in the Appalachia by offering a bipartisan approach to advance prosperity and accelerate growth for more than 25 million people that call this region home,” said Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“This is indeed a great day for the Appalachian Region. The Bill almost doubles the resources dedicated to this Region and will go a long way toward growing a viable future for the people of Appalachia. The structure is a creative direct linkage to Federal funding for local people to solve their economic challenges with their own solutions. I applaud this long overdue effort,” said Thomas M. Hunter, former executive director of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

A summary of the legislation can be found here.

Full bill text can be found here

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