Gov. Steve Beshear on Monday announced $1.3 million in grants for an initiative to create jobs in the depressed coal regions of Eastern Kentucky.
The state plans to use $1 million to fund 52 full-time AmeriCorp positions to shore up “youth engagement, education success and health and human services over the next year,” according to a news release from the governor’s office. About $312,000 “will support implementation and technical assistance by a consortium of nine Area Development Districts located in the region.”
Beyond that, it’s unclear how the money will be administered by the 12-member executive committee of the SOAR, or Shaping Our Appalachian Region, initiative.
Beshear, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents Eastern Kentucky, unveiled SOAR in December in an attempt to gather ideas for revitalizing the economically devastated coal communities in Eastern Kentucky.
Other SOAR programs include the so-called “Silicon Holler,” a neologism Rogers coined to describe broadband Internet investment in the region to attract modern businesses, and a planned expansion of the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway.
The Kentucky General Assembly appropriated $30 million toward the broadband effort — half of the amount Beshear requested — with an additional $40 million to be pledged via federal and private sources.
Beshear has said AT&T will be one of the private companies eligible to participate in the broadband effort, although no deal has been formally announced with any company.
This year, AT&T spent more than any other telecommunications company in lobbying the Kentucky General Assembly, with about $75,000 in lobbying expenditures.
Brad McLean, AT&T’s principal Frankfort lobbyist, did not immediately return a request for comment for this story. Hood Harris, president of AT&T of Kentucky, said in a statement that “AT&T is not in the position to speculate on whether or to what extent it may seek to participate in any of the [Silicon Holler] efforts.”
The legislature appropriated about $312 million for the Mountain Parkway expansion, which is less than half the amount Beshear initially requested. More than 85 percent of the funding earmarked by Frankfort for that project is in federal highway moneys.
A spokesman for the Kentcuky Transportation Cabinet said the future of the project is uncertain due to financial uncertainty created by the looming insolvency of the Federal Highway Trust Fund.
According to the SOAR Committee’s December 2013 press release, the group is currently conducting a national search for an executive director.
Beginning Aug. 4, SOAR will host a “Health Impact Series” to address the region’s myriad health concerns. The group has invited Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to come to Eastern Kentucky.
“This is a rare chance to bring a world-renown leader in health care to our doorstep,” Rogers said in a statement. “We will look to Dr. Frieden for help in diagnosing our high risks, as well as his prescription for how we can improve healthy living and morality rates.”
The Corporation for National and Community Service provided $1 million of the grants announced Monday, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration provided $312,000.