An Appalachian development agency President Donald Trump proposed eliminating has awarded $15.7 million in grants for projects aimed at boosting the economy in Kentucky and six other states.
The Appalachian Regional Commission announced the grants in a news release Wednesday.
The largest grant for a project in Kentucky was $1 million to Community Ventures Corporation in Lexington for a project to build or renovate college facilities in Appalachian Kentucky and West Virginia, according to a news release. The focus of the program is higher education related to health care, the ARC said.
A group of four-year private colleges in Appalachia and three philanthropies — the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and the Opportunity Finance Network — will take part in the initiative.
The agency projected the project would create 500 jobs in health-related activities.
The other Kentucky grants were $497,305 to Morehead State University for a project to boost workforce STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) training; $300,000 to Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland to help artisans and craftspeople develop internet-based businesses and sell products worldwide; and $80,000 to Eastern Kentucky PRIDE, based in Somerset, to help develop a tourism plan for 41 counties in Eastern Kentucky.
The $15.7 million in funding will be coupled with an additional $64 million in private funding, according to ARC.
“Together, these investments bring added capital into the region and help Appalachia prepare to globally compete in manufacturing, technology, local agriculture, construction, and a variety of other industry sectors,” said Earl F. Gohl, federal co-chairman of the commission.
The agency said that with the grants announced Wednesday, ARC has provided more than $92 million for projects in 250 Appalachian counties in 11 states in the last year. The ARC includes all or parts of 13 states.
Trump proposed eliminating the ARC and several other regional development commissions in the budget he submitted to Congress.
The budget document said the decision reflected the need to reduce unnecessary federal spending while encouraging state and local governments to work with the private sector on solutions to problems.
However, officials in Eastern Kentucky said it would be a bad idea to end aid from the agency as the region struggles to diversify its economy in the wake of a staggering downturn in coal jobs.
The ARC said its research shows Appalachia lost 33,500 coal-mining jobs between 2011 and 2016.
More than two-thirds of those losses — over 22,500 jobs — were in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, the agency said.
The ARC has survived previous attempts to end it, and observers said Congress is unlikely to go along with Trump’s request to kill it.
One lawmaker who will have a key role in that debate, Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset, issued a news release Wednesday praising the latest ARC grants.
“The ARC continues to help empower southern and eastern Kentuckians through critical funding for projects that will inspire folks to start a dream business, strengthen our STEM education and workforce development efforts, and revitalize tourism in our region,” Rogers said.