Appalachian Regional Commission

The Appalachian Regional Commission can provide supplemental infrastructure grants for projects funded through other federal programs. Grants generally are in the $100,000 to $300,000 range and cannot exceed fifty percent of the project. Access roads are the exception, with funding up to 80 percent of the project.

Each year, the Commission is responsible for developing a regional prioritized project package for each of these programs.

The Establishment of ARC

Since the earliest years of the twentieth century, events periodically made Americans aware that Appalachia was a Region apart, isolated from the rest of the country, suffering the ravages of floods, prone to erratic swings in the coal industry and subject to more severe economic and population shifts than in the rest of America

For decades, religious leaders, public officials, universities and business groups in the Region had in turn sought ways to do something about the problems of Appalachia, but little permanent change was accomplished.  Conditions got a little better or a little worse through world wars and booms and busts; but the Region continued to lad economically far behind an increasingly prosperous nation.

Conditions in Appalachia in the early 1960s were desperate.  Then, in March 1963 another flood of record proportion hit central Appalachia and once again drew national attention to the Region’s plight.  President John F. Kennedy, responding to these conditions and local and State appeals, appointed the President’s Appalachian Regional Commission (PARC) to “prepare a comprehensive action program for the economic development of the Appalachian Region.”

The Saturday Evening Post said in an August 1964 article, “Down Appalachia’s coal-mining and steel-making core from Scranton to Birmingham, certain shared problems assail the eye with dramatic force.”

And the economic problems of Appalachia went far beyond the coal and steel centers in this Region of rural areas, small towns and very few large cities.  “Rural Appalachia,” said the 1964 PARC report to the President, “lags behind rural America; urban Appalachia lags behind urban America; and metropolitan Appalachia lags behind metropolitan America.”

  • In 1960 per capita income in Appalachia was only three-fourths of the national average, and one of every three Appalachians lived below the poverty level as defined by national standards.
  • Even by official count, unemployment in Appalachia was more than 40% above the national level, not counting the “hidden unemployment” of thousands who had long since given up seeking jobs.
  • Only one-third of Appalachian adults had finished high school, compared with one-half in the nation.
  • There were few doctors in relation to the Appalachian population – and most of those few were concentrated in metropolitan areas, leaving much of the Region without basic health care.
  • Half the Appalachian jobs in mining and agriculture – 614,000 – had been lost, and there were few new jobs in the offing; nationally only 1/3 of the agricultural jobs and 1% of the mining jobs had been lost while millions of new service jobs had been created.
  • During the 1950s, 2 million more people left Appalachia than moved in; people in the working ages of 18 to 64 in the country as a whole increased by more than 5%; but in Appalachia there was an 8.6% percent decrease.
  • The percentage of unsafe and unsanitary houses was twice the national average, with more than 90% of the housing inadequate in some parts of the Region.
  • The PARC Report found that, while Appalachia needed outside help, “the primary drive for recovery must originate inside its boundaries.  Yet the educational resources to mount that drive are inadequate.  The Region has not produced a sufficient corps of educated people in the past – it lacks the tax base to provide an adequate educational effort in the future.”
  • Despite the Region’s need for outside help, per capita expenditures of Federal funds there lagged well below the national average.

With the exception of some relatively brief boom periods – the latest during World War II – these circumstances had long plagued Appalachia.  Extensive studies of the economic problems of the Region in 1902 and 1935 had defined some of the problems but brought no significant action to solve them.

The PARC Report in early 1964 was viewed dubiously by many in Appalachia as another study to be shelved as interest in the isolated Region faded.  But this time, the result was different.

On March 9, 1965, less than a year after the PARC Report was issued, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Appalachian Regional Development Act.  The Act implemented almost all of the PARC recommendations.

Basic Principles

A new approach to economic development and a unique organization to guide it were proposed by PARC and authorized by the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965.  Several basic decisions shaped the Commission and its programs:

  • Private sector jobs were set as the ultimate goal.  In the words of the PARC Report:  “Private enterprise will be the ultimate employer…but before this can happen, public investment must create the foundation on which private enterprise can then build its own job-producing structure.”  ARC investments have been made consistently through the years to support the creation of private sector jobs and to qualify the people of Appalachia to fill them.
  • Federal-State-local cooperation was determined to be essential.  The Act, following closely the PARC recommendations, created ARC with  a careful balance between Federal and State power, a balance that continues.  A Federal Cochairman appointed by the President shares power equally with the Appalachian Governors, who annually elect a States’ Cochairman from among their number.

As one assurance that the ARC staff is equally responsive to the Federal and State partners, the States and Federal government share equally in the payment of staff salaries and other administrative costs.

The Act also provided for the establishment of local development districts (LDDs) to strengthen the local participation in the partnership.

  • A regional highway system was determined to be essential to open up the Region to economic development.  “Development in Appalachia cannot proceed” the PARC Report said, “until the regional isolation has been overcome…No analysis of the regional problem has failed to identify the historic and persisting effect of its mountain-chains as a primary factor in Appalachian under-development.”  The Act provide for the design and construction of such a system.
  • A comprehensive array of resource development, public facility, human resource and other area development programs was authorized.  The Act provide for such programs to meet the Region’s needs “on a coordinated and concerted regional basis.”
  • The Appalachian Region was defined by law.  Originally it consisted of all of West Virginia and parts of 11 other states:  Alabama, Georgian, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.  The Act was amended in 1967 to include part of Mississippi.  Today, 397 counties in 13 States make up the Appalachian Region.

The original ARC legislation was amended in 1967, 1969, 1971, 1975, 1977 and 1980.  Commission programs were broadened to include child development, planning and site development for housing and energy-related enterprises.  The 1975 amendments called for stronger participation of Governors and strengthened local development district roles.

Changes in the ARC legislation over the years strengthened the initial basic principles.  The comprehensive approach to economic development has been made still broad.  The Federal-State-local decision-sharing relationship has been refined.  The public-private partnership to create private sector jobs are equip Appalachian people to fill them has been enhanced.

These basic principles underlie the ARC Code, the pragmatic self-regulating rules worked out by the Appalachian Governors and the Federal government to guide their joint implementation of the Appalachian Regional Development Act.

To determine project eligibility and
inclusion in the region’s project packages,
potential applicants should contact:
Jill Foys, Executive Director
jillf@northwestpa.org