Last updated: January 24. 2014 6:23AM - 1134 Views

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Significant portions of West Virginia and Kentucky will soon have a new partner in trying to combat poverty in those regions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week announced that 29 of West Virginia’s 55 counties and 73 of Kentucky’s 120 counties have been added to the agency’s anti-poverty program called StrikeForce. Included among the counties in West Virginia are Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln and Mason. Boyd and Lawrence counties are included in the USDA’s designation for Kentucky.

So what can these areas, which have poverty rates of 20 percent or higher, expect?

According to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, they shouldn’t expect federal representatives swooping in to dictate what should be done. Instead, StrikeForce works with local communities to identify projects or initiatives that can make a difference for residents, and the federal program then will strive to find resources to fulfill those needs, he said in announcing the program’s expansion.

That sounds like the preferable approach.

StrikeForce was launched in 2010 after the USDA recognized that poverty strikes hard in rural areas. Vilsack noted to reporters that about three-fourths of the 703 counties in the nation plagued by persistent poverty are in rural areas. For example, the average wage-earner in a rural county makes $6,500 a year less than an urban worker in the same region, he said. The result? “People in many rural areas feel disconnected from the rest of America and left out,” the agriculture secretary said.

StrikeForce strives to overcome that disconnect by pairing federal funds with local projects and their sponsoring organizations.

Projects have ranged from financing summer feeding programs for rural schools to providing farmers with funds for seasonal greenhouses and providing loans for rural housing.

Officials indicate that no specific amount of money will be headed into West Virginia and Kentucky because of the new designation, but applications from the chosen regions for competitive grants or funding will get preferential “points” in scoring of applications.

With a willing partner with resources, these areas could make some strides against poverty.

— The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington

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