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Bankruptcy filings involving Letcher citizens at new high

With job opportunities continuing to dwindle across the region, a record number of Letcher County residents filed for federal bankruptcy protection between October 9 and October 31.

At least 36 county residents are named in Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases filed last month in U.S. District Court in Pikeville. Of that number, eight couples and eight individuals filed for protection under Chapter 7 rules. Five couples and two individuals filed for protection under Chapter 13 rules.

The number of bankruptcy cases filed in October that involve Letcher residents represents more than a third of the 85 total bankruptcies (54 Chapter 7 and 31 Chapter 13) that had been filed by county residents during the first six months of 2013.

The increased filings are also a sure sign that financial struggles are worsening for those laid off from coal-industry jobs during the last 18 months, particularly those who have exhausted their severance pay and unemployment benefits.

In July, the last month for which court statistics are available, only eight Chapter 7 cases and three Chapter 13 cases were filed in Pikeville that involved Letcher County residents.

(In Chapter 7 cases, individuals and couples are freed of debts after a court-appointed trustee sells their assets. Chapter 13 allows a debtor to keep property and pay debts over time, usually a period of three to five years. It has long been the policy of The Mountain Eagle not to name individuals involved in bankruptcies.)

The dramatic increase in the number of locals filing for bankruptcy protection comes after the latest state employment figures show that 720 fewer Letcher County residents held job in August (7,400) than during the same month the year before (8,128).

Letcher’s unemployment rate now stands at 14.9 percent, up from 10 percent exactly two years before. The latest unemployment statistics don’t include Letcher miners who were furloughed after James River Coal announced the layoffs of more than 500 miners in late September and the furloughs of an additional 200 miners on November 7, including several at a large surface mine in the Carcassonne area.

Meanwhile, officials say 600 people have registered to participate in a summit next month that may impact the future of Letcher County and southeastern Kentucky.

Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers last month unveiled the initiative, which they dubbed SOAR, Shaping Our Appalachian Region. The summit is set for Dec. 9 at the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center in Pikeville.

Beshear has said the economic woes of recent years have hurt Appalachia and intensified the hardships of families in the mountain region

The Independent of Ashland reports registration, which is free, remains open to anyone interested in improving the region.

“ We know the people who live and work hard in this region are eager to help shape its economic future, and to provide the ideas needed to overcome both short-term and long-term challenges,” Beshear said. “So this overwhelming response is gratifying, but not surprising.”

Rogers said the response is promising.

“We want folks to know that every voice will be heard at this summit, whether by submitting an idea electronically or through faceto face interactions,” Rogers said. “The urgency for more jobs is overwhelming, as even more eastern Kentucky coal mines announced layoff s last week. It’s time to get to work, so it’s encouraging to see our people are ready to pitch in on Dec. 9.”

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