Whitesburg KY

Region is awarded $1 million grant

A national community service organization is investing $1 million in eastern Kentucky to help the region recover from the downturn in the coal industry.

The money from the Corporation for National and Community Service will hire 52 full-time workers to recruit volunteers for 16 nonprofit groups on issues including education and poverty.

It is one of the first initiatives of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region – or SOAR – a program established by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers to help eastern Kentucky. Beshear and Rogers also announced Monday $312,000 in technical assistance from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Eastern Kentucky has lost more than 7,000 coal mining jobs since Jan. 1, 2012. The 54-county region has an average household income of less than $30,000 and an average unemployment rate of nearly 11 percent, according to a report from the Rural Policy Research Institute.

The $1 million grant will pay 52 full-time workers a “living stipend” of $12,000. After one year, they will be eligible for a college scholarship of $5,600. The workers will be based in 11 counties, but they will provide services for all of the 54 counties identified as eastern Kentucky by SOAR.

Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said they plan to hire the 52 workers within 60 days. Some will be recent graduates of area colleges. Others will come from outside eastern Kentucky.

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