The Appalachian Regional Commission announced Thursday another $22.8 million in funding to 33 projects aimed at revitalizing economies in places affected by the decline in the coal industry.
The awards are the latest in the ARC’s POWER Initiative, an acronym for Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization. Congress has funded the initiative for four years specifically to help communities affected by job losses in the Appalachian coal industry.
The grant winners include projects in nine Appalachian states involved in manufacturing, agriculture, technology, and broadband internet development, which follows the pattern of previous grant awards. But the latest awards also reflect a new area of heightened focus for the ARC.
About a quarter of the amount awarded, representing nearly $6 million, goes to organizations in Kentucky and West Virginia focusing on job training for people in substance abuse recovery programs. The region is profoundly affected by the opioid crisis and has some of the nation’s highest rates of addiction and overdose deaths.
This map developed for the ARC by researchers at the University of Chicago shows overdose death rates in the region. In 2016, Appalachian residents were 61 percent more likely to die from a drug overdose than were people in the rest of the country.
Addiction specialists say employment helps in the recovery process. And the addiction crisis is affecting employers who struggle to balance requirements of a drug-free workplace with the realities of recovery from substance use disorder.
“A job is hope, opportunity and dignity,” ARC Executive Director Scott Hamilton said. The commission is looking for ways it can support people in recovery from substance use disorder to enter the workforce.
“We are trying to find out ways that we can open up employment opportunities for folks going through recovery that then also can get to work.”
In one such award, $1 million goes to Fahe Inc. in Berea, Kentucky, for the Second Chance Employment project. Fahe will work with local employers in six eastern Kentucky counties. Businesses can apply to obtain a six-month paid recovery intern, with the understanding that the employee will be hired after satisfactory performance.
“It mitigates the risk for the employer,” said Matt Coburn, Fahe’s senior vice president for strategic programs. “They don’t have to be concerned about investing into training and so forth, and it takes out that potential risk that the employer may feel there is, employing somebody out of recovery.”
People in Kentucky addiction treatment centers will be eligible for the paid internships. Coburn said Fahe plans to place 30 paid interns in as many different businesses or organizations.
“Our goal is one at a time,” he explained. “We want 30 organizations to take one person and that way we can just really build this concept and really change the minds of a lot of these employers.”
Other ARC awards targeting jobs for those in recovery include:
$833,670 to the Housing Development Alliance in Hazard, Kentucky, for paid, on-the-job training opportunities in the residential construction industry.
$1.5 million to Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP) in Hazard for the Eastern Kentucky Addiction Recovery & Training Program. In partnership with Sullivan University, the program offers peer support and training for people in recovery and will certify businesses as “recovery-friendly workplaces.”
$1.7 million to the Fletcher Group in Lexington, Kentucky, for the Recovery, Hope, Opportunity and Resiliency program, which will offer new addiction recovery programs in eastern Kentucky.
$485,000 to Morgantown Sober Living Inc. in Morgantown, West Virginia, for the Reintegrate Appalachia program, which combines addiction recovery, full-time employment, and higher education.
The ARC’s Hamilton said programs such as those will be a funding priority for ARC as it considers proposals for the next round of POWER grants. ARC will host a series of listening sessions this spring across the region on issues related to recovery and the workforce.