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"Restoration of Hope" Part of One Man's Plan for Appalachia

Retired journalist Jim Branscome, a native of Appalachia who covered the War on Poverty, has a plan for reviving the coal region's economy. (Joel Blocker)
Retired journalist Jim Branscome, a native of Appalachia who covered the War on Poverty, has a plan for reviving the coal region's economy. (Joel Blocker)
June 6, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. – With the decline of the coal industry in Appalachia, plenty of ideas are being raised on how to revive the region's economy.

Jim Branscome, a former journalist and retired managing director of Standard and Poor's Financial Services, calls his the Appalachian Homestead Act, an idea he detailed in a recent opinion article in some of the region's largest newspapers.

Branscome proposes using land the federal government would purchase from bankrupted coal companies to help people in Appalachia revive the economy and, in turn, restore hope.

"People not having access to those kinds of things is what keeps an economy in a backwards state and limits the opportunity for people to think there's a chance for advancement for themselves and their children," he states.

Branscome compares his idea to when the West was settled, and he envisions his Appalachian Homestead Act providing people with land to farm and garden, graze livestock and create business opportunities.

He says it may be "today's single best solution to the enduring problem of mountain poverty."

A native of Virginia's coalfields, Branscome graduated from Berea College, became a journalist and covered the War on Poverty. He says for decades the national media has portrayed the region as a place where people are too lazy to work and many are on welfare, obscuring what is really going on.

Branscome says the region's people are good Americans “with some of the best ideas going.”

"And the truth is, can you image anybody that is harder working than a coal miner?” he states. “Can you imagine anybody who's harder working than a farmer, who's scratching out a living in the hills of Appalachia? We're talking about some of the most enterprising people on the face of the earth."

In his opinion article Branscome writes, "…the lack of money and hope is what combines to produce poverty."

He says the critical element of his proposal is getting people in the mood to restore a "sense of pride and progress."

Branscome admits his own experiences over the decades, reporting on a region that remains "at the bottom of the poorest" temper his optimism.

"Despite all of this advocacy, and despite all of the political power and newspaper power that was brought, we still haven't managed to change the fundamental economic basis of those areas and homesteading is one way to do that," he states.

Branscome says he has received an overwhelming response from people to his call for an Appalachian Homestead Act.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY