Last night’s Gubernatorial election in Virginia went about as expected, although the Republican challenger was a bit closer than projected. Looking at the voting acrss the State, the more populaous and prosperous areas voted overwhelmingly Democrat, while rural counties and the southwestern mountain are voted heavily Republican.
There are a lot of similarities between those areas and the area in this article in Kentucky. Poor white folks voting for their own misery… wonder when these folks are going to finally wake up and realize their Tea Party representatives don’t give a damn about their welfare.
Republican Congressman Hal Rogers brought so many federal dollars home to eastern Kentucky’s coal country, he was crowned “Prince of Pork.”
Now that spigot has been turned off, just when his district might actually need it the most.
Competition from natural gas, cheaper coal, and environmental regulations have hastened the demise of the mining industry here, already in decline. More than 6,200 eastern Kentucky miners have been laid off since July 2011. There are now fewer coal jobs here than in 1920, when the great-grandfathers of today’s miners wielded shovels and pick-axes.
But sequestration—a series of across-the-board spending cuts that many Tea Party Republicans have come to embrace—and other austerity measures have accelerated the economic free fall. Unemployment benefits to laid-off miners are shrinking; fewer meals are getting delivered to homebound seniors; and there’s less money to help workers retool for new jobs. Beginning Friday, food stamps will be cut by an average of $36 per month for a family of four.
It’s yet another blow to struggling Appalachian mining towns like Harlan, where the mayor estimates that 15% of the town’s residents have moved out in the past year, searching for work elsewhere.
Unsold guns are piling up in pawnshops. Even the local mortician is feeling the pinch: grieving relatives are downgrading from hardwood coffins to two-gauge steel, and ordering five baskets of flowers instead of twenty or thirty. “If I don’t sell to the coal people, I don’t sell,” one Harlan businessman explained.
Rogers has been one of the few Republicans to slam sequestration as devastating, unworkable, and unrealistic. Unless Congress decides otherwise, $109 billion in cuts will continue every year until 2021—a budget that Rogers must implement as chair of the House Appropriations Committee. But many of his Republicans colleagues have embraced the $85 billion in cuts this year as guaranteed spending cuts. It’s unlikely that budget negotiations that started this week in Congress will reverse all of them.
The incremental nature of sequestration —slow rolling, local, and scattered unevenly nationwide—has made the belt-tightening hard to measure and easy to dismiss since the cuts took effect in March. “The people that I’ve talked to seem to be doing well,” Missouri Rep. Billy Long said in April. “In fact, when I got out in restaurants here in town, people come up to me. They want to see more sequestration, not less.”
Even some Democrats believe the White House overhyped the cuts when it made dire predictions about their impact, some of which didn’t pan out. “I think they probably went over the top in terms of saying that the consequences were going to be horrible. The lines in the airports aren’t long, the world hasn’t changed overnight,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
But Harlan sees long lines. They are in the unemployment office, filled with out-of-work miners chasing any rumor of jobs left to be had. A TV in the waiting area explains how federal cuts have chipped away at the safety net most had hoped they would never need.
“Sequestration…What does that mean for you? Your Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits that begin on or after March 31, 2013 must be reduced 10.7% for each week of unemployment through September 2013.”
“Sequestration is a terrible way to do business. I’ve said it since day one. It slices the good with the bad, and removes the duty of Congress to ensure vital programs, like Head Start and various grant programs receive adequate support,” Rogers told MSNBC. “Couple those deep cuts with the rapid loss of coal mining jobs in eastern Kentucky and we’re now facing an economic superstorm.”
For Donnie Reeves, 40, each passing week of unemployment means less security. He lost his mining job in March, just weeks before his wife Tiffanie lost her job as a teaching assistant. “After December, it’s no more unemployment, no more nothing,” he said in August.
“I would have to work a minimum of three jobs, each 40 hours a week at minimum wage. That’s to keep the lights on. No groceries, no gas,” said Donnie, who made $70,000 in his best year.
Donnie spent the summer retraining for a factory job through an emergency federal program spared—this time—from sequestration’s axe. Tiffanie found a job helping unemployed Kentuckians like her husband find work.
But with two teenage kids and their hometown’s economy in tatters, the Reeves know that their future may lie outside Harlan, leaving behind a family rooted here for more than 120 years.
“Tiff,” he told her last spring, when they were first considering the idea, “we’re giving up.”…