Yesterday, Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) introduced H.R. 5294, the Treating Barriers to Prosperity Act of 2018. The legislation will help Pennsylvania communities by making it clear that funding provided through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) can be used to address the impacts of opioid addiction on workforce development and economic growth. Specifically, the bill allows for ARC funding to be used to facilitate the sharing of best practices to address the opioid crisis. Further, it designates funds to support programs designed to eliminate or reduce barriers to workforce development, attract and retain healthcare services, businesses, and workers, and develop relevant infrastructure, including broadband which can be used for telemedicine treatment.
Barletta, following the introduction of the bill:
“Rampant opioid addiction continues to plague our nation, with Pennsylvania being one of the states suffering most. There isn’t a community in our country that hasn’t been touched by this epidemic. It is a national crisis that must be met with a robust response. One aspect of this response is employment. Those suffering from addiction have significant barriers to jobs. Gainful employment is inseparable from treatment. A job helps to bring back meaning to life and structure to the aimlessness of addiction. The Treating Barriers to Prosperity Act will give the tools necessary to attack this epidemic head on and help find solutions for the Americans struggling with addiction and their families.”
The ARC, specifically, was created in the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965. The primary function of ARC is to provide economic development assistance to a 13-state region. The region includes all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia. ARC is a federal-state governmental agency consisting of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chairman. Project proposals must originate in, and be approved by, a state. The Commission allocates the level of funding to each state.
Last year, the ARC commissioned two reports specifically examining potential health challenges to economic development in Appalachia. In August 2017, the ARC issued “Health Disparities in Appalachia” and “Appalachian Diseases of Despair.” These reports detail the health and economic disparities in Appalachia:
For example, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, citing a report released in September 2017, noted that opioids are responsible for 20 percent of the workforce decline for men and 25 percent for women. The Chamber further noted that addressing the opioid epidemic is an integral component of workforce strategy.
As a result, the opioid crisis has created challenges to spurring economic development and job creation in already distressed communities.