Recovery from the COVID-19 crisis is going to be a tough slog for all of us, but It’s going to be especially tough for communities, businesses, and people who have already been left behind. This challenge also has a regional twist. Poverty and economic distress exist across the US, but certain regions, such as Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, suffer from deeper historical patterns of discrimination, disinvestment, and neglect. The creation of regional commissions focused on these areas has been one effort to combat historic patterns of economic distress, and the oldest regional body, the Appalachian Regional Commission, has been operating since the mid-1960s. More recently, a host of other ARC-like commissions has been chartered. These include the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), the Denali (Alaska) Commission, and the Northern Border Regional Commission, among others. (Here’s a map of existing Commissions).
These historically challenged regions are now facing even greater peril, as they are among the hardest hit by COVID-19. They are going to require extensive investment and support on the road to recovery. Revitalizing and jump-starting the work of regional Commissions can and should be one tool in this effort. We know that the existing Commission investments have worked, as attested to by long-term assessments of ARC programs, for example. In addition, ARC and other partners have recently done great work in assisting coal-dependent communities via the POWER program. Yet, beyond ARC and DRA, most of these Commissions operate with tiny budgets or exist only on paper.
It’s time to change this, and reboot the regional Commission process. All of these authorities should be revitalized and used to help bolster regional recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, we should focus special resources on the Southeast Crescent Regional Commission (SCRC), which serves a seven state region spanning southward from Virginia to Mississippi. This heavily rural region encompasses much of the heart of the South, and is, along with Appalachia, the US’s largest contiguous region of concentrated and persistent poverty. COVID-19 is only serving to deepen the region’s economic challenges. A new effort to reboot the SCRC is underway, and it deserves a chance to succeed. We need the SCRC, and all of these regional commissions, to be fully operational and key investors in economic recovery and revitalization.