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Mr. MANCHIN. Mr. President, I wish to honor the 50th anniversary of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a vital partnership that has created abundant opportunities for families and communities in my State of West Virginia and across the Appalachian region for five decades. Since its establishment in 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission, known as ARC, has spurred job creation, economic growth and infrastructure improvements, which have helped build a stronger Appalachia. I am proud of all that ARC has done to help improve the region, and I am committed to continue working with the agency to further enhance our communities.
Over the past 50 years, the rural communities of Appalachia have faced unique challenges. After the American industrial revolution, which was driven largely by Appalachian coal and other regional resources, these communities experienced a rapid economic downturn. Since then, ARC has partnered with local and State leaders to make critical investments that have helped rebuild and revitalize the region.
Located in the heart of Appalachia, which is home to more than 25 million Americans, my home State of West Virginia has benefitted considerably from the contributions of ARC. Through its initiatives, ARC has played a critical role in helping lift West Virginians out of economic turmoil and homelessness. Prior to ARC's establishment, 34.6 percent of West Virginians were living in poverty. Today, that number has been cut in half to 17.6 percent. This is telling of ARC's commitment to the strength of our citizens in rural and economically distressed areas.
Also, by investing in our highways, railroads, bridges, as well as water and sewer systems, ARC funding in West Virginia has helped lay the foundation for economic growth in the region. Of West Virginia's 409.6 total eligible miles, 360.4 are open to traffic thanks to help from ARC. Additionally, ARC has made 2,133 strategic nonhighway grants in West Virginia, totaling $387.6 million. These initiatives are vital to improving the quality of life for our residents and growing tourism and business in the State.
The agency's investments have undoubtedly been a source of economic vitality and an engine for job growth. All of the Mountain State's 55 counties added employment at a 4.2-percent faster pace and per capita income at a 5.5-percent faster pace than similar counties that did not receive ARC investments. Per capita income has increased from 71.6 percent of the national average in 1969 to 79.4 percent today.
Nonetheless, there is still work to be done to bring Appalachia to parity with the rest of the Nation. We must continue to invest in the region's educational programs, because the long-term economic success of this region truly rests in the hands of a well-informed, educated and skilled workforce. We must also focus on working together to fight rampant drug use and abuse, a national epidemic that proliferates in the pockets of Appalachia. And of equal importance, we need to continue to invest in industrial infrastructure, broadband expansion, business development, health care, and workforce training.
While Governor, I had the honor of serving as the cochair for the State's representative of ARC and now, as a U.S. Senator from Appalachia, I continue to be a strong supporter of the program. ARC has proven over the past 50 years that a partnership between the Federal, State, and local government can work together to help improve the economic success in regions across West Virginia and Appalachia. It is truly an honor to recognize them today for their work to improve and develop this special American region.
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