Roundup: Maine’s Food Deserts

Maine residents most in need of food assistance live farthest from SNAP-participating markets • A widow's black-lung plea • Suing over river management • To be, or not to be...rural • China making offer many rural residents can't refuse

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Maine residents who are most likely to qualify for food assistance through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are also the ones most likely to live farthest from a market that participates in the program, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

The study, released earlier this year, shows that households in rural Main ZIP codes are 1.3 times more likely to receive SNAP assistance. Such rural households also live an average of two miles farther from the closest SNAP outlet.

The map shows the average distance to an outlet that participates in SNAP. Darker areas have longer average distances.

More than 1 million New England residents live in rural areas and small towns, the report says. Maine accounts for 43% of New England’s rural residents.

The rural poverty rate in New England rose from 10.5% to 12.6% in 2001, the report says. That’s 2.1 points higher than the region’s overall poverty rate.

In Maine, the state with the highest percent of rural population in the nation (61.3%) the rural poverty rate was more than 15% in 2011.

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The widow of the miner featured in an award-winning journalism series on the federal black-lung disease program has written to the secretary of Labor asking him to get on board with congressional efforts to reform the black-lung program.

“I personally invite you to read this report [“Breathless and Burdened”] and get to know my husband, Gary, and our story,” wrote Mary Fox to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in a letter dated March 4. “After that I respectfully ask that you and the Department of Labor join forces with motivated senators and congressmen who have ben enlightened by this same report, to enact necessary laws preventing this unjustly aggressive ‘too big to fail’ arrogance from entering a courtroom ever again.”

The report, created by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News, revealed that one of the nation’s premiere coal-company law firms withheld evidence in court that might have affected a decision to reject the black-lung claim of Mary Fox’s husband, Gary. Gary died of black lung disease after the court decision. The series also called attention to the methods of doctors at Johns Hopkins University who conducted exams that seemed to favor coal-companies over miners.

The Labor Department announced changes in its black-lung program last month that could help miners with their claims. But a February 28 letter from seven members of Congress say one of those changes would actually make it harder for miners to get medical reports – an issue that was at the heart of Gary Fox’s black-lung claim.

“Changing this evidentiary standard in this manner would make it all-but-impossible for miners to receive copies of medical reports that were prepared by coal operators’ doctors or their experts,” the lawmakers wrote.

The legislators who sent the letter, all Democrats, were Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin (both of West Virginia), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Robert Casey (Pennsylvania) and Representatives Nick Rahall (West Virginia) George Miller (California) and Joe Courtney (Connecticut).

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Farmers and landowners in the Missouri River basin have filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the way the agency manages the river.

The suit, brought by more than 200 plaintiffs, says the Corps “de-emphasized flood control over the past decade in favor of protecting fish and wildlife along the waterway,” reports the Kansas City Star.

The decision led to floods and the unconstitutional taking of lands, the suit says.

In 2011 massive flooding along the upper reaches of the Missouri River basin were the result of the Corps’ overemphasis on protecting wildlife habitat over other priorities, the suit says.

 

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In Vermont, citizens get to vote on a lot of things, including, it seems, on whether they are rural or urban.

Voters in Shaftsbury voted this week to maintain the status of the town as “rural,” even though a planning commission recommended moving the town to an “urban” designation.

The vote has nothing to do with changing the population of the city or putting in more traffic lights. It’s a designation that affects how towns approve zoning by-law changes.

Shaftsbury is a town of about 3,800 in Bennington County, in the southwest corner of the state. For those who are keeping score, the county is nonmetropolitan by federal standards, as well.

The official vote was 242 for being “urban” and 493 for being “rural.”

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Here’s an official take on China’s urbanization push, which is displacing … err, relocating … millions of rural residents:

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a bold plan on Wednesday to turn more rural people into city dwellers and improve their quality of life.

Urbanization is the sure route to modernization and an important basis for integrating the urban and rural structures, Li said in a government work report delivered at the opening of the annual session of the National People’s Congress.

China will grant urban residency to around 100 million rural people who have moved to cities, rebuild rundown city areas and villages inside cities that are home to 100 million people, and guide the urbanization of around 100 million rural residents of the central and western regions in cities there, Li said.

Official permission to live in an urban area may allow formerly rural residents (who already live in the cities, mind you) to get medical insurance and send their kids to school. Other measures will encourage more rural migration to cities.

 

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