Assessing effect federal aid had on Appalachia's poor

Appalachia, a California-sized region stretching from parts of New York to Mississippi, with a population of some 20 million was one of the prime targets on the War on Poverty. What effect did the flow of federal dollars have on the region?

Francis Moravitz, director of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a federally funded organization created to aid development of the area, says the results were positive. Some $2.7 billion was spent on highways and $1.5 billion in other programs, including some 400 health clinics and 600 vocational projects and water lines.

Poverty rates were about cut in half from 1960 to 1976, but then, they were higher to begin with than most parts of the United States.

During the 1960s about 1.1 million people left the area. During the '70s another million left - but 1 million or so arrived (some of them coming back). Today some of the jobless from Michigan, Ohio, and other states originally from Appalachia are returning to the area where they have relatives.

Some of the progress is seen in faces, says Mr. Moravitz. ''One of the greatest tragedies (in the mid-'60s) was the almost gaunt look of dazed children ,'' he recalls. ''The Appalachian child today, I've observed, is very vital.''

But much remains to be done, he says - especially in some 67 of the 397 Appalachian counties that have shown few signs of progress. Health care, especially for children, is still inadequate in many counties, says Moravitz. Many families still rely on wells and surface water often flows into aquifers, causing contamination problems.

''There's been a lot of progress made,'' he says. But, he adds, with unemployment rising and support for the poor being cut back, ''The poor might get poorer.''

The ARC itself may soon fall victim to the budget cuts. President Reagan wants to stop its federal funding now; Congress wants to terminate it over a period of years.

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