In the mid 1960s, at the urging of two U.S. presidents, Congress created legislation to address the persistent poverty and growing economic despair of the Appalachian Region. A few statistics tell the story:
- One of every three Appalachians lived in poverty
- Per capita income was 23 percent lower than the U.S. average
- High unemployment and harsh living conditions had, in the 1950s, forced more than 2 million Appalachians to leave their homes and seek work in other regions.
In 1960, the Region's governors formed the Conference of Appalachian Governors to develop a regional approach to resolving these problems. In 1961, they took their case to newly elected President John F. Kennedy, who had been deeply moved by the poverty he saw during campaign trips to West Virginia.
In 1963 Kennedy formed a federal-state committee that came to be known as the President's Appalachian Regional Commission (PARC), and directed it to draw up "a comprehensive program for the economic development of the Appalachian Region." The resulting program was outlined in an April 1964 report that was endorsed by the Conference of Appalachian Governors and Cabinet-level officials.
President Lyndon B. Johnson used PARC's report as the basis for legislation developed with the bipartisan support of Congress. Submitted to Congress in 1964, the Appalachian Regional Development Act (ARDA) was passed early in 1965 by a broad bipartisan coalition and signed into law (PL 89-4) on March 9, 1965.
Appalachia: A Report by the President's Appalachian Regional Commission, 1964
Appalachian Regional Development Act, as codified in Title 40 of the United States Code
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