ARC has provided special funds for the Region's poorest counties since 1983. At first, the distressed county program focused mainly on providing badly needed public facilities, especially water and wastewater facilities, and on human resource projects such as literacy training. Under pre-1983 guidelines, most of these counties were too poor to qualify for federal aid for these facilities.
In October 2000, the Commission approved the creation of an enhanced program for distressed counties. The program has two parts: a capacity-building effort and a telecommunications and information technology initiative. The capacity-building program is designed to strengthen communities and help organizations fulfill their mission in an effective manner. Elements of the program include:
The telecommunications and information technology program was created to promote the development of telecommunications in Appalachia.The program seeks to stimulate economic growth and improve the standard of living in the Region through technology-related avenues. The four key areas of the program are:
ARC uses an index-based classification system to compare each county in the nation with national averages on three economic indicators—three-year average unemployment rates, per capita market income, and poverty rates. Based on that comparison, each Appalachian county is classified within one of five economic status designations—distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive, or attainment. Distressed counties are those that rank in the worst 10 percent of the nation's counties.
Currently, 80 counties qualify for distressed county status on the basis of low per capita income and high rates of poverty and unemployment.
For more information on distressed counties, including lists of distressed counties by year, see Distressed Counties Grants