Alana Watson

Ohio Valley ReSource reporter

Former student intern Alana Watson rejoined WKU Public Radio in August 2020 as the Ohio Valley ReSource economics reporter. Watson is a 2017 graduate of Western Kentucky University and has a B.A. in Broadcasting Journalism. She also has her M.A in Communications from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. Watson is a Nashville native and has interned at WPLN-FM in Nashville. In 2019, she won a Tennessee AP Broadcaster & Editors Award for her sports feature on Belmont University's smallest point guard. While at WKU Public Radio she won Best College Radio Reporter in 2016 from the Kentucky Ap Broadcasters Association for her work on post-apartheid South Africa. Watson was previously at Wisconsin Public Radio as thier 2nd Century Fellow where she did general assignment and feature reporting in Milwaukee.

Ways to Connect

Glynis Board

An analysis of natural gas production in the Ohio Valley finds that the biggest gas producing counties in the region suffered economically over the past decade compared to the rest of the country, although natural gas production was high. 

The report released Wednesday by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit think tank, shows that 22 counties in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania produced more than 90% of the region’s natural gas, but saw declines in their share of income, population, and jobs between 2008 and 2019. Personal income and job growth in those counties lagged far behind the national average, and population declined.

illustration by NPR

After an extraordinary inauguration ceremony marked by heightened security and coronavirus safety measures, President Joe Biden started his first day in office signing executive actions on climate change, immigration, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even before taking the oath of office, Biden was already addressing the nation about his ambitious plans to fight the twin crises of a pandemic and a flagging economy.

“We understand what you are going through,” Biden said in an address about what he called a rescue plan for the nation. “We will never ever give up and we will come back. We’ll come back together.”

 

  

istockphoto

Since the coronavirus pandemic started taking a toll on businesses and employees in March, Kentucky’s unemployment system has been overwhelmed with claims. Although additional unemployment benefits are continuing, and there’s a possibility of system upgrades, many who have applied for benefits still have questions.  

In fact, some Kentuckians have gone without any assistance even after applying for unemployment months ago. Bruce Sauer, a Paducah resident, lost his job as an energy manager for Kentucky public school districts this summer and applied for unemployment in June.

He still hasn’t received any aid. 


Brian Gibson

Owensboro, Kentucky, pastor Brian Gibson spoke at an event in Washington, D.C., Tuesday that combined religion with support for President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the election.  

“How many of you all believe that the people we elected are going to do what’s right tomorrow?” Gibson asked the crowd at Washington’s Freedom Plaza, as flags emblazoned with Trump’s name fluttered behind him. “And they are going to stand against all of the injustice and the fake votes?”

Gibson was among the dozens — perhaps hundreds — of people who traveled from the Ohio Valley to attend events planned to coincide with the Congressional session on January 6 to certify the results of the Electoral College.


Thinkstock

A pair of Kentucky organizations say the recently signed COVID-19 relief package is helpful, but not enough to get many struggling Kentuckians through the remainder of the pandemic. 

The bill that President Trump signed on Sunday includes a $600 per person stimulus check, a $300 per week extension on unemployment benefits until March, and extends the eviction moratorium until January 31, 2021. 

However, Jason Bailey, the executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, doubts the aid will last Kentuckians through the spring and summer. 


Chad Stradwick

The coronavirus relief bill under consideration in Washington would make more money available for small businesses hit hard by the pandemic. Hair stylists and barbers are among those struggling, including Black business owner Chad Stradwick in Wheeling, West Virginia. 

The Ohio Valley ReSource first spoke with Stradwick in May, just when he was reopening Stradwick’s Fade Cave, and we recently got back in touch to see how he’s faring. Since then the small business owner has adjusted to some serious cutbacks. 

The pandemic forced Stradwick to close the shop for about six weeks. He’s had to cut his clientele down to a third. He hasn’t cut any of his older client’s hair since the pandemic started, and he’s changed guidelines to reduce extra people coming into the shop. All of the adjustments have changed the shop’s atmosphere. 

  

Rebecca Kiger

A report from a federal oversight agency shows that over 4,000 patients in the Ohio Valley received high amounts of opioids in 2018 through Medicaid, potentially putting hundreds at risk of addiction and overdose. 

 

The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services focused the report on six Appalachian states in support of their partnership with law enforcement agencies who are in the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force.

 

The IG’s Office found through claims data from Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia that nearly 400 Medicaid patients in the Ohio Valley who received high amounts of opioids are at serious risk of opioid misuse or overdose.

 

Courtesy Bytemarks via Creative Commons

A new federal report shows that West Virginia and Kentucky saw the country’s sharpest declines in personal income last quarter as some forms of federal support during the pandemic expired.

 

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says personal income decreased in every state in the third quarter of 2020, which includes the months of July, August, and September. 

 

The Bureau of Economic Analysis defines personal income as the income received from all sources including labor, owning a home or business, domestic sources, financial assets, and transfers. 

 

Income in West Virginia declined by nearly 30% in the third quarter. In Kentucky, income decreased by a little over 24% and in Ohio it dropped by 16%. 

 

Matthew von Kerczek, an economist for the Bureau of Economic Analysis, explained that there were two contributing factors to the decline in personal income for the nation, both tied to the limits of federal coronavirus support. 

 

  

Erica Peterson

After more than a decade, Kentucky resident Guy Hamilton-Smith voted this year for the first time in the state. Even though he didn’t vote in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic, sending his ballot through the mail was still an emotional moment.

“Not being able to vote for many years was like a really big reminder that in very important and meaningful ways, I was not a member of my community,” he said.

Hamilton-Smith was convicted of possessing child pornography in 2007 when he was 22. He hasn’t been under supervision in 10 years.


DNC video

President-elect Joe Biden is planning to reinforce the nation’s refugee resettlement efforts after a dramatic decrease in admissions under President Trump. A Bowling Green-based refugee resettlement agency is hoping to help many more people once Biden becomes president.

Biden wants to set the refugee admission’s cap to 125,000 and then gradually increase that number over time. Under the Obama administration, 110,000 refugees were allowed to resettle. The Trump administration cut admissions to 15,000, the lowest number of refugees coming into the U.S. on record.

Albert Mbanfu, the executive director of the International Center in Bowling Green, said while Biden’s plan is promising, it won’t have an immediate impact. He said due to the limited number of refugees currently being allowed into the country, the resettlement process has slowed drastically.


Rebecca Kiger

New research shows that deaths due to the mix of substance abuse and suicides known as “diseases of despair” declined slightly in 2018. But the mortality rates throughout the Ohio Valley and Appalachian region are still higher than the national average.

A report from the Appalachian Regional Commission found that overall mortality rates from diseases of despair, which include suicide, liver disease, and overdoses, decreased between 2017 and 2018 — the first decline since 2012.

But the research, done by the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis and Center for Rural Health Research at East Tennessee State University, shows those mortality rates are still disproportionately higher for Appalachia compared to the rest of the United States.


PEW/Associated Press/Ted A. Warren

Much of the Ohio Valley saw historic levels of voter turnout in the 2020 election, as election officials expanded voting options to reduce the risk from coronavirus. 

Compared to the 2016 election, voter turnout for the 2020 general election increased slightly in Kentucky and Ohio, while West Virginia —  which had some of the nation’s lowest turnout in 2016 — saw a substantial jump, bringing the state up to just above the historic national average.   

A data analysis by the Ohio Valley ReSource compared the percentage of registered voters casting ballots this year to turnout from 2016. The analysis shows West Virginia turnout jumped by 5 points to 62.5%, compared to 57.4% in 2016.

 


Some voters in Ohio and Kentucky expressed concern that poll workers were advising them that  “Black Lives Matter” attire was not allowed in polling locations. But according to both state’s laws on the subject, BLM clothing is perfectly fine to wear while casting your ballot. 

 

The voters shared their concerns using the tipline operated by ProPublica’s Electionland project.  

 

Political campaign attire isn’t allowed to be worn at the polls in the Ohio Valley. Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia have laws prohibiting people from wearing anything with a candidate’s name, campaign slogan or logo, or political party affiliation. But elections experts say that doesn’t apply to items bearing “Black Lives Matter.” 

Devine Carama

This fall, Lexington, Kentucky, activist and artist Devine Carama launched a different kind of road trip across his home state. He visited a dozen cities and towns, from Pikeville, in the state’s Appalachian east, to Paducah, near where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi. He carried a sign that said “I’ll walk 400 miles if you promise to vote.”

He wants to bring attention to what he says is the most important election of our lifetimes and to open up conversations about why people do or don’t vote. 

 

“That was another kind of, you know, motivational piece to this,” he said. “How can we inspire people to not just register, but actually go out and vote?”

 

 


Glynis Board

The Appalachian Regional Commission is investing another $43.3 million in communities affected by the downturn of the coal industry. The latest POWER grants from the ARC will support 51 projects in coal-dependent communities, including over $15 million for 20 projects in the Ohio Valley. 

The investments are going towards projects that will support broadband expansion, workforce development, entrepreneurship opportunities, and substance abuse recovery in the region’s coal-impacted communities. 

 


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