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.

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Alana Watson

Mammoth Cave National Park is anticipating a busy summer season as COVID-19 restrictions are coming to an end. Park officials are encouraging people to plan ahead before they visit.

Ranger guided cave tours are already back up and running for the 2021 summer season. Mammoth Cave had opted out of the ranger tours and offered self-guided tours during the worst times of the pandemic.

The National Park in south-central Kentucky also offers activities outside of the caves, like horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing, and ziplining. 

“We always like to say that Mammoth Cave is two parks in one," said Molly Schroer, public information officer for Mammoth Cave National Park.

Courtesy Bytemarks via Creative Commons

In a letter sent to Governor Andy Beshear, seventeen Kentucky organizations are urging him to commit to keeping federal unemployment benefits that are set to expire in September.

Beshear has indicated that he would not pull Kentucky from the federal program, known as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, that provides extra 300-dollar weekly payments for unemployed workers. 

Governors in Indiana, Tennessee, and Ohio have decided not to continue with the extra federal payments. 

The coalition of labor, health, education and community organizations say the benefits still serve as a critical role in recovering Kentucky’s economy. Some of those organizations include the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Kentucky Voices for Health, Forward Kentucky, Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, and the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.


Thinkstock

Kentucky’s workforce diversity is growing, but there are still significant incomes disparities between racial and ethnic groups, according to a new report by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE). 

Black, Asian, and Hispanic workers in the state earn less than white workers over a lifetime, even with an advance college degree. The Council’s president said that in some cases, minority workers need to work two lifetimes to match the income of a white peer. 

“These inequities betray our values as a state and diminish the hard work of too many Kentuckians,” said CPE President Aaron Thompson in a press release. “If we want to encourage college-going and build a workforce for the future, we need to make sure all workers receive the financial rewards that befit their education.”


Kevin & Remi Mays

Colleges and universities across the country recently celebrated graduates from the spring class of 2021. Those degree-holders are entering a job market that looks to be improving, given the wide availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines.

That’s very different from the job market seen by those who graduated last year, as an unchecked pandemic was wreaking havoc on the economy. Many graduates from the class of 2020 have had their job prospects curtailed by the pandemic and are still figuring out how to move forward. 

One class of 2020 graduate from Western Kentucky University has been focusing on the positives during what she called her unexpected hiatus. 

  

Corinne Boyer

Roughly a million students attend college around the Ohio Valley, and the student-age population has an especially high rate of coronavirus infection. That’s why some public health advocates say schools should require that students be vaccinated. 

However, a review by the Ohio Valley ReSource found that of 400 colleges and universities in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, only three have indicated that they will mandate COVID-19 vaccinations this fall.

The age group with the highest share of COVID-19 infections is under 30. About a fifth of all U.S. cases have occurred in people ages 18 to 29. In late April the American College Health Association, an organization that works to improve the health of college students and college campuses, recommended that schools make COVID-19 immunization mandatory for students. 


Alana Watson

A new all-inclusive playground that allows children with disabilities and special needs to play alongside their peers is now open to the public in Bowling Green.

The Play and Learn Village was created to allow children of all abilities to play together without any boundaries. Bowling Green Parks and Recreation partnered with the city of Bowling Green, PNC Bank, United Way, and the state of Kentucky to provide the community with the playground. 

The city’s parks and recreation director, Brent Belcher said the project has been in the works for the last 40 years. 

The village is wheelchair-accessible, sensory play, and playground equipment specifically for children with disabilities. Playground equipment supplier, PlayPros, helped designed the playground and provided accessible equipment.

 


Ryland Barton

Election reform efforts to expand ballot access made little headway around the Ohio Valley, as only one state in the region made voting easier, according to a voting rights expert. 

 

Several state governments around the nation are making major changes to voting laws following the 2020 presidential election.  

 

Kentucky is the only state in the Ohio Valley that passed significant voting changes. Lawmakers in the state passed a bipartisan election reform bill, House Bill 574, that made a few pandemic-era voting changes permanent, with some adjustments.

 

 


A left-leaning public policy group in Kentucky says a student loan debt plan from President Biden would have a huge impact on the state’s college graduates. 

new analysis from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy finds that 80 percent of Kentucky student loan borrowers could have all of their loans forgiven if a plan becomes a reality. 

Student loan forgiveness has been on Biden’s agenda since announcing his presidential bid. Because of the increased attention to the student debt crisis, the president is reportedly working to clarify his power to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt. Originally, his goal was to cancel $10,000 in student loan debt.


Liam James Doyle/NPR

 The American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11 provided the nation with a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus, including funds to state and local governments, but local officials around the Ohio Valley say they aren’t yet sure just how the money can be applied.  

The aid package includes $350 billion set aside for state and local governments to help communities recover from the pandemic, with about $17.5 billion for Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. Now the question is how those communities will put the money to use.

Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said in a press release that she was proud of her colleagues for listening to governors, mayors, workers, tribes, and others who were in need of aid.

Glynis Board I Ohio Valley ReSource

The federal program known as the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) is resuming, and has been extended by the American Rescue Plan Act recently signed into law by President Joe Biden. 

Multiple state organizations report that the extension will significantly help Kentucky families and communities by providing extra nutrition assistance. The help comes at a time when one in four Kentucky children are suffering from food insecurity. 

Some families have already received their P-EBT payments, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Distribution of those payments began on March 15, and will continue through June 25 to cover back payments. The payments will also cover October 2020 through the end of the current school year. 


Facebook/Warren County Regional Jail

When the first coronavirus cases were reported last year, Warren County, Kentucky, Jailer Stephen Harmon knew there was going to be a COVID-19 outbreak in his jail. It was just a matter of when.  

“We tried our best to keep it from happening,” he said. “However with this many people in a fairly small spot, we knew that that was going to happen at some point so we responded to it as best we could.” 

New cleaning regimens and masks helped the jail prevent an outbreak until December, when Harmon’s prediction came true. More than 300 inmates and about 45 staffers tested positive before the outbreak was contained. 

 

  

Adam Schultz

The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to cripple the economy in the Ohio Valley and President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats are pursuing his plan for economic recovery.

Biden’s economic priorities include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, forgiving student loan debt, and undoing some Trump-era tax cuts. But Biden’s immediate focus is on his “American Rescue Plan” for economic recovery and ending the pandemic. Last month Biden laid out his two-step plan for rescue and recovery. 

“The crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight,” Biden said while giving an address about the plan. “We have to act, and we have to act now.”Regional economists have weighed in on what the Ohio Valley needs and many are in agreement that the region is in need of financial aid, job creation and security, and a national plan to end the pandemic.


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. 


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