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RAM Exposes Massive Poverty In Wise Virginia

Update July 13, 2002

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The region was shocked in 2000 at the record setting turnout for the Remote Area Medical (RAM) at Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise, Virginia. Over 1800 people would attend while over a thousand were turned away. This beat the previous record of over 1500 in Mountain City, Tennessee. In 2001 the record would be broken again, even before September 11.

What is wrong here? The ARC has pumped $56 million into Wise; we have three shiny, new four-lane highways (US 23, 19, and 58), and hundreds of new "phone jobs" at low-pay while the taxpayers shell out huge subsidies. Even more absurd is this very airport was awarded a $2 million in grants to buy new equipment. According to our local congressman Rick Boucher, corporate executives won't come to Wise because their private planes can't land here without the ILS equipment. Sure Rick, can you spell "pork?" Why hasn't this worked anywhere else?

In 2001 a new record was set as RAM returned to Wise: same old poverty despite claims of hundreds new jobs (answering the phone for $6 an hour) were created. Is something wrong here? When are we going to see some results for the billions of tax dollars poured into Southwest Virginia? How do we have 3rd world style poverty in America while the taxpayers shell out millions in industrial development, shell buildings, pork barrel road projects, and corporate welfare of all kinds?

When I talked to Washington County Supervisors on May 30, 2001 they were very honest on what the regions problems were: lack of an educated workforce and NAFTA. They also attributed many of our social ills, including an explosion of drug arrests, family breakup, etc. on poverty. Yet none of these people will say this publicly while the region continues to be ranked last in educational attainment.

We spend a fortune on schools in this region and I know plenty of college graduates who can't get a job bagging groceries. Yet while the region down sizes schools Virginia wastes its time on mandating the posting of "In God we trust" in state schools claiming this will solve everything. OK...

In a similar report in the Kingsport Times-News

Stan Brock, former co-star of the "Wild Kingdom" television show, bush pilot and founder of RAMVC, said the Health Expedition had registered more than 400 patients by 11 a.m. Friday. "This is our 268th expedition," Brock said of RAMVC, which was founded in 1985 to provide free medical care to underserved and remote areas across the world.

"When you come to this expedition, you don't get a diagnosis. You get treatment." Brock noted that demand for services at RAMVC expeditions is high and said the Wise County expedition in 2000 represented "the heavy side" of such demand - an average of more than 600 a day last year compared to a typical demand of about 250 to 300 at other health expeditions across the United States.

"Unfortunately you do have to get here early to get services," Brock said. "The vast majority are here for dental and eye care, and most of those are adults. There aren't any programs, other than a few for children, to help provide free dental and eye care." Sykes Enterprises, in the nearby Lonesome Pine Regional Business and Technology Park, opened much of its parking lot for the three-day event to help ease traffic and parking congestion experienced at last year's event.

Lonesome Pine Airport operator Bob Spera said the crowds began building long before the expedition clinic was set to open at 6:30 a.m. "I was out here at 4 this morning, and there were people waiting here," said Spera. "It's amazing how many people come to these kinds of things because there's nothing else around here for them." "We served almost 2,000 people last year.

Yet the fact is most of these people do work but are so under-paid and under-employed they can't afford glasses, check-ups, or dental care. They can't really afford the overpriced housing in much of this region either. Sykes is another "phone company" that was supposed to bring some big booming jobs to the region. These are not "technology jobs" just poverty wage service jobs that pay about the same as Wall-Mart.

When these companies are asked what their pay scales are, they refuse to answer. When I asked their employees, I was informed by most that discussing pay issues was cause for termination. According to Washington County, Virginia officials 73% of the new jobs in Virginia are services; translation, more children like Ginger Metz below. Some officials were happy about a spa distributor moving into a local industrial park. In fact many of those who move into these costly taxpayer subsidized boondoggles often move from a few miles away or across the county line to get those juicy taxpayer handouts.

So here we go, less welfare, higher taxes, same old poverty. With the nation's economy in another slump, what does the future hold for our region? The real solution is higher wages, not paying whole industries to move to Mexico than paying millions in subsidies for "phone jobs." Taxpayers and citizens should demand better than this.

Lewis Loflin


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