A commission run by the wife of Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin would receive $1 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Gayle Conelly Manchin co-chairs the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development partnership between the federal government and 13 Appalachian states. She works in partnership with a co-chairman from one of the states in the region (currently Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam) to lead the commission and was appointed to the post by President Joe Biden and unanimously confirmed by the Senate in April.
The $1 billion distributed over five years, which was originally part of Biden’s American Jobs Plan infrastructure proposal that preceded the bipartisan bill, would fund the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative. The program provides grants to communities affected by job losses in the coal industry.
In a May statement, Gayle Conelly Manchin said that the $1 billion would help the commission “to more adequately meet the overwhelming needs of communities impacted by job losses resulting from the decline in the coal industry. These ARC grants will be instrumental to the long-term diversification and economic growth in Appalachia.”
The funding boost from the bill would mark a significant increase in funds for the program. According to the commission, the POWER initiative “has invested over $238 million in 293 projects touching 353 counties across Appalachia since 2015.” The projects funded so far have been most concentrated in southwestern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.
Biden's proposed fiscal 2022 budget also requested $235 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission, including $72 million for the POWER initiative.
Gayle Conelly Manchin has a long resume with experience in community development projects, including as an educator and director of Fairmont State University's Community Service Program and as West Virginia’s secretary of education and the arts under Republican Gov. Jim Justice.
Sen. Joe Manchin, considered the most centrist member of the Senate Democratic caucus and a key swing vote for Democrats, was part of a bipartisan group of senators who crafted the bill, which includes $550 billion new spending over five years.
Manchin’s office did not immediately respond to a request to comment about the bill's funds going toward the commission. But it said in a statement on his wife’s confirmation to the post that the commission “is a vital partner to all those working and living in Appalachia, and I know that Gayle will bring the experience and skills necessary to successfully lead the commission as it serves the region.”
It is not unheard of for spouses of powerful lawmakers to hold Senate-appointed roles. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, was secretary of transportation under then-President Donald Trump.
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Original Author: Emily Brooks
Original Location: Infrastructure bill includes $1B for commission run by Manchin’s wife