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January 07, 2024 | Tom Ballard

Just Transition Fund helps coal-impacted communities

The organization is focused on place-based economic development initiatives in three areas: broadband, community economic development, and workforce development.

“We’re on a mission to create opportunity for the communities hardest hit by coal’s decline,” writes an organization named the Just Transition Fund (JTF) on its website.

Established in 2015 by the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Appalachia Funders Network with the support of six other foundation partners, the JTF was initially created to help local organizations secure funding through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) POWER Initiative, the first federal program targeted to communities impacted by the changing coal economy.

Today, as we learned in a conversation with Natalie Roper, JTF’s Director of Special Projects, the organization is focused on place-based economic development initiatives in three areas: broadband, community economic development, and workforce development.

  • Community economic diversification. JTF supports projects that build on community assets to develop promising sectors, such as green manufacturing. To do so, the Fund targets federal programs with the most transformative potential for coal communities. A few priority programs with upcoming deadlines include the ARC’s ARISE and POWER programs and the Department of Energy’s Advanced Energy Manufacturing and Recycling Grant Program.
  • Workforce Development. Coal workers, for example, often have transferable skills to succeed in clean energy jobs such as battery manufacturing. A few priority programs with upcoming deadlines include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Ready Workforce program and Phase 2 of the Economic Development Administration’s Recompete program.
  • Broadband Infrastructure. Today, roughly one-third of residents in the rural and tribal coal communities JTF serves cannot access high-speed internet, a fundamental non-starter for economic development and local climate and clean energy solutions. To change this, the Fund is helping its community partners access transformative levels of broadband federal funding. A few priority programs with upcoming deadlines include the National Telecommunications Information Administration’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program.

How successful have these initiatives been? JTF provided $1.75 million in grants in the last year alone that leveraged more than $100 million in federal funding. That funding will create more than 21,000 jobs and 210 new small businesses; support more than 1,800 low-income entrepreneurs and workers; and connect 52,000 households to broadband.

In 2022, JTF launched its Federal Access Center (FAC), a one-stop resource hub to help communities with a big idea revitalize their local economy by leveraging public investment. The FAC provides both grants and technical assistance to ensure the most innovative and effective projects in coal communities – in sectors ranging from outdoor tourism and clean energy to sustainable agriculture and mine land reclamation – secure the level of federal investment needed to revitalize local economies.

“We can provide rapid response grants of up to $100,000 for 501©(3) organizations and local governments to apply for federal funds,” Roper said, adding that those applications for JTF funding can be turned around in an average of two weeks.

These flexible grants cover a range of costs, such as hiring a grant writer or meeting private matching fund requirements. JTF also offers technical assistance to help communities navigate the complex federal landscape and review the federal proposal before submission.

In addition, for communities that are not yet ready to apply for federal grants, JTF helps to build the pipeline of competitive community economic development and workforce projects. Through its “Coal Communities Get Ready! Challenge,” launched in April 2023, JTF selects a cohort of organizations with innovative ideas that can scale through public support. Each awardee will receive a $150,000 grant and customized technical assistance to build readiness to apply for and manage federal funding.


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