FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — An eight-county region of southeastern Kentucky will be among five locations that President Barack Obama will announce this week as "Promise Zones" to help communities tackle poverty.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the counties are Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Perry and Whitley.
Obama's announcement is part of a focus on income inequality in the lead-up to his State of the Union address. Promise Zones are areas where the federal government provides tax incentives and grants. Obama first announced the initiative during last year's State of the Union speech.
"I'm pleased the administration has decided to grant Eastern Kentucky the Promise Zone designation it deserves," McConnell said in a statement Wednesday. "I wrote a letter last year supporting this designation because this region has suffered enormous economic hardship over the last several years. Thousands of jobs have been lost and economic opportunity is extremely limited, particularly because of this administration's hostile policies toward the coal industry."
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear also wrote a letter supporting Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp.'s application for the program.
"As we know, there is no single solution to the many challenges facing eastern Kentucky; rather, any meaningful plan will require a broad combination of efforts to transform the economy of this region," Beshear said in a statement. "The Promise Zone is a very exciting and important component of that path for success that will make an accelerated positive impact on the future of Appalachia."
Obama will announce the first Promise Zone locations on Thursday. The other four are in San Antonio, Texas; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
The White House said Obama believes investing in and rebuilding economically challenged communities is crucial to helping children have a chance at success.