The Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus (MDGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders throughout the eight-state Delta region, which stretches from southern Illinois down to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Delta Group Buys Delta Queen, Plans to Return Historic Boat to Traveling the Rivers

Posted on February 20, 2015 at 04:07 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus is greatly encouraged at prospects for passing legislation permitting the historic steamboat, the Delta Queen, to resume traveling on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and their tributaries, due to two major forces for progress:

Strong support from both parties in Congress for this legislation, and

The purchase of the boat by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company (DQSC) on Feb. 18. The DQSC reportedly plans to complete renovations and upgrades needed to get the boat ready to travel again as it did for decades in its earlier history.

DQSC is led by Cornel Martin of New Orleans, and his group includes steamboat experts, engineers and long-time supporter of the historic riverboat that plied the waters of the Mississippi and her tributaries for decades. The new owners plan to make extensive renovations and repairs to the boat, because it has been sitting docked at Chattanooga, Tennessee for six years and like any machinery that has not been in use for a long period, it will require upgrades to get her in shape to travel again.

DQSC, Inc. had been trying to buy the boat for quite some time, and the purchase was completed on Feb. 18, 2015, from the Xanterra corporation. Xanterra is an international cruise ship corporation and did not have any plans to return the riverboat to traveling on America’s inland waterways, so the transfer of ownership to the Delta-based DQSC removed a major obstacle to the boat resuming its travels.

The Delta Queen has a long and complex history that is explained and analyzed in this newsletter.

Delta Heritage tourism has great potential for the region’s economic development: We will discuss the Save the Delta Queen campaign at our Delta Grassroots Caucus conference in Little Rock, Arkansas on May 26-27, 2015, along with a broad range of other Delta economic initiatives.

The Tuesday, May 26 session is at the Arkansas State Capitol from 4 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.

The Wednesday, May 27 session is at the Great Hall of the Clinton Library from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

REGISTRATION for May 26-27, 2015 Delta conference:

You register by sending in the registration fees.

Registration is $125 each for those who have not paid their annual membership dues for the calendar year 2015, or $100 for those who have paid their dues.

Please make out the registration fees to “Delta Caucus” and mail to:

Delta Caucus

5030 Purslane Place

Waldorf, MD 20601

For more information contact Lee Powell, Executive Director, Delta Grassroots Caucus, (202) 360-6347 or leepowell@delta.comcastbiz.net

Legislation is needed to allow the DQ to travel on the rivers once again:

The US House of Representatives passed legislation in the form of an exemption from the Safety of Life at Sea Act (SOLAS) by a wide margin in 2013, recognizing that the boat has an exemplary safety record. The SOLAS Act was intended to over oceangoing vessels, not a riverboat like the Delta Queen that is never more than minutes from land, as the House recognized in passing the bill.

The bill was unfortunately stuck in the Senate committee for most of 2014, but the boat’s supporters finally succeeded in getting it out of committee last August. But it did not get out of the Senate commerce committee until near the end of the session last year.

There was not time to get the bill to a vote on the Senate floor, so the only remaining legislative vehicle was the difficult strategy of a unanimous consent request, which of course can be blocked by only a couple or even one Senator-and indeed that is what happened.

We learned that the unanimous consent was blocked by a US Senator who was from a state that is not located in the Delta region or the Ohio River region, but a competing steamboat company has a plant in his state. The other steamboat company was concerned that the Delta Queen would be a competitor, although we believe that there is plenty of room for several more steamboats on the Mississippi, with the increasing popularity of river cruises and the economy making a solid recovery.

Additional layers of safety requirements added to the Senate version of the bill: In getting the bill out of committee, supporters of the legislation were asked if they had objections to adding a requirement that each year, 10% of the parts of the boat that are made of wood could be altered by adding non-combustible materials.

While this was not necessary given the boat’s safety record, on the other hand it did no harm and you can never have too much safety precautions, so the supporters were and are fine with this added requirement. This amendment utterly demolishes any accusation that the boat has any safety concerns.

Please understand one fundamental point: the Delta Queen has a superb safety record, and this issue has absolutely nothing to do with any legitimate concern about safety. The source of the utterly false allegation that the boat is a “terrible fire hazard” is the lobbyist for a competing steamboat company who sees the Delta Queen will be a business competitor if it resumes traveling on the Mississippi.

If the lobbyist wants to oppose the bill with facts, he is welcome to do so. But to spew falsehoods about a perfectly safe boat as part of a lobbying effort epitomizes Washington, DC at its worst. A historic icon should not be sacrificed to a narrow-minded lobbying effort with a vested business interest.

The Mississippi used to have more steamboats traveling on it before the recession, and the economy can support several more steamboats-not just the Delta Queen, but the American Queen and several more. The competitor should refrain from making false allegations and we should let both boats compete, and the free enterprise system and the customers in the market will decide which one is better.

This year Congressional supporters of the Delta Queen informed us that similar legislation will be introduced this year-probably within the next several weeks. So we plan to move it through quickly enough so that it does not run out of time, which is essentially what happened last year.

We will keep you posted as to when the bill is introduced: please remind your Congressional offices that we must not let this get lost in the shuffle again this year.

We have often encountered the problem that we will ask Senate offices if they support the legislation, and all of them from our eight states and indeed almost all across the country are in favor of the bill. But if you ask if they are doing anything to bring the bill to a vote, the answer was that they were busy with larger-scale initiatives and they were not able to focus on it yet. If that lack of focus continues the bill will die and we will lose a historic icon.

Yes, it is true that this is an issue about a national historic treasure, but it is not a large-scale issue. But this is a meritorious, non-controversial issue, and it is no excuse to not bother with it just because it is not on a large scale.

BULLET TALKING POINTS ABOUT DELTA QUEEN’S EXEMPLARY SAFETY RECORD

The Delta Queen has an exemplary safety record, having been safely operated for no less than 80 years when it used to travel America’s inland waterways. The legislation is supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Seafarers International Union, the American Maritime Officers, and many other distinguished organizations, and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.

The Safety of Life at Seas law was intended to be applied to oceangoing cruise vessels, not a riverboat like the Delta Queen that is never more than minutes from land and does not present the safety challenges that vessels plying the high seas must confront.

The boat has a steel hull, and in its recent history the managers removed over 50 tons of wood from the upper parts of the boat and replaced it with steel and other non-combustible materials. There is some wood in the upper parts of the boat, but there are state of the art sprinkler systems installed and many other safety precautions.

DQSC plans even more upgrades and improvements, including buying new boilers and many other renovations.

The US Coast Guard has to inspect large passenger vessels including the Delta Queen before it is allowed to travel, and the Coast Guard passed the Delta Queen year after year in its earlier history. The bottom line is that it is simply not possible for the Delta Queen to be a safety hazard, because the Coast Guard will not permit it to travel unless it passes rigorous safety inspections.

Three key benefits of the Delta Queen to remember when discussing this with your Congressional offices:

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Arkansas Passes Health Care Funding: Congrats to Gov. Hutchinson & Legislature

Posted on February 09, 2015 at 02:33 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus commends Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) and the Arkansas legislature for re-authorizing funding for Arkansas’ health insurance plan, in which more than 223,000 newly eligible adults were approved for insurance coverage.

The Arkansas House of Representatives passed the measure by 82 to 16 following upon the Senate’s passage of the Arkansas plan, which is being considered as a role model for many other states.

Expanding health care for underserved areas will be among the key themes of our May 26-27, 2015 Delta conference in Little Rock. Schedule, registration fees, and group hotel information are below in this email after the summary of the Arkansas health insurance plan.

“The Delta Grassroots Caucus praises Gov. Hutchinson’s leadership on this vital issue, as well as so many legislators from both parties, including House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia), Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, (R-Searcy), Sen. David Sanders (R-Little Rock), Rep. Mark McElroy (D-Tillar) and many others,” said Lee Powell, Caucus director.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Benefits of Arkansas’ innovative health insurance program

  2. Schedule for the May 26-27, 2015 Delta conference at the Arkansas Capitol and Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Library

  3. Key issues for May 26-27 conference

  4. Registration fees for spring Delta conference

  5. Group hotel

Gov. Hutchinson requested the formation of a health care task force to review what improvements and reforms are needed, such as work responsibility requirements assuring that all people on the plan should either be working, in school or job training programs. The bill funds health care coverage through fiscal year 2016. A bill forming the task force passed by 80 to 16.

The Arkansas plan uses federal Medicaid dollars to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans. The expansion of coverage was authorized by the Affordable Care Act and approved by the Arkansas legislature in 2013. It extends eligibility to adults with up to 138% of the poverty level of $16,105 for an individual or $32,913 for a family of four.

If the program is unchanged, Arkansas will pay for 5% of the costs starting in 2017, gradually increasing to 10% in 2020.

Many health care professionals and grassroots leaders from across the Delta as well as a generally similar effort in Alabama led by Gov. Robert Bentley endorse these constructive efforts to increase health insurance coverage.

Gov. Robert Bentley (R-Alabama) is working for a plan to increase health insurance coverage in Alabama: In emphasizing that we are making progress in the health care field across the region, we would like to quote Senator Greg Reed, Senate Majority Leader in Alabama who is a key supporter of Gov. Bentley’s reforms in that state, sent this statement to the Delta Caucus:

“My work on Medicaid reform in Alabama is focused on better quality care, more patient support and management and cost savings for the State. We are on point to accomplish these goals with our Regional Care Organizations (RCO) plan and I appreciate Governor Bentley’s support at each step on this path. We still have much to do but are on the right track to reform Alabama’s Medicaid program for the better.”

Bo Ryall, CEO and President of the Arkansas Hospital Association, said “”Governor Hutchinson has provided us with a plan to continue insuring more than 200,000 Arkansans and a pathway to studying the entire health care system. We support his vision.”

Rep. Mark McElroy, Delta Caucus Vice Chairman from southeast Arkansas, said “Arkansas is a national leader for our innovative health care plan, and Democratic and Repubican legislators have joined together to support Gov. Hutchinson’s leadership in improving health care in our state.”

BENEFITS OF THE ARKANSAS HEALTH CARE PLAN

The Arkansas program is providing health insurance for more than 200,000 lower income Arkansans who previously did not have any. Arkansas ranks first in the nation in reduction of uninsured people since this program went into operation–in the first six months of implementation, the number of uninsured Arkansans receiving inpatient services in hospitals dropped by 46.5%.

In that period, the number of uninsured patients receiving emergency room care declined by 35.5%. In that period, the Arkansas program reduced uncompensated care costs for uninsured patients for the state’s hospitals by $69 million as compared with the same period in 2013.

Health care professionals have emphasized that without the private option, Arkansas hospitals were facing more than $400 million in uncompensated care costs in 2014, but the private option is estimated to have cut that figure approximately by more than half.

The private option helps hospitals stay open. Starting in 2010, federal laws started going into force that will result in $2.5 billion in cuts to Medicare reimbursements to Arkansas hospitals over the next 10 years. The private option provides a way to offset a substantial amount of the losses from Medicare cuts.

States that did either expand Medicaid or develop their own state version of the private option saw many hospitals close. In Louisiana, where the state government is an especially adamant foe of anything having to do with the Affordable Care Act, health care costs have risen 18% over the same period when they have declined in Arkansas.

The federal funding for this program is a budgetary advantage of $89 million. If this is lost, the only way to make it up is through cuts in education or other essential state services. We would also be faced with the dilemma of how to come up with the lost revenue if the private option is abolished.

Hospitals are major employers in Arkansas, employing over 42,000 people with a payroll of approximately $5 billion. More hospital closures would be devastating for economy, whereas thriving hospitals are a significant economic engine

2. BASIC SCHEDULE:

Opening session: Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 4 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., Arkansas State Capitol (the old Arkansas Supreme Court room)

Clinton Library session: Wednesday, May 27, 2015, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Library.

We plan to invite President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton to do live presentations by Skype or audio connection, although of course if they are able to speak they will confirm much later in the process. We will be inviting Governor-Elect Asa Hutchinson, the Arkansas Congressional delegation, and distinguished grassroots leaders from all eight states from southern Illinois and Missouri, through western Kentucky and Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi down to New Orleans and eastward to the Alabama Black Belt.

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Medical Experts Support Gov.Hutchinson on Health Care, as well as Alabama & Tennessee Plans

Posted on January 23, 2015 at 04:10 PM

Contact: White County Medical Center Marketing Director Brooke Pryor at (501) 278-3229 Or Caucus Director Lee Powell (202) 360-6347

The Delta Grassroots Caucus supports Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s thoughtful position to continue funding for the Private Option in 2016 while considering changes and improvements in Arkansas’ health care plan.

Many health care professionals and grassroots leaders from across the eastern half of Arkansas as well as Tennessee and Alabama endorse our region’s constructive efforts to increase health insurance coverage.

Bo Ryall, CEO and President of the Arkansas Hospital Association, said “”Governor Hutchinson has provided us with a plan to continue insuring more than 200,000 Arkansans and a pathway to studying the entire health care system. We support his vision.”

Caucus Director Lee Powell said “We commend Gov. Hutchinson for announcing that he will support continued funding for the Private Option in 2016, his recognition of the benefits in providing insurance to more than 200,000 Arkansans, the savings for hospitals, providing federal budget aid in 2016 for the state government.

We are also open to his concerns about work responsibility, more emphasis on preventive care, cost controls and other legitimate concerns as the new approach moves forward.”

Chris Barber, St. Bernard’s Health Care in Jonesboro’s President and CEO, said “We were pleased with the overall direction that Gov. Hutchinson indicated he will take in terms of extending the private option for a specific period of time while looking for cost-saving reforms that will provide the state more flexibility in the way it provides healthcare coverage to Arkansans.”

Barber said the governor “obviously sees benefits in the fact previously uninsured individuals have been able to acquire healthcare coverage as well as that the program has helped hospitals reduce the amount of uncompensated care delivered. His approach does two important things – it keeps affordable coverage for more than 200,000 newly insured Arkansans and it helps hospitals and providers plan for the near future.”

In emphasizing that we are making progress in the health care field across the region, we would like to quote Senator Greg Reed, Senate Majority Leader in Alabama who is a key supporter of Gov. Bentley’s reforms in that state:

“My work on Medicaid reform in Alabama is focused on better quality care, more patient support and management and cost savings for the State. We are on point to accomplish these goals with our Regional Care Organizations (RCO) plan and I appreciate Governor Bentley’s support at each step on this path. We still have much to do but are on the right track to reform Alabama’s Medicaid program for the better.“

Ray Montgomery, CEO of the White County Medical Center serving a large portion of east central Arkansas, said if the state’s leaders should “continue to support the Private Option Plan. Our hospital has seen a dramatic shift in our mix of patient coverage.”

Montgomery said, “As expected acute admissions are up in part due to some past pent-up demand as well as a very violent flu season. Emergency room visits are up some 13%. Total admissions are up 9%. Due to the Private Option, we have seen our self-pay reduced by over 60%. That has shifted to commercial incurance increasing by 31% and Medicaid increasing by 42%.”

Montgomery said in commending the benefits of the Private Option that “Because people have access, utilization is up but costs are down. Access leads to a healthier Arkansas.”

Rep. Mark McElroy, Delta Caucus Vice Chairman from southeast Arkansas, said “Arkansas is a national leader for our innovative health care plan, and our Delta Caucus colleagues in Alabama and Tennessee are supporting generally similar bipartisan initiatives supported by Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL) and Gov. Bill Haslam (R-TN).”

Dr. Steven Collier of Augusta, CEO of ArCare, a nonprofit health care organization serving 11 east Arkansas counties, said “Funding the Private Option Healthcare Plan is the right thing to do for Arkansas… one thing is certain, a healthier population with access to health care is long overdue in eastern Arkansas. Funding the Private Option will be a significant step in the right direction.”

Dr. Glen Bryant, an ophthalmologist based in West Memphis, said “I support the private option. this plan is an Arkansas solution.”

Kevin Smith of Smith Insurance Agency in Helena-West Helena, who has extensive experience in signing up many Arkansans to the Private Option, said “the Private Option has been a Godsend for so many of our customers. Unfortunately, we have had to turn down people from across the Mississippi River because their state does not have the same option as Arkansas. It makes a big impact on many lives in the Arkansas Delta.”

West Tennessee grassroots leader Minnie Bommer, who serves on the City Council of Covington, Tennessee, said “Tennessee is in the process of joining Arkansas in increasing health insurance for large numbers of people in Tennessee by Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee Plan. Many grassroots leaders across the state are joining forces to encourage implementation of this very constructive effort for the health of our people.”

Gov. Haslam described his state’s initiative by saying, “The Insure Tennessee plan is a conservative approach that introduces market principles to Medicaid, provides health care coverage to more Tennesseans at no additional cost to taxpayers, and leverages a payment reform initiative that is working to control health care costs and improve the quality of care. I believe this plan is a critical first step to fundamentally changing health care in Tennessee.” A special session of the Tennessee legislature on the Insure Tennessee plan is set for Feb. 2.

Delta grassroots colleagues in the Alabama Black Belt have been in communication with Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama in supporting his efforts to extend health insurance coverage as well, so there is now a regional trend in favor of greater health insurance in five of the eight Greater Delta Region states: Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Illinois.

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The private option program is providing health insurance for more than 200,000 lower income Arkansans who previously did not have any. Arkansas ranks first in the nation in reduction of uninsured people, due to the private option–in the first six months of implementation, the number of uninsured Arkansans receiving inpatient services in hospitals dropped by 46.5%.

In that period, the number of uninsured patients receiving emergency room care declined by 35.5% In that period, the private option reduced uncompensated care costs for uninsured patients for the state’s hospitals by $69 million as compared with the same period in 2013.

Health care professionals have emphasized that without the private option, Arkansas hospitals were facing more than $400 million in uncompensated care costs in 2014, but the private option is estimated to have cut that figure approximately by more than half.

– The private option helps hospitals stay open. Starting in 2010, federal laws started going into force that will result in $2.5 billion in cuts to Medicare reimbursements to Arkansas hospitals over the next 10 years. The private option provides a way to offset a substantial amount of the losses from Medicare cuts.

States that did either expand Medicaid or develop their own state version of the private option saw many hospitals close. In Louisiana, where the state government is an especially adamant foe of anything having to do with the Affordable Care Act, health care costs have risen 18% over the same period when they have declined in Arkansas.

–The federal funding for the private option is a budgetary advantage of $89 million. If this is lost, the only way to make it up is through cuts in education or other essential state services. We would also be faced with the dilemma of how to come up with the lost revenue if the private option is abolished.

Hospitals are major employers in Arkansas, employing over 42,000 people with a payroll of approximately $5 billion. More hospital closures would be devastating for economy, whereas thriving hospitals are a significant economic engine.

Delta Caucus Conference Set on May 26-27, 2015 in Little Rock--Save the Dates

Posted on December 30, 2014 at 12:36 PM

Please save the dates for the annual spring Delta Grassroots Caucus conference on May 26-27, 2015 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The Delta Grassroots Caucus hopes all our partners are having a good holiday season and we look forward to another constructive year of advocacy for the community and economic progress of our region in 2015.

Over the two day event next spring we will have a dialogue with federal and state “powers that be” as well as grassroots leaders from all eight states on a broad range of initiatives for the region’s community and economic development, including: Women and children’s issues and support for the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings initiative, job creation and workforce development, the private option and other health care plans and other Delta states, a dialogue on race relations and civil rights, Delta heritage tourism, expanding trade to Cuba and other new markets, transportation, housing, and other infrastructure improvements.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Basic Schedule

  2. Key Issues

  3. Conference registration fees

  4. Group hotel (Holiday Inn Presidential)

  5. Women and Children’s Issues

  6. A Partial List of Some of the Distinguished Women Leaders for the Delta Grassroots Caucus

BASIC SCHEDULE:

Opening session: Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 4 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., Arkansas State Capitol (the old Arkansas Supreme Court room)

Clinton Library session: Wednesday, May 27, 2015, from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. at the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Library.

We plan to invite President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton to do live presentations by Skype or audio connection, although of course if they are able to speak they will confirm much later in the process. We will be inviting Governor-Elect Asa Hutchinson, the Arkansas Congressional delegation, and distinguished grassroots leaders from all eight states from southern Illinois and Missouri, through western Kentucky and Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi down to New Orleans and eastward to the Alabama Black Belt.

2. Key issues will include:

Women and children’s issues in the context of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project for full participation of women and girls in the Delta and across the globe;

An in-depth dialogue about the full range of race relations and civil rights issues across our region in the aftermath of the Ferguson, Missouri controversy, including but not limited to police issues;

The private option health care plan in Arkansas and other initiatives to increase access to health insurance in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Illinois (the other three states may consider new health care policies next year as well);

Job creation, education and workforce development, which are always at the forefront in working toward a brighter future for our region;

Expanding trade for the region, such as the opportunity for opening up trade to Cuba in the light of changing relationships with that country, especially for rice, poultry and other agricultural products that our region produces in abundance;

Investments in transportation, housing, broadband expansion and other infrastructure improvements;

Promotion of Delta heritage tourism, including what will be the last chance to save the historic steamboat, the Delta Queen in 2015 by passing legislation to allow the riverboat to resume her historic travels on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The delays in passing this highly meritorious bill have been particularly damaging and 2015 will be the last chance to save the Delta Queen.

3. Registration Fees for May 26-27, 2015 Delta Conference

Early registration fees are $125, which is $100 for conference registration fees and $25 for annual membership dues for 2015. Those who pay the annual membership dues for the year 2015 will receive a $25 discount for registering for our annual fall conference, which is held at different locations either in the Delta or in Washington, DC, depending on feedback we receive over the year as to the best location for that event.

Please make out the check to “Delta Caucus” and mail to:

Delta Caucus

5030 Purslane Place

Waldorf, MD 20601

The early registration fee level ends on April 25, 2015; late registration fees go up to $150 each after April 25 to provide an incentive to get the fees in on time.

Annual dues are a minimum of $25, paid once each calendar year, although for medium-sized or larger banks, chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, corporations, foundations or those who want to donate more, suggested contributions are $50 or $100.

We are steadily placing more emphasis on collecting annual membership dues and we greatly appreciated all our partners who paid annual membership dues in 2014.

If you would like to pay for 2014 by sending a check by the deadline of Dec. 31, 2014 please do so.

The dues are paid once each calendar year and membership dues for the year 2015 begin on Jan. 1, 2015.

Delta Caucus corporate status: As we regularly note in the spirit of transparency, the Delta Grassroots Caucus, Inc. is incorporated as a regular corporation and not as a 501c3, because we occasionally take positions on public policy positions that in some quarters might be considered controversial, and while the majority of our activities are informational/educational, we also occasionally do some limited lobbying. 501c3 organizations have major restrictions on lobbying or engaging in activities that might be considered “politically controversial,” particularly pertaining to elections. The Delta Caucus places the highest priority on maximum freedom of expression.

All our budget comes from voluntary, private sector donations in the form of registration fees for the two regional conferences each spring and fall; annual membership dues once a year with a minimum requirement of $25, with the option of $50 or $100 for those who choose to give more; and a small number of highly valued sponsorships.

4. GROUP HOTEL IS HOLIDAY INN PRESIDENTIAL NEAR THE CLINTON LIBRARY

We have a group discount rate of $99.99 dollars for the nights of May 26-27, 2015 at the Holiday Inn Presidential near the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.

Please call the Holiday Inn Presidential at 501-375-2100 and say you are with the Delta Caucus to get the lower group rate of $99.99–a very good rate for a high-quality hotel located near the Clinton Library and the River Market district, which has many fine restaurants and other attractions.

The deadline for getting the group rate is May 12.

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Opening Up Farm Trade to Cuba Will Aid Delta's Economic Growth

Posted on December 18, 2014 at 03:38 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus supports opening up trade with Cuba to expand exports from the Delta to that country. Many of our partners have been directly involved in this issue for many years due to its important implications for economic development in the Delta region.

Before the embargo, farmers in Arkansas and some other Delta states used to export a large volume of products to Cuba; in particular, Arkansas rice farmers sold much of their crop to the island. We look forward to resuming that trade soon for the economic development of our region and the rest of the country.

Caucus Director Lee Powell traveled to Cuba in 1988 on a fact-finding trip for then Congressman Bill Alexander to discuss opening up trade with Cuba with high-level Cuban government officials, including Ricardo Alarcon, one of Fidel Castro’s most powerful aides.

Powell said “Many of our partners have been to Cuba and worked with officials from both countries since the 1980s until today to open up farm trade to Cuba. The embargo has done absolutely nothing to change Cuba’s authoritarian regime, and when a policy has not worked for 50 years it’s just common sense that it’s time for a change.”

Powell said “the embargo actually helped the Castro brothers and the authoritarian regime, because in their propaganda they could blame their economic failures on the embargo rather than the true cause, which was the disastrous communist agenda.”

Powell pointed out that President Raul Castro once again trotted out the old propaganda line that the embargo is a major cause of Cuba’s poverty, “when we all know that their economy was destroyed by communism. Take away the embargo and you take away that worn-out propaganda line, especially for the Cuban people themselves.”

The Delta Caucus would like to express our gratitude for Congressman Bill Alexander, who was the champion of opening up trade to Cuba over a quarter of a century ago and was severely attacked for doing so at that time. But this is an idea whose time has finally arrived and in retrospect Bill Alexander was right.

The Delta Caucus especially applauds the wise comments of Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), a long-time supporter of lifting the embargo who said “We’ve been kind of running the same play for decade after decade, and it hasn’t worked. I believe when you trade with people, trade goods and services, you also trade ideas, and that’s how you change the world.”

President Obama announced a series of policy changes at normalizing relations with Cuba, including easing trade, travel and financial restrictions. Pope Francis encouraged secret talks over the past 18 months and hosted a final meeting at the Vatican.

A full lifting of the embargo will require Congressional action.

Many Delta Caucus partners have traveled to Cuba and advocated for this change for three decades, including Harvey Joe Sanner, president of the American Agriculture Movement, Des Arc, Delta Caucus senior adviser Kevin Smith of Helena-West Helena, Caucus Director Lee Powell and others.

Kevin Smith, Delta Caucus senior advocate from Helena-West Helena visited Cuba in early December–literally a week ago, “Having just returned from Cuba, I learned that we can either fill the gap in trade ourselves, or the Chinese, Vietnamese and Russians and others will continue to do so even more. This will help our economy in the Delta.”

Smith said “In Cuba I saw evidence of relaxations on private ownership, some new real estate businesses being started, some allowance for religious expression, and with this leverage from ending the counterproductive isolation policy, we should expect even more progress.”

“This policy is long overdue, and expanding agriculture exports is vital for the Delta’s economy,” said Harvey Joe Sanner, president of the American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas and a senior Delta Caucus adviser, who met with Fidel Castro in a trade mission to Cuba in 1987 arranged by then First District Congressman Bill Alexander.

Of course, the Delta Caucus and all Americans condemn the Cuban authoritarian policies, but the embargo/isolation policy has been tried for 50 years now, and it’s time for the change that President Obama’s administration as well as countless other practical economic development advocates have held for many years. “Once capitalism starts infiltrating Cuba, this will undermine the communist regime,” Powell said.

“We have been working on this issue for 30 years and are glad to see this historic breakthrough,” Powell said. “We encourage practical advocates for economic development from both parties in Congress to step up and pass legislation to end the embargo in 2015.”

Exports to Cuba from the Delta region actually did increase after Congress passed legislation in 2000 to allow food and medicine exports to Cuba. For example, Arkansas exports to Cuba in 2004 reached about $34 million. But then the administration of President George W. Bush placed restrictions requiring Cuban purchasers of American goods to pay cash and go through third party banks, and Arkansas exports crashed to $2.7 million in 2005 and by 2012 and 2013 they were exactly zero.

The White House announced on Dec. 17 that it would end the Bush-era financing restrictions and return to the system that allowed American agricultural goods to be sold to Cuba. Completely lifting the embargo requires Congressional action.

Arkansas is the largest producer of rice in the United States, producing 50% of our country’s crop. Rice grown in Arkansas, other Delta states and across the country is very high quality.

Powell said “When I was in Cuba, the rice I had was frankly of very poor quality and I could only stand to eat it because I was on a diplomatic mission and wanted to be polite to our Cuban hosts, who were quite cordial. They would love to move up to high-quality rice from the Delta.”

Cuba currently imports most of its rice from Vietnam and other Asian countries, with some additional imports from Brazil.

Lower transportation costs as well as higher quality will give American producers an advantage. It takes six to eight weeks to import Rice from Vietnam, whereas American companies can move the goods in a few days in smaller ships that can stop at a large number of ports.

The island nation has a population of about 13 million people. Cubans consume about $225 to $275 million worth of rice each year, according to information in an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (“In State, Growers See Trade Potential,” by Sarah D. Wire and Glen Chase, Dec. 18, 2014, page 1A).

Cuba is also a significant market for poultry and other products that are produced in abundance in the Greater Delta Region.

In addition to the Delta Grassroots Caucus, other organizations and leaders supporting trade to Cuba include (among many others):

-US Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)

–Gov. Mike Beebe (D-AR)

–Arkansas Farm Bureau

–American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas

–Tyson Foods, Inc.

–Arkansas Rice Federation and USA Rice Federation

–Riceland Foods, Inc.

–The Arkansas legislature has passed resolutions endorsing farm trade to Cuba

–The Agricultural Council of Arkansas