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.

Early Registration Deadline Is May 1 for Delta Conference in Little Rock on May 26-27

Posted on April 27, 2015 at 11:39 AM

The early registration deadline for getting registration checks in the mail is this Friday, May 1, for the upcoming Delta conference on May 26-27. Key issues for the event will be economic equality for working families, women and children’s issues, health care and civil rights.

You register by mailing in the registration fees.

Please make out the check to “Delta Caucus” for $125 or $100 for those who have paid their annual membership dues for 2015 and mail to:

Delta Caucus

5030 Purslane Place

Waldorf, MD 20601

If you are in the process of sending in your registration checks, notify us at (202) 360-6347, or by replying to this newsletter by email at LeePowell@delta.comcastbiz.net

After May 1 late registration fees go up to $150 or $125 for those who have paid the annual dues in order to provide an incentive to get the dues sent in ahead of time. It causes logistical and other planning problems if large numbers of people wait to provide the registration checks at the front desk when we are working on getting the program started.

We have been sending out information about the early registration deadline for months now and this is just a friendly reminder.

We offer a group discount down to $75 each for those who can organize a group of five or more from your local network, in order to bring new partners into the organization who may not have had the opportunity to be there for our events in the past.

BASIC SCHEDULE

The opening session is on Tuesday, May 26 at the Arkansas State Capitol (old Supreme Court room) from 4 p.m. to approximately 7:45 p.m.

Then on Wednesday, May 27 we meet for most of the day at the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Library, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Confirmed speakers thus far include US Sen. John Boozman, US Rep. Rick Crawford, US Rep. Bruce Westerman, and we have invited President Bill Clinton, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and other major political figures from both parties.

We will have distinguished speakers on health care, nutrition, women and children’s issues, economic equality, and civil rights and diversity in the aftermath of the tragedies in Ferguson, Missouri and many other cities across the region and the country.

TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS NEWSLETTER

  1. HEALTH CARE AND NUTRITION

  2. WOMEN AND CHILDREN’S ISSUES

  3. CIVIL RIGHTS AND DIVERSITY

  4. PENDING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ISSUES—Transportation, broadband access expansion and infrastructure improvements, Delta heritage tourism, opening up farm trade to Cuba

  5. GROUP HOTEL INFORMATION

1. HEALTH CARE AND NUTRITION

In addressing economic equality and opportunity for working families, health care and nutrition are absolutely essential. We have far too many hard-working people who are struggling just to get enough nutritious, affordable food and to get decent health care.

We are glad to have nationally recognized hunger and nutrition expert Joel Berg, a Presidential appointee at USDA headquarters in Washington, DC and now executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Joel Berg has a longstanding commitment to the Delta region and has supported many projects in the region over the years and provided invaluable advice and information about SNAP, school meals and other nutrition programs over the years to the Delta Caucus’ executive director.

Nutrition programs as always will be a key issue at this conference and a number of our speakers will address such issues as the disturbing proposals to cut SNAP and other vital nutrition programs in Congress. Unfortunately many areas in our region suffer from among the nation’s highest rates of food insecurity and nutrition-related health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Improving nutrition in our region is one of the most dynamic means of preventive, proactive action in the field of health.

We support efforts in Arkansas and the other seven states to expand health insurance coverage for lower income working families. We support the continuation of Arkansas’ innovative plan that has provided health insurance to approximately a quarter of a million Arkansans. Although we recognize that changes and improvements in the plan will be made by the Governor and legislature by the end of 2016, but the great majority of our partners believe it would be devastating if the program is abolished.

We supported the action of Gov. Hutchinson and the legislature in continuing the funding for health insurance coverage expansion through 2015 and until December, 2016. A task force is working on revisions and proposed improvements and changes to the program, and we want to continue scrutinizing and weighing in on this vital issue.

2. WOMEN AND CHILDREN’S ISSUES

Women and children’s issues will be a major issue due to the alarmingly high poverty levels of those two major groups in the population. We will have many distinguished women leaders as well as men who understand the importance of improving economic opportunities for women, children and young people.

We have a distinguished group of professional women on the program, including:

Distinguished women leaders who are key leaders include our Delta Grassroots Caucus senior advisers Kay Goss, FEMA Associate Director for President Clinton and an Ambassador for the Clinton Foundation, and Janis Kearney, distinguished author and White House aide for President Clinton as well as the following leaders:

• Annette Dove, Executive Director of the TOPPS nonprofit in Pine Bluff, earlier featured in an NBC news report by Chelsea Clinton, and speaker at the Clinton Library 10th anniversary women’s event;

• Minnie Bommer, the first African American woman elected to the Covington, Tennessee City Council;

• Lynnette Watts, Executive Director of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, who has worked closely with the No Ceilings initiative and spoke at the Clinton Library 10th anniversary on women’ issues;

• President Terri Lynn Freeman, President of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, speaking on racial justice issues in the aftermath of the Ferguson, Missouri and New York City;

• Missouri leaders who will address women and children’s issues and racial justice in the aftermath of the Ferguson, Missouri tragedy;

• Millie Atkins of CenturyLink, leader of a program for expanding broadband access in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas;

• Ruthanne Hill, Executive Director, Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund, helping single parents with educational goals;

• Leaders from Selma, Lowndes County, and the Alabama Black Belt who are deeply concerned about both ethnic and gender equality and economic justice;

• Maisie Wright, Director, KIPP Blytheville College Preparatory School.

We also have several other invitations pending to our many distinguished professional women in the Greater Delta Region.

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Please RSVP for Regional Delta Conference on May 26-27 in Little Rock, AR

Posted on April 20, 2015 at 03:32 PM

Please RSVP for the Delta Grassroots Caucus regional community and economic development conference on May 26-27 in Little Rock. The deadline for early registration is Friday, May 1.

The focus will be on job creation, women and children’s issues, transportation and other infrastructure improvements, education and workforce development, health care for underserved populations, USDA programs and other hunger and nutrition-related initiatives, renewable energy, and economic equality for working families across our region.

In addition to grassroots leaders from across the eight-state region and Members of Congress, we are inviting the Presidential candidates from both parties in a bipartisan way to inform us what they would do if elected to promote economic equality for working families in our eight states and across the country. Those who have strong ties to the region such as Secretary Hillary Clinton, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Sen. Rand Paul who represents the western Kentucky Delta are naturally drawing the greatest attention, as well as Gov Jeb Bush. We would expect to hear from them (especially those from the region) to speak by Skype call-in where we can see and hear them, or more likely, to send campaign representatives. It’s important to weigh in with the Presidential campaigns in a bipartisan way.

We have confirmations from US Sen. John Boozman, US Rep. Rick Crawford, US Rep. Bruce Westerman, and have invited Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Rep. French Hill and other Members of Congress.

We will have many distinguished women leaders on the program, due to our focus on women and children’s issues and economic equality for working families in the Delta.

We are glad to have among our speakers the nationally recognized hunger and nutrition expert, Joel Berg, currently executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and a former Clinton administration appointee at USDA national headquarters in Washington, DC. He conducted many beneficial projects in the Delta during the Clinton years and continues to help a constructive program in the Delta today.

President Clinton has spoken either by live call-in or in person six out of the last seven year (although he confirms very late in the process due to his hectic schedule, along with other prominent leaders from both parties.

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

The May 27 session is at the Clinton Library Great Hall from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Schedule, registration and group hotel information are below in this email.

Support for health insurance coverage expansion, renewable energy, women and children’s issues, state and federal investments in transportation infrastructure improvements, education and workforce development, small business initiatives for job creation, and the USDA programs and the farm bill for agriculture, opening farm trade to Cuba, nutrition and rural development. Support for Delta heritage tourism initiatives will be included. The goal is for specific actions and policies to be taken and supported as a result of our advocacy.

EARLY REGISTRATION

You register by mailing in the registration fees. We raise our entire budget from private sector donations and the registration fees are an essential part of our budget.

Registration fees are a total of $125– $100 for registration for this conference and $25 for those who have not paid their annual dues. We have a second major regional conference each fall and those paying the dues get a reduced registration fee for the fall conference.

If you can get a group of five or more from your local network, we will give a group discount on the registration fees from $125 each to $75 each.

If you can make the conference, please make out the check to “Delta Caucus” and mail to:

Delta Caucus

5030 Purslane Place

Waldorf, MD 20601

The early registration deadline ends on May 1. After that late registration fees go up to $150 to provide an incentive to get the fees in on time.

More information on the schedule, group hotel, and other details on the conference is provided below and my contact information is Lee Powell, Executive Director, Delta Grassroots Caucus, phone– (202) 360-6347; website is www.mdgc.us and email is leepowell@delta.comcastbiz.net

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.

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, which is 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. Many people will only need to pay for one hotel night, because they check in Tuesday afternoon to make the opening at 4 p.m. at the State Capitol and the conference ends the next day at about 2:45 p.m. You can check out the next morning and store luggage at the hotel if necessary and pick it up in the afternoon after the conference ends. We will need to go to the State Capitol in groups of taxis for those who are flying in and do not have cars. The opening session is an important substantive session with key speakers and is NOT a reception. It takes about 10 minutes to drive from the hotel to the Capitol and then another five minutes to go up to the old Supreme Court room.

For the Clinton Library session, the hotel has a shuttle that regularly runs there.

The Holiday Inn Presidential has a very good restaurant, Camp David, on the first floor, and is close to the many fine restaurants in the Little Rock River Market area. Thanks again. Lee Powell, DGC (202) 360-6347; email is leepowell@delta.comcastbiz.net; see the website at www.mdgc.us

Urge Congress to Support Delta Queen Bill; the Queen Has Moved Back to the Delta

Posted on April 02, 2015 at 03:41 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus urges Congress to pass the Delta Queen bill after the major breakthrough caused by the purchase of the historic riverboat by new owners who announced plans to have the boat travel again. The new owners are now moving her to New Orleans for the refurbishing and renovations needed to get the boat ready to travel again after having been docked in Chattanooga as a floating hotel for five years.

Please contact your US senators and representatives and ask them to pass the Delta Queen bill to permit this historic steamboat to resume her travels on the Mississippi, Ohio and Arkansas rivers.

Today the famous boat is back in the Delta where she belongs and will arrive in New Orleans in a few days.

In the last session the House passed the bill by the wide margin of 280 to 89, but the Senate never brought the bill for a vote by full body. With the new ownership, this session the Delta Caucus is working with partners all over the country to assure the bill comes to a vote and becomes law.

“This is great news for the Save the Delta Queen campaign that Congressman Steve Chabot of Ohio has re-introduced the Delta Queen bill, after the new owner Delta Queen Steamboat Company (DQSC) bought the boat and announced plans to have her travel once again on the Mississippi, Ohio, Arkansas and Cumberland rivers,” said Caucus Director Lee Powell. “ A companion bill will be introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio in the next few weeks.”

The Delta Caucus praises Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker (R-MS), Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OHIO), and many other supporters of the bill across the country.

Rep. Rick Crawford said, “The Delta Queen is an icon for our region’s rich river heritage, and I look forward to seeing her fully operational as she was for so many decades.”

Sen. John Boozman said, “Steamboats like the Delta Queen are an important part of our heritage. By allowing the Delta Queen—an iconic piece of American history—to operate on our inland waterways again, we can create jobs and bring tourist dollars to communities in the Delta.”

The purchase by DQSC removes a crucial obstacle, because the previous owners had no plans to restore the boat’s travels. The boat is expected to arrive in New Orleans in the next few days to a week.

The legislative exemption required to allow the boat to travel again regards the Safety of Life at Seas Act, which as the name clearly indicates (“At Seas” act) was intended to apply to oceangoing vessels and not to riverboats like the Delta Queen that are never more than a few minutes from land.

The exemption was previously passed routinely by Congress for 40 years until 2008. Then the boat was docked in Chattanooga for over five years as a floating hotel–which many believed was not the proper use for the famous boat. The new owners who purchased the boat recently agree and plan to resume her travels, unlike the previous owner. That removed the biggest obstacle to her traveling again.

The boat was operated safely for 80 years on America’s rivers, it has a steel hull, elaborate sprinklers and other safety systems that DQSC intends to expand and improve even more, and the latest legislation adds an additional layer of safety precautions to a boat that already had an excellent safety record.

The Coast Guard has to inspect the boat every time it travels, and the Delta Queen passed the rigorous safety inspections for decades and of course will have to pass inspection any time it travels in the future.

“The Delta Queen has an exemplary safety record, helps inform people about the great legacy of steamboating in our region, strengthens appreciation for the region’s natural beauty and preservation of the environment when people see the landscape up close, and allowing her to travel again will create an estimated 200 jobs and generate tourist dollars from New Orleans to Helena-West Helena, Memphis, the Arkansas River, and the Ohio River,” Powell said.

The bill is supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the International Seafarers Union, the American Maritime Officers, and advocates for American heritage tourism across the country.

Rep. Mark McElroy, Delta Caucus Vice Chairman, said “This year is our great opportunity to finally get this bill passed, with the new ownership and so much bipartisan support in Congress. We ask all our grassroots supporters to contact your Senators and Representatives and urge them to pass the bill. We’ll see the famous boat on our rivers once again.”

Helena-West Helena’s Kevin Smith, Delta Caucus senior adviser, said “We never thought it was the right use for a historic icon to be tied up as a floating hotel in Chattanooga, and we’re glad to see her back in the Delta where she belongs. We would love to see her coming back to Helena-West Helena and many other communities on the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers.”

The riverboat’s exemplary safety record is one of the most important reasons for the Delta Caucus’ support of the bill. The new owners in particular are going above and beyond the call of duty on this subject, to their great credit.

Supplemental Fact Sheet on Excellent Safety Record of the Delta Queen

The only time the safety record was debated in depth was during the 2013 vote in the US House, and supporters of the Delta Queen won that debate with the bill being passed by a wide margin of 280 to 89. Just in case it comes up again, here are the facts:

• The boat was operated safely on America’s rivers for 80 years;

• The boat has a steel hull, and in its recent history earlier in the 2000s over 50 tons of wood and other combustible materials were removed from the upper parts of the boat and replaced with steel and other fire-retardant materials. (There have been erroneous comments that the boat has a wooden hull and is entirely made of wood, but these are factually incorrect–again, the hull is made of steel.)

• The boat has state-of-the art sprinkler systems and many other safety precautions.

• The new ownership of DQSC led by Cornel Martin of New Orleans and partners in Tennessee plans to go over and above the call of duty and legal requirements regarding safety and will install new boilers and many other improvements to get the boat ready to travel again. Of course, these improvements are needed to get ready for resuming travel after the boat has been docked in one place at Chattanooga for so many years.

• The legislation includes language that in certain sections of the upper parts of the boat where there is some wood, there will be structural alterations of 10% of these sections each year. The Delta Caucus, the new owners, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and all other supporters of the Delta Queen were consulted by Senators last year and we told them that if this is necessary then we are fine with this requirement that adds an additional layer of safety requirement to a boat that already had an exemplary safety record.

Finally, the Coast Guard passed the Delta Queen in its safety inspections every time it traveled in its earlier lengthy history of plying the waters of mid-America. Of course, once again they will give rigorous safety inspections to this boat just as it does to all large passenger vessels.

With the boat’s excellent safety record, there were never any facts to support some of the opponents who made erroneous statements about safety. It’s a free country and people can say whatever they like, and all we ask is that everybody studies the facts and we get to the truth.

The boat will have to pass the inspections once again. There simply cannot be any safety hazard because the Coast Guard will require the boat to meet all safety standards before moving one inch from the dock. If at some hypothetical point in the future the Coast Guard discovers some safety concern, they will of course order the boat not to travel until they correct the problem. This did not happen in the past, but the point is that the Coast Guard rigorously inspects all large passenger boats and they will not allow them to cruise if there is any question about safety.

International ocean-going ships are in an entirely different category and they do have safety concerns, as we all know from terrible accidents in recent years. But this is a riverboat that was safely operated for many decades.

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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