The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Gov. Huckabee endorses increase in Delta Regional Authority budget to $30 million

Posted on November 14, 2007 at 01:31 PM

As part of our ongoing, bipartisan effort to promote a national debate about how to generate economic development in the Delta, we are sending out a series of messages about positions of all the Presidential candidates on important issues for our region. We will continue doing this over the months. Today we would like to inform you that former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) has conveyed to the Delta Grassroots Caucus that he would support an increase in the funding for the Delta Regional Authority’s main source of funding from $12 million to $30 million annually.

We appreciate Gov. Huckabee for paying attention to the Delta, and we are in touch with the other campaigns from both parties and will be sending out information about their views on a regular, nonpartisan basis. The DRA receives funding through more than one source, but currently the largest source is through the main pot of funding for regional economic development commissions in the energy and water appropriations bill. The DRA budget was originally envisaged at a level of $30 million when it was created in 2000 by a bipartisan group of Members of Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The $30 million level would still leave the Delta at only about half what the other regional commissions receive, but nevertheless an increase to the $30 million level is clearly a major and constructive step in the right direction, so this certainly is a positive statement from Gov. Huckabee, who as a former governor of Arkansas is very familiar with Delta issues. We hope that other candidates will take similar stands in support of a stronger DRA budget.

In conveying this position of Gov. Huckabee, we are simply conveying factual information about positions taken by national leaders, and this is not in any shape, form or fashion an endorsement of him. We will not make any endorsement but want to urge ALL candidates to pay more attention to the plight of the vast, impoverished region from southern Illinois to New Orleans, including eight states, 240 counties and more than nine million people. We will be posting comments from all the other campaigns on a regular basis and we are sure they will have constructive comments to make about the Delta as well.

The DRA budget unfortunately fell to $5 million a few years later and has gone back up to $12 million in energy and water, plus about $2 or $3 million annually through Rural Development and $8 to $10 million in additional transportation funding.

The Delta Grassroots Caucus has been supportive of the DRA’s work for many years. It is a gross injustice that the other regional economic development commissions in Appalachia and Alaska have been receiving budgets in the range of $66 million in recent years, absolutely dwarfing the small amount given to the Delta. Here is a summary of why we believe a larger budget for the DRA would be a good investment in the Delta’s economic future:

1) The leveraging achieved through the DRA federal grant program from the energy and water appropriations bill, currently at $12 million and we hope Congress keeps it that way in this year’s decisions. Look at these results: In its first five years, the DRA used $48.5 million in federal funds to leverage $213 million in other federal funds and $493.4 million in private sector funding for a total investment of $754.9 million.

This investment leads to a result of 31,000 jobs created and/or retained, over 24,240 families with new water and/or sewer service, and more than 6,235 people with job training in their local area.

The DRA funding has a built-in multiplier effect, because the federal funds can be used as the local match, through a rare statutory power that the DRA has. This has opened doors that were previously closed to small, impoverished communities who could not afford the local match, and therefore missed out on major funding opportunities of a much larger amount.

At least 75 percent of this funding has to go into economically distressed counties. The Senate this year quoted a report from the General Accounting Office in 2006 stating that the DRA led the nation with its rural investment intensity, as 77 percent of its federal grant program went into rural areas in the Delta.

2) In recent years the DRA has added additional projects through Rural Development to the DRA region, which are approximately $3 million. As far as directing funding into the DRA region that would not be there if the DRA did not exist, we should include the 2005 omnibus legislation that put $25 million into transportation projects in the region. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the DRA cooperated on this. SAFETEA-LU has up to $10 million for each of 4 fiscal years, and the state departments of transportation and the FHWA have the main ability to decide the details of which projects are funded. But the point is that the legislation requires that these funds be spent in the DRA region.

3) The Delta Doctors program has placed 60 doctors in the Delta who would not be there without this program. This is an exemplary program as far as getting a bang for the buck, since it involves not one dime of additional appropriations. There is tiny cost in the staff time spent on it. This is a great example of how an innovative idea can produce results without costing the taxpayers money.

This program is a testament to the power of ideas and innovative thinking. Foreign medical school graduates previously had to return to their home countries after graduation, but the DRA has acquired the authority to grant waivers for the J-1 visas. The foreign medical graduates agree to serve at least three years in a designated medically-underserved area of the Delta. The physician must provide primary care or their specialty field of service for 40 hours a week, and they must treat Medicare, Medicaid and the indigent.

The DRA assures that the foreign medical graduate is not taking a job away from an American doctor, because each local facility must prove that they tried to recruit an American doctor for at least six months on national, state and medical school levels, but were unable to do so. The DRA makes periodic site visits to the facilities and physicians. The DRA should be commended for its superb Delta Doctors Program.

4) Planning and advocacy–the strategic plans and advocacy are very important, especially in the strategic plan that the DRA first developed in 2002 and is now working to update. The $18.5 billion Delta Development Highway System plan for completion of the Interstate 69 corridor and many other regional transportation improvements, the information technology plan, and other plans intended to be a spur toward action. Federal Co-Chair Pete Johnson was especially wise this year to stress that the highway plan was aimed at generating action, and not just another “study”–we all know how everybody hates it when somebody comes up with another academic study that says “gee whiz, there’s a lot of poverty in the Delta.” Yep, we noticed that already, tell us something new. The DRA does a good job of strategic planning oriented toward generating action.

The Interstate 69 Corridor was designated a “Corridor of the Future” by the US Department of Transportation in September, 2007, and this should place I-69 in a solid position to gain greater funding from now on.

5) Communications and general advocacy–the DRA disseminates useful information all the time. The Healthy Delta program is a good example of this. This is a response-oriented media and community-based outreach and education program that disseminates information on a regular basis on health issues in general, and particularly diabetes, which has reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the region–almost 10 percent of the residents have diabetes. They have a toll-free number at 1-866-602-3300 staffed by diabetes specialists. In a move demonstrating their sensitivity to the rapidly growing Hispanic population in the Delta, they are also equipped to help Spanish-speaking callers. Alternate Federal Co-Chair Rex Nelson does a particularly good job on communications in the region.

Supporting the DRA should become one goal that Republicans, Democrats and Independents can join together in promoting our region’s progress. The DRA over time will be a major unifying force for the Delta. We believe that the DRA does good work on a diverse series of fronts, and over time we will work at keeping people better informed about that.

We appreciate this statement from Gov. Huckabee and his attention to Delta regional issues. We will be following up with statements from the other major campaigns. Thanks–Lee Powell, MDGC (202) 360-6347