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.


Posted on November 08, 2007 at 07:38 PM

We would like to urge all Presidential candidates to join the fight against poverty in the vast region from southern Illinois down to New Orleans, including 240 counties, eight states and more than nine million people. They should state publicly what they would do if elected President to bring the American dream of prosperity and opportunity to this region that has so much potential but thus far in our history has sadly lagged far behind the rest of our nation.

We will hear from the Presidential campaigns at our regional conference on Jan. 30-31, 2008 in Little Rock, Arkansas, which will be right before the early February Presidential primaries in six Delta states: Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana. We will also be sending them questionnaires and meeting with them to get these issues on their radar screens, because we don’t want to wait until right before the primaries to get them thinking about what needs to be done to generate economic development in this huge region.

We will list a dozen key issues below regarding some feedback we have received about what should be done for the Delta’s economic future. We welcome any additional ideas you may have, and encourage you to contact the Presidential campaigns and urge them to support these initiatives.

We have four candidates with strong ties to the region: former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee among the Republicans, and former First Lady of Arkansas and now Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama who represents southern Illinois. Gov. Bill Richardson’s campaign has already committed to have either the Governor or his Arkansas campaign manager, Kevin Smith of Helena-West Helena, speak to our conference in Arkansas on Jan. 30-31, 2008,

But ALL candidates should be concerned about this huge impoverished region and it should be a NATIONAL priority to uplift the Delta.

We are bipartisan and will not endorse any candidate, but urge all of them to end the injustice of our region’s poverty.


1) Substantial, strong funding for the Delta Regional Authority: An end to the indefensible disparity in funding whereby the Delta Regional Authority has a budget of only $12 million in the energy and water appropriations billl section for regional economic development commissions, as compared to literally six times that amount awarded annually to the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Denali Commission in Alaska.

The DRA budget was originally envisaged at $30 million in the energy and water appropriations bill when it was created in 2000 by a bipartisan group of Members of Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Even that figure was far too small, but since then the tiny budget has become even smaller, at one point falling to $5 million. It has gone back up somewhat the last few years but is still far too small.;

2) Support for completion of the Interstate-69 corridor and the transportation network in the DRA’s Delta Development Highway System plan, with a dedicated, separate federal funding stream similar to the Appalachian Development Highway System;

3) A safety net for the farmers who still represent a vital component of the region’s economy, a strong nutrition section in this year’s farm bill, and substantial funding in rural housing, infrastructure, small business and other USDA rural development issues;

4) Job creation initiatives and development of entrepreneurs, including Community Development Finance Institutions, Empowerment Zones, Renewal Communities, the new markets tax credit, Opportunity Zones, Business Link, and other strategies for developing entrepreneurs and attracting business to invest in low-income areas and create jobs;

5) Adequate funding for Medicaid, Medicare, SCHIP, and other health care for working families, support for telemedicine, nutrition and anti-hunger programs, because the Delta suffers disproportionately from health problems and inadequate access to health care;

6) Adequate funding for “No Child Left Behind,” Head Start and other pre-school programs to promote literacy, as well as higher education; to cite two exemplary models of programs that should serve as models throughout the region, we would highlight the KIPP school in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas and the Algebra Project in Jackson, Mississippi. Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas and the Arkansas legislature set a good example this year by passing a funding increase of over $400 million for education, and the next President, Congress and other governors should follow Gov. Beebe’s example;

7) A major expansion in biofuels and other alternative energy, which have great potential to provide new markets for our producers, create jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil;

8) Support for environmentally sound flood control throughout the region; in particular we commend the bipartisan group of Members of Congress led by Rep. Marion Berry (AR), Rep. Mike Ross, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (MO), Rep. Jerry Costello (IL), and others who have supported legislation aimed at preventing FEMA’s very ill-advised effort to ask virtually all areas along the Mississippi River to purchase new flood insurance, without regard to the different needs in each area;

9) Reform FEMA, and Support for long-term relief for the victims of natural disasters of Hurricane Katrina, and for the long-term economic rebuilding of the region, and expedited federal aid to victims of the tornado that struck Desha County, Arkansas early in 2007, and victims of disasters in other areas; FEMA is a broken, inept agency, and the next President needs to step in and fix it and get it back functioning like it did in the 1990s, when it was regarded as a model agency;

10) Greater utilization of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has great potential for aiding low-income working people, but is currently under-utilized due to the reality that many people are unaware of their eligibility for the EITC;

11) Promotion of all phases of the tourist industry in the region , from historical and cultural tourism related to the civil rights movement, Civil War and other historic sites, to the great tradition of Delta blues and jazz, to the great literary accomplishments of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and countless other Delta writers, to the region’s great natural beauty; ecotourism in particular has potential, and earmarked funding from the Department of the Interior to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for Delta ecotourism, and partnerships among nonprofit foundations and community colleges would be an excellent investment.

Example–Currently we are supporting efforts to preserve the historic steamboat, the Delta Queen, which has plied the waters of the Mississippi River and its major tributaries for many decades now, bringing tourist dollars to fine communities like Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, New Orleans, Memphis, southeast Missouri, and many other communities in the region. The steamboat is perfectly safe but some Members of Congress are trying to shut it down based on a misinterpretation of legislation dealing with ocean-going vessels. This is just one example of how Delta tourism can bring dollars to the region while preserving our cultural heritage, and Mark Twain would be proud of us if we save this historic steamboat.

12) Opening up food, medicine and other trade with Cuba: We will soon be facing a new era in Cuba, and we need to move forward in opening up trade with that nation, particularly in food for the short term, but in all other aspects of trade as soon as possible. Cuba was a major market for rice and other agricultural products from the Delta before Castro revolution, and the embargo has done nothing to undermine the dictatorship, and has only harmed our producers in the Delta. The quickest way to undermine authoritarian regimes, as we saw in the case of the Soviet Union, is to penetrate them with capitalism and show them the benefits of free enterprise. We should begin by opening up food and medicine trade to Cuba now.

Comprehensive economic development approach is essential: many of our leaders have emphasized that a comprehensive plan of economic development is essential, because there is not a “magic bullet” that would serve as a panacea for all the Delta’s economic challenges. Of course, there are literally hundreds of worthy initiatives aimed at promoting the region’s economic future, and we want to be inclusive and make no claim to be the “only game in town,” so we do not claim these recommendations are an exhaustive list; and we certainly support other meritorious ideas and initiatives as well.

Please encourage all the Presidential campaigns to support these initiatives, and send along any feedback you would like. Lee Powell, MDGC (202) 360-6347