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.

Presidential Candidates Advocate Equal Treatment for DRA Funding

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 11:37 AM

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), former First Lady of Arkansas Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) have now pledged a policy of equality toward the Delta Regional Authority in comparison with other regional commissions, so that if one of these three is the next President there will be an end to the Bush administration’s policy of trying to cut the DRA budget every year while other regional commissions receive vastly greater funding. The Delta extends from southern Illinois to New Orleans.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) pledged to increase the budget to at least $30 million from the current level of almost $12 million, and Sen. Barack Obama supports an increase to at least $20 million. These three campaigns emphasized that they would allocate the funding based on size, population, poverty level and need of the regions rather than the current unfair and irrational situation, where funding levels are determined by whether Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia or other Members of Congress from their regions happen to have enough political clout in Washington, DC to steer more federal money to their areas.

Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) campaign emphasized his “longstanding position that funding allocations should be based on priorities rather than politics.”

Delta Caucus Co-Chair Mark McElroy said “The Bush administration budget request this year would cut the DRA budget in half, although our allies in Congress will not allow that happen. These commitments from three Presidential candidates from both parties are major steps forward and we commend them for their statements pledging an end to this unjust situation where the DRA gets $12 million through the main pot of funding in the energy and water appropriations bill every year, while Applachian Regional Commission gets $73 million, and the Denali Commission that serves a tiny population in Alaska has been getting in the range of $65 million,” said Desha County Judge Mark McElroy, Caucus co-chair.

“Whoever is in the White House next year will likely be a welcome change from the neglect the Bush administration has shown to the region, since his budget request starts us out every year at the ridiculously low level of only $6 million and we have to fight it through Congress to get it up to the current level of a little less than $12 million in the energy and water bill, plus another $3 million channeled to the DRA area through USDA Rural Development,” said Lee Powell, executive director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus.

The Bush administration cut the DRA budget down to $5 million by 2004, and even requested only $2 million that year. The administration did increase its request to $6 million starting in 2005, but that amount is still outrageously low. McElroy said “It appears that whoever is in the White House as of January, 2009 will end the Bush administration’s unfair treatment and neglect of the Delta, and we will look forward to urging the new administration from day one to follow through on their commitments.”

“We have to get these pledges and pressure the candidates to pay attention to the Delta while they are campaigning, asking us for our votes and courting us, because if they won’t pay attention to us while we’re dating they sure won’t pay any attention when we’re married and they’re in the White House,” said McElroy.

The DRA was originally created at a level of $30 million annually when it was passed by a bipartisan group of Members of Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 2000, so the $30 million is a logical restoration to the original level.

The Delta Grassroots Caucus received commitments from the remaining Presidential campaigns (with detailed communications from Bob Nash, Deputy Campaign Manager for Sen. Clinton, and other Clinton campaign officials; French Hill, Finance Chair for Huckabee; and Lisa Ferrell, a Harvard Law School colleague of Sen. Obama who spoke for Obama at the annual Delta Caucus conference).

–Gov. Huckabee pledged to restore the DRA budget to the $30 million level. As Governor of Arkansas Huckabee formerly served on the DRA board, and he pledged to work for a funding increase back in the fall of 2007.

–Sen. Clinton pledged to increase the level to $30 million at a minimum, but went beyond that to support allocating the funding based on size, population, poverty level and needs of the regions, so that the DRA’s funding level would be comparable to the $73 million received by Appalachia and the $65 million level enjoyed by Alaska.

–Sen. Obama’s campaign provided this statement today: “Senator Obama strongly supports increased funding for the Delta Regional Authority (DRA). Like last year, President Bush’s budget request once again proposes to slash DRA funding by 50% to only $6 million. Obama has repeatedly called for rejecting the Bush budget cuts and for nearly doubling DRA funding. Last year, Obama joined his Senate colleagues in requesting at least $20 million for fiscal year 2008. As president, Obama will work to further increase the DRA’s funding, consistent with budget needs. Obama will also work to ensure that all three anti-poverty regional commissions have adequate funding to meet the needs of their regions, and will actively promote a policy of equality and fairness among the three.”

–Regarding Sen. McCain’s statement, McElroy said “We look forward to more communications with Sen. McCain and we appreciated Sen. McCain’s commitment to allocate the funding based on priorities rather than politics.”

Minnie Bommer, Delta Caucus coordinator for west Tennessee, said “I have been pleased by the specific funding pledges made by Clinton, Huckabee and Obama, especially because of the unfairness in sending so much more money to other regions while the Delta gets a pittance.”

Martha Ellen Black, Delta Caucus coordinator for Missouri and director of the nonprofit Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center, said “We appreciate these statements from the campaigns, and whoever is in the White House as of January, 2009, we will pressure them to do more to fight poverty in America’s most impoverished region.”

DRA’S TRACK RECORD The DRA has done good work even in spite of its very small budget. Through 2006, DRA has contributed $47.6 million to 333 projects. This investment has leveraged $207 million in other federal, state and local funds – a 4.35 to 1 ratio.

Private funds invested in these projects total $480.6 million–-a ratio of 10.09 to 1.

Total leveraged investment of $687.7 million – an impressive ratio of 14.44 to 1.

Completed projects–176 projects have been completed with more than 3,480 jobs created, about 4,000 jobs retained, more than 6,200 families receiving improved water and sewer and 2,584 people trained for jobs.

Active projects–The DRA has 157 projects active with projected outcomes of 9,180 families who will receive improved water and sewer services, 5,135 jobs created, 5,825 jobs retained and 880 people receiving job training.

–The Delta Doctors Program has placed more than 60 doctors in underserved areas of the Delta, and this program operates without one additional penny of appropriations. It is based on an innovation whereby foreign medical graduates are allowed to practice in America upon graduation if they will commit to at least three years service in the Delta region.

“We would again commend the fine work of Bush administration appointees Federal CoChair Pete Johnson and Alternate Federal CoChair Rex Nelson for a job well done in the beginning stages of the DRA’s history. Of course, Presidential appointees serve at the pleasure of the President, so it will be up to whoever the next President is to either make new choices for the two Presidential appointees who head the agency, or keep the same personnel. Regardless of what the next President decides, we all appreciate the very fine work of Pete Johnson and Rex Nelson in the early history of the DRA,” said McElroy.