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.

Executive Summary of Strategic Plan for Regional Economic Development

Posted on May 18, 2008 at 04:44 PM

Below we are presenting the executive summary of the Delta Grassroots Caucus’ package of annual recommendations to Congress and the national executive branch, or “Strategic Plan for Regional Economic Development,” as some have suggested it should be called. We have gathered feedback from many organizations and partners in drafting this document, and we would like to thank the literally hundreds of people who gave feedback.

For those who would like the entire 75-page document, please request a copy to be sent by email by writing to Lee Powell, executive director, MDGC, at

It does not matter whether we call it a “package of recommendations” or a “strategic plan for regional economic development.” I should emphasize that we do not engage in any grandiose, high-flying but essentially meaningless recommendations such as “By the year 2013, all citizens of the Delta shall have high incomes and enjoy superb education, health care, etc.” What this plan contains are specific, down-to-earth recommendations and we do not include any grand-sounding calls for all our problems to be ended within a few years.

At the same time, our nation’s leaders should know that over the last several years they have not adequately addressed our region’s worsening economic plight and the next Presidential administration and Congress need to do better. There is very serious discontent in the region with our economic situation and our voices will not be heard unless we convey that discontent candidly to our nation’s leaders.

We continue to welcome feedback. The document is 75 pages, and we know that very few if any people will read every page, so we include a two-page executive summary so that people can quickly look at the highlights and priorities. There is a table of contents on each of the 16 issues, so that if you are interested in one particular area you can go to that section and look at those issues in more detail.

While this is a lengthy document, we also recognize that there are literally hundreds of wortwhile initiatives and ideas that could be included when we are talking about a vast region of more than nine million people in eight states and 240 counties. There is a lot of research and analysis herein, however, and we hope it does provide some good ideas and some sense of priorities as we advocate for our region and urge Congress, the national executive branch, the governors, and the private business sector to do more to promote economic development in this huge region of the country.

Copies of this document will also be available at our annual conference in Washington, DC on June 3-5, 2008. Thanks very much–Lee Powell, executive director, MDGC

For the United States Congress and the national executive branch, Washington, DC:

The local leaders who make up the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus would like to request your support for actions that are crucial for the economic development of the eight-state Delta, which is the most impoverished region in America. This strategic plan for regional economic development will be a strong investment for the vast region that lies at the heart of America.

Strategic plans for the Delta ought to be “handbooks for action” and not academic papers. So we urge action on all those issues and not more discussion. Moreover, there has to be a comprehensive, interlocking approach to the region’s serious economic issues, and there is no one magic bullet that will be a panacea for all our problems. We provide explanations on each issue, but first would like to emphasize several issues that are pressing for this year, and then present an executive summary.:


1) Extension and expansion of the new markets tax credit, Empowerment Zones and Renewal Commuities and other initiatives for spurring investment and reviving the economy in lower-income areas;

2) Expansion of alternative energy to create new jobs, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and enhance new markets for our producers;

3) Expansion and improvement of the Delta’s transportation network, both in the DRA’s Delta Development Highway System and the multi-modal plan;

4) Support for the DRA budget to a level of parity and fairness with other regional commissions;

5) Strong funding for Medicaid, Medicare, SCHIP, telemedicine, and the major hunger and nutrition programs.

6) Continuing progress–building upon the 2008 farm bill-in strengthening nutrition programs, providing a good safety net for farmers, and funding vital Rural Development programs.


1) Extension and expansion of the New Markets Tax Credit, which is a dynamic tool for spurring investment in low-income areas like the Delta, as well as other job creation initiatives and development of entrepreneurs, including Community Development Finance Institutions, Empowerment Zones, Renewal Communities, Opportunity Zones, Business Link, and other strategies for developing entrepreneurs and attracting business to the Delta;

2) Equality of treatment of the Delta Regional Authority with other regional economic development commissions, beginning with an increase in the budget to the $30 million level in the energy and water appropriations bill envisaged when it was created in 2000;

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

4) 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;

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

6) Hunger and nutrition–Full funding for Food Stamps, school lunch and breakfast, WIC (Woman, Infants and Children Nutrition Program), TEFAP and other vital nutrition programs, which are crucial for the Delta, which suffers from unusually high rates of food insecurity;

7) A safety net for the farmers who still represent a vital component of the region’s economy, and strong funding for Rural Development programs;

8) Aid for home-owners and renters during the housing crisis, and opposition to Bush administration budget cuts for USDA Rural Development and HUD programs;

9) Reforms and adequate funding for “No Child Left Behind,” Head Start and other pre-school programs to promote literacy, as well as higher education; to cite an exemplary program to serve as a model, we commend the KIPP school in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas;

10) Greater utilization of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has great potential for aiding low-income working people, but is currently under-utilized;

11) Equitable tax policies that benefit the vast majority of working taxpayers, and opposition to tax cuts for wealthy corporations and individuals that increase the federal deficits and unfairly favor other regions that have much higher levels of wealth than does the Delta;

12) Broadband deployment-the DRA’s information technology plan would improve education, enhance entrepreneurship and improve health care by information technology, and we urge strong funding for distance learning, telemedicine and telehealth services;

13) Reforms of FEMA–long-term relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, support for environmentally sound flood control and rejection of FEMA’s ill-advised plan to needlessly escalate flood insurance costs in its redrawing of flood plain maps;

14) Fair trade, including opening up trade to Cuba: Our trade policies including NAFTA should include safeguards for workers, the environment, and farmers, and should not just be for the benefit of large corporations; we oppose embargoes and advocate opening trade to Cuba now that Fidel Castro is gone-Cuba is a large market for farmers and other producers in the Delta;

15) Full funding for LIHEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program), a program which assists families –primarily with children and senior members-to heat and cool their homes and keeps some from having to make the choice between paying energy, food and medicine bills. Full funding for the LIHEAP program will enable needy families in the southern parts of the Delta and other warmer weather states to receive benefits comparable to those received in the cold weather states. Heat in the south affects the health of the elderly and children especially forcing them often to choose between energy needs, food and medicine. In addition, the northern sections of the Delta region-northern Arkansas, western Tennessee and Kentucky, southern Missouri and southern Illinois-do experience significant cold weather in the winter.

16) 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 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 has great potential, and we urge 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.

These recommendations will not increase the enormous budget deficits, since the tiny DRA budget is an almost infinitesimal part of the entire federal budget, while most of the other recommendations are opposition to budget cuts rather than requests for new spending. Ending tax breaks for the wealthiest people and corporate tax breaks will obviously have a positive impact on the budget. These initiatives are sound investments in the future of the more than nine million people who live in the region extending from southern Illinois to New Orleans, who have such great potential but thus far have not enjoyed their fair share of the American dream of prosperity and opportunity.