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.

Full Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Major DRA Budget Increase

Posted on July 10, 2008 at 06:21 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus commends Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and other Senators for impressive progress toward a major increase in the Delta Regional Authority budget, as the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved $20 million for the agency Thursday evening–more than triple the amount voted for in the House of Representatives and in President Bush’s budget.

“This is the biggest increase for the DRA since the agency was created in 2000 by a bipartisan group in Congress and signed into law by President Clinton, and Senators Landrieu, Cochran, Lincoln and others from the region led the charge and should be congratulated on this progress,” said Lee Riley Powell, Delta Caucus director. “At the Delta Caucus annual conference a few weeks ago, Sen. Landrieu pledged as a member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee to secure an increase up to $20 million from that subcommittee, and this week she fulfilled that promise and the entire Delta owes her a debt of gratitude,” Powell said.

Sen. Cochran is senior ranking Republican on the full Appropriations Committee and played a key role in increasing the current level of almost $12 million to $20 million, which is more than triple the amount voted by the House Appropriations Committee and requested in President Bush’s budget. “Every year for three years the full Congress has voted in conference to go all the way to the Senate figure, so this bodes well for the outcome this year, and an increase to $20 million in this time of budget deficits would be a major surprise and one of the greatest victories in the DRA’s history,” Powell said.

Delta Caucus Co-Chair and Mayor of Blytheville, Arkansas Barrett Harrison said “Sen. Lincoln and Sen. Cochran, who is the senior ranking Republican on the full Appropriations Committee, have long led the way in increasing the DRA budget in the Senate, but they needed more help from their colleagues, and this week Sen. Landrieu came through to help them in a big-time way with her strategic position on the Energy and Water appropriations subcommittee.”

Dr. Obadiah Simmons of Grambling State University and the Louisiana coordinator for the Delta Caucus said “Senators Landrieu, Cochran and Lincoln all said they would work for a DRA budget increase at our conference in Washington a few weeks ago, and unlike many political leaders who make promises they don’t deliver on, they were as good as their word, and we can’t commend them enough for standing up for the economic development of the eight-state Delta region.”

“We also have strong support from other Senators from the region, including Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), and several members of the Appropriations Committee from both parties, including Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), and others. The Delta Grassroots Caucus had 15 Members of Congress state their support for the DRA at our recent conference in Washington,” Powell said.

“Sen. Hillary Clinton, Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Barack Obama also endorsed funding increases for the DRA in their Presidential campaigns, and those endorsements elevated this issue and contributed to this result as well,” Delta Caucus Co-Chair and Desha County Judge Mark McElroy said.

Powell said “An increase in the DRA budget is badly needed, because they have done some good work despite having a budget that is far too small.” In their short history, here is a short overview of the accomplishments of the DRA federal grant program:

The Delta Regional Authority’s federal grant program funded 385 projects during its first six years, using $56 million of DRA funds. That $56 million leveraged $278 million of other federal funds and $1.2 billion of private funds.

It is estimated that this investment of more than $1.5 billion in the region has helped create or retain more than 32,000 jobs while providing drinking water and sewer services to almost 25,000 families. More than 6,300 Delta residents received job training due to this investment.

More than 93 percent of DRA funding has gone to economically distressed counties in the region.

The DRA federal grant program has a multiplier effect, because even though it is federal money, by a unique statutory authority it can be counted as the local match. For many small, impoverished Delta communities that cannot afford even the local match, a relatively small DRA grant can thus leverage much larger funding from other state and federal sources.

The differences between the Senate and House will have to be resolved later this year in conference or in an omnibus bill, but the Senate actions have been crucial every year since 2005 because the Senate figure has been identical to the final budget figure for the DRA.

In a statement from Sen. Landrieu’s office, she said “I am pleased that we were able to provide the DRA with an increased level of funding so that they can continue administering important programs to improve the quality of life for residents of the Delta region… Once again, the administration chose to inadequately fund these programs that are of great importance to Louisiana and our region. Thankfully, the Senate Appropriations Committee has recognized and continues to encourage the essential work of the DRA.”

The DRA is a federal-state partnership that promotes economic development in eight states, 252 counties and parishes from southern Illinois to New Orleans, Louisiana.