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.

Review of Sept. 15-17, 2009 Delta Conference in Washington, DC--First in a Series

Posted on September 24, 2009 at 04:54 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus conference in Washington, DC on Sept. 15-17, 2009 promoted progress in improved health care and economic development, featuring 13 Members of Congress, six Presidential appointees of the Obama administration, and a total of over 150 (including all those who came to parts of the conference) grassroots leaders, federal officials, economic development or health care organizations across the eight-state Greater Delta Region from southern Illinois to New Orleans and eastward to the Alabama Black Belt, as well as in the Washington, DC area. Many people have said they thought it was our best conference yet, and thanks a million to all of you!!

MEDIA COVERAGE: We received media coverage from the New Orleans Times Picayune, Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas news bureau, Birmingham News, Associated Press, and other publications. So coverage included the largest newspapers in Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, as well as smaller media outlets in southern Illinois, southeast Missouri and western Kentucky. Media coverage is important in informing the general public in addition to helping get the attention of the powers that be.

Many of the grassroots partners held additional smaller meetings on Capitol Hill and the executive agences on Thursday, Sept. 17. A few of us kept working through Friday afternoon, so we covered a lot of offices and a lot of ground.

HEALTH CARE DIALOGUE: The conference highlighted positive statements about the prospects for a compromise on health care reform. A couple of the highlights included the opening session, where Blue Dog Democrat leader Rep. Mike Ross (AR) and many other Representatives from the region emphasized the need to develop some compromise to get health care legislation passed this year. Rep. Ross and Caya Lewis, President Obama’s Director of Outreach and Health Policy in the HHS Office of Health Reform, gave presentations in which they agreed on the great majority of health care issues.

On Wednesday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (AR), chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and also a member of the powerful Finance Committee, gave an excellent presentation on several issues, including health care, right after she had left a meeting of the Finance Committee on health care. Sen. Lincoln spoke about the prospects for developing a middle-of-the-road compromise on health care. She spoke favorably of the Finance Committee plan to pool coverage into co-ops, creating benefits from having cusotmer pool their purchasing power.

Sen. Lincoln was quoted in a national media story at our meeting as saying that the cooperatives’ idea is “not government creating health care, it’s government creating an environment where private industry work for consumers. You’re saying to the private industry, ‘OK, fight for our business.”

There were many excellent presentations from Members of Congress, including Rep. Ross, Sen. Lincoln, Sen. Mark Pryor (AR), Rep. Marion Berry (AR), Rep. Charlie Melancon (LA), Sen. Mary Landrieu (LA), Sen. Thad Cochran (MS), Rep. Travis Childers (MS), Rep. Artur Davis (AL), Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (MO), Rep. Jerry Costello (IL). Rep. Rodney Alexander (LA) and Rep. Steve Cohen (TN) also came to the opening session to listen and visit with constituents.

In addition to Caya Lewis, President Obama’s HHS Office of Health Reform director of health policy, we were glad to have Under Secretary for USDA Administration Pearlie Reed, who is the highest ranking Arkansan in the Obama administration, who gave a great presentation on a range of USDA issues important for the region, assisted by his Deputy Under Secretary, Alma Hobbs. Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon gave an informative analysis of nutrition programs like SNAP, WIC, school meals and other hunger and nutrition programs, while Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Victor Vasquez summarized a range of activities USDA is working on in this administration for promoting rural economic development, infrastructure and other major initiatives for rural regions like the Greater Delta Region.

We also appreciated having Jessica Zufolo, Deputy Administrator for the Rural Utilities Service, discuss administration efforts to expand broadband access to underserved areas of the Delta.

We could not have accomplished this without our coalition of grassroots supporters throughout the eight-state region and Washington, DC, and thanks a million to all of you for making this event possible!

We would like to thank again those who took part on the agenda. The southeast Arkansas and southern Illinois contingents had the two largest groups from a particular local area, but we greatly appreciate everybody who took part. Further details are below:

OPENING SESSION SPEAKERS: Rep. Mike Ross (AR), Rep. Jerry Costello (IL), Rep. Marion Berry (AR), health care reform spokesperson from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ office to speak on the Obama administration’s health care positions, Rep. Charles Melancon (LA), Rep. Travis Childers (MS), Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (MO), Mayor Helenor Bell of Hayneville, AL; Desha County Judge Mark McElroy; Mayor Brad Cole, Carbondale, IL.

SENATE SESSION SPEAKERS-Senators Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln (AR), Sen. Thad Cochran (MS), Sen. Mary Landrieu (LA), Rep. Artur Davis (AL), President Glenn Poshard, Southern Illinois University, Rev. Dwight Webster, New Orleans, LA; Chris Masingill, senior aide to Gov. Mike Beebe (AR)

Economic development panel: Johnnie Bolin, Arkansas Good Roads Council; Bill Triplett, DRA; Robert Dansby, President, Edgenics Corp.; Dean Tim Todd, Murray State University business school, western Kentucky; Josh Tubbs, Marshall County economic development office in western Kentucky; Alan Branson, COO of Enterprise Corp. of the Delta/HOPE Community Credit Union.

USDA SESSION SPEAKERS: USDA Under Secretary for Administration Pearlie Reed, and his Deputy Alma Hobbs; USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon; Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Victor Vasquez; Mayor Heather Hudson, Greenville, MS, president, National Conference of Black Mayors.

We heard presentations on various nutrition, rural economic development, rural health care, limited resource farmers issues from Dr. Steve Onufrak, USDA ARS, Stoneville, MS; Michael Ashanti, Heifer International, Helena-West Helena, AR; Charita Johnson Burgess and Vivian Fry, Shiloh Distribution Center, west Tennessee; Buddy Spillers, president, Macon Ridge Community Development Corp., Ferriday, LA; Lynn Wilson, Assistant Hospital Administrator, LSU Health Sciences Center, Monroe, LA; Donna Raynalds, Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone; Robert Cole, East Arkansas Enterprise Community, Forrest City, Arkansas, and Jessica Zufolo, Deputy Administrator for the USDA Rural Utilities Service.

The Delta Caucus would like to thank our sponsors for making this initiative possible:


Nucor Yamato Steel and Nucor Steel of Arkansas, Blytheville, Arkansas


Enterprise Corporation of the Delta - HOPE Community Credit Union (headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi, but active across Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi)

Housing Assistance Council, Washington, DC

Mississippi County Equal Opportunity, Commission (Blytheville, Arknsas)

Entergy Corp.

McGehee Industrial Foundation, McGehee. Arkansas

Inspire Hope Institute


Desha County Judge Mark McElroy

Shawnee Community College, southern Illinois

Foundation for the Mid South (active throughout Louisiana, Arkansas & Mississippi)

City of Carbondale, Illinois

Dumas, Arkansas Chamber of Commerce

Heifer International

G.A. Wildman of Alabama

Southern Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone

Edgenics Corp., a national company active in expanding broadband access in the Delta

Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center, East Prairie, Missouri

City of Sikeston, Missouri


Last but not least, we would like to thank the large numbers of people who have contributed annual membership dues and other modest contributions in the amounts of $100, $85, $50 and $25 over the course of the year. As a grassroots coalition, we raise a substantial part of our budget through large numbers of modest donations, and we could not continue our work in promoting economic development in the eight-state Greater Delta Region without these hundreds of small contributions. Thanks-Lee Powell, executive director, MDGC (202) 360-6347