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.

Summary of Washington Delta Events, Nov. 1-3; & Please Go to DRA Conference in LR

Posted on November 11, 2011 at 06:27 PM

We would like to give a summary of the Delta Initiative on Jobs and Spending Priorities in Washington, DC on Nov. 1-3, 2011, but first we would like to honor all of our veterans on this holiday dedicated to those who keep our country safe and free. We have an unusually high proportion of veterans and people currently serving in our armed forces in the Delta so it is especially important for us to honor them today.

NOTE: We want to please encourage our partners to go to the Delta Regional Authority conference in Little Rock, Arkansas on Nov. 13-15, 2011. This will be a very big event and you can get the details at the DRA website at Many of the Delta Caucus partners will be attending that conference, so please join us in turning out to support the DRA!

Scroll down and just read the sections you are most interested in–this is a long document and we don’t expect anyone to read all of it: Please note that this is a long document that might be seen as a reference documents with brief summaries of each speaker. We would not expect anyone to read all of it, but rahter you should scroll down to the speakers you are most interested in to read those sections. It is primarily in chronological order.

We reached a total of 25 Congressional offices either by having them speak and answer questions from the group, or in smaller meetings at their offices, as well as Obama administration officials from USDA, US DOT, EPA, the Dept. of Education, HHS and other executive agencies. Despite the recession, 81 people from the Delta came up to advocate for the region at this crucial time for at least parts of the conference, and with the large number of federal officials and representatives of Washington, DC organizations the total number of participants was over 150.

We began the Washington, DC conference at the House of Representatives Rayburn building on Nov. 1 by recognizing former Secretary of Veterans Affairs for President Clinton, Hershel Gober, a Purple Heart veteran originally from Monticello, Arkansas in the heartland of the Delta who is a longstanding supporter of the Delta Caucus. We consulted with Secretary Gober in drafting our “10-Point Plan for Job Growth and Spending Priorities” and included medical care and other aid to veterans as one of the top priorities that must not be included in any spending cuts.

We were also glad to see Bob Nash at the conference. As most of you know Bob was Under Secretary for Rural Development for President Clinton and then chief of the White House Presidential Personnel office, and he gave us feedback on the spending priorities issues and we greatly appreciated that.

The Delta Caucus congratulated Rev. Stephanie Vance, head of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship anti-poverty project based in Lake Providence, Louisiana, for her exemplary work for the people in northeast Louisiana, and also for recently having become an ordained minister.

We praised the efforts of many people throughout the region in surviving the terrible floods and storms from Missouri to Tuscaloosa, Alabama this year. Much of Martha Ellen Black’s county in Missouri was flooded, the Yazoo area in Mississippi and the White River area in Harvey Joe Sanner’s (president of the American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas) area around Prairie County, from west Tennessee down to Louisiana. The levee system held and it must be preserved–without the disaster would have been far worse.

One example of the great work was Desha County Judge Mark McElroy’s tireless efforts in southeast Arkansas. He stayed up most of the night on many occasions dealing with the potentially dangerous sand boils, and with the aid of many other state, local and federal officials, the damage was kept to a minimum. Judge McElroy led prayer sessions at McGehee, Arkansas at the height of the flooding that were frequently captured in television broadcasts, thus leading to his decision for a career change to become a television evangelist, according to the Judge.?!

We were delighted that US Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois was the first speaker at the conference, especially because traditionally we have had difficulty in getting Senators or other statewide officials in Illinois to come to our events, because Chicago and the northern part of the state are far more heavily populated and wealthier than the southern Illinois area from East St. Louis to Cairo. Our longstanding colleague Brad Cole, who was a mainstay for the Delta Caucus for many years when he was mayor of Carbondale, Illinois and is now director of Sen. Kirk’s Springfield, Illinois office that covers most of the counties in the state. Sen. Kirk gave an excellent presentation and he clearly is attentive to the concerns and issues of southern Illinois.

Sen. Kirk was able to discuss the good news that shortly before he spoke, the Senate rejected a series of harsh cuts to the USDA Rural Development budget, which is one of the top priorities for rural utilities, rural small business, rural housing and many other key issues. We will need to keep advocating for Rural Development until the end of the funding process.

We also appreciated the participation of President Larry Peterson of Shawnee Community College, Emily Carter and Kim Sanders of Southern Illinois University, and the staff of Rep. Jerry Costello and Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama is a new Member of Congress representing the Alabama Black Belt and her native Selma as well as parts of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, and she gave a dynamic presentation in support of job creation, the DRA and other key economic development issues. She opposed making many cuts in small, valuable programs that help the most vulnerable people in the region and have budgets that are so relatively tiny that cutting them does little or nothing to resolve our deficits problems.

Rep. Sewell demonstrated that she is a courageous, independent voice, because even though she is a friend, Harvard Law School classmate, and usually supports President Barack Obama, she described a conversation with the President when she said she had serious concerns about EPA regulations that threaten job growth and the weak economic recovery, and indicated to President Obama that she would not be able to agree with him on that issue. She noted that if people did not have jobs they would not have the money to get medical care. Rep. Sewell is clearly a rising star in the Congress and we look forward to working with her for the Delta and the Alabama Black Belt for many years to come.

Rep. Sewell recognized the great work in economic development of Mayor Sheldon Day of Thomasville, Alabama and Billy McFarland, originally from Tuscaloosa and now Director of the Center for Business and Economic Services at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, who also spoke on the big picture regional economic development at the Senate session on Nov. 2. We would like to thank Mayor Day and Billy McFarland for meeting with Senator Richard Shelby, Senator Jeff Sessions, and other members of the Alabama Congressional delegation at their offices to go into depth on our region’s economic development issues.

Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri is a senior Member of Congress who is widely respected by leaders from both parties and is one of our most effective supporters of the Delta’s economic development. She was introduced by Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Mike Marshall of Sikeston, Missouri, the second highest ranking official at the DRA and a long-time friend of Rep. Emerson.

Rep. Emerson is a strong supporter of the DRA, and in the House we are pleased to note that in spite of this climate of budget-cutting, that body has kept the DRA funding steady at $11.7 million. Unfortunately the Senate currently is trying to cut it back to $9.92 million, and a constant theme of the conference was that it makes no sense to cut a small agency that helps create jobs, supports strategic regional planning, engages in many constructive activities in health care, biofuels, small business development and many other activities in the middle of a recession. We will work for a better result in line with the House’s position and we know Rep. Emerson will be one of strongest leaders in that effort.

Rep. Emerson has long been a critic of the EPA, and at this conference it was unanimous from leaders of both parties that the new, stringent EPA regulations ought to at least be delayed until the economy strengthens and the job situation gets less bleak. Emerson went beyond that to make the case that many of the EPA regulations are not logical even on their merits. In any event, the Obama administration ought to take a careful look and at least delay implementation of EPA regulations that have created such concern from thoughtful Members of Congress from both parties such as Congresswoman Emerson and Congresswoman Sewell.

Congresswoman Emerson joined many others from our eight-state region in supporting the concept of putting people back to work on roads, bridges and other infrastructure, which will both help the unemployment problem now and improve our badly outmoded infrastructure for the long term. She said that Congress will probably revise the version of the jobs/infrastructure program in President Obama’s plan, but that another version of that proposal had a good chance of passing.

The Obama plan did indeed fail in the Senate on Nov. 3, but as Rep. Emerson said, we need to work on a revised version of the basic proposal of putting people to work improving our infrastructure in the Delta and across America.

Congressman Mike Ross of Arkansas, one of the two co-chairman of the Congressional Delta Caucus, which is the counterpart to our grassroots caucus, as always gave a thoughtful and informative presentation about the Delta’s issues and the current gridlock in Washington. Congressman Ross has a great reputation for being a pragmatic, moderate leader who can work with leaders from both parties. If we had more Members of Congress like Mike Ross we could put together a practical, bipartisan compromise to deal with our jobs and deficits problems.

This will be Rep. Ross’ last term in Congress and his leadership will sorely be missed, but we are glad we will have his services for more than a year. Rep. Ross is one of our key leaders on the DRA budget issues, as always.

Good news on the Interstate 69 Corridor: Rep. Ross said that investing in infrastructure is one way out of our economic troubles, and in fact noted that he would be in Monticello to celebrate the start of construction of Interstate 69 in Arkansas. Johnnie Bolin, long-time transportation expert and now a candidate for the legislature, and many others in our region have worked for decades to make progress on I-69, and as Congressman Ross was quoted in the media, “We’ve been waiting a long time to see dirt turn” on I-69. Thanks to Rep. Ross and all the other I-69 supporters for this progress.

Delta Caucus Executive Director Lee Powell gave a presentation summarizing the “10-Point Plan for Job Growth and Spending Priorities” that was distributed and discussed at the conference. In a nutshell, the plan emphasizes nonpartisan, practical compromises:

–Investments in job creatioon initiatives like USDA Rural Development, the Small Business Administration, US DOT infrastructure projects, the DRA, and energy efficiency jobs programs such as the innovative HEAL (Home Energy Assistance Loan) supported by Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas, President Clinton’s Foundation and other organizations.

–Tax breaks for small businesses as well as the payroll tax cuts.

–Delaying the EPA regs until the economy strengthens.

–Job training and literacy programs as essential to hiring and keeping jobs.

–Key safety nets should be maintained that protect the most vulnerable populations, such as USDA nutrition programs (including the Delta anti-obesity research unit of USDA in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi) LIHEAP for low-income energy bills, medical care and other essential aid for veterans, and flood control and disaster relief after the terrible flooding and storms in our regionthis year;

–Major cuts in defense spending to wind down foreign military involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan, and exorbitant weapons systems and use that funding to invest in the economy at home.

–Close tax loopholes and make the tax code fair by eliminating subsidies such as those to oil companies and other advantages to hedge funds and other wealthy entities.

–The majority of our partners would support the 5% surtax on incomes of over $1 million a year. Most of our partners thought the Obama plan went too low down to the $200,000 to $250,00, which is middle class for large families or families with health problems.

We will have to have job creation to put taxpayers back to work, revenue increases, as well as spending cuts to dig ourselves out of the deep hole we now find ourselves immersed in.

DRA Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Mike Marshall of Sikeston, Missouri gave an excellent presentation about the DRA’s current activities and fielded a series of questions from the group. He covered the small business and biofuels initiatives that the DRA is currently working on in partnership with Southeast Missouri State University, the SBA and many other organizations and agencies throughout the region.

Chairman Marshall noted the accomplishments of the Delta Doctors program, which has now placed over 150 doctors in underserved areas of the Delta. The DRA has a rare authority to waive the requirement that foreign medical graduates must return to their home countries after graduation, if they will agree to practice medicine in underserved areas of the Delta. Careful procedures are followed to make sure that there are no American doctors who can serve these areas. This program functions without any additional appropriations and is a great example of an innovation that works to help the people of the region.

Mike Marshall summarized the investments in job growth, job training, infrastructure and other DRA activities this year: counting the DRA’s grant program and the funds leveraged from other sources, this had led to an investment of $66 million this year. The DRA uses its small budget very judiciously.

We have an especially strong Missouri role in the regional movement nowadays: Mike Marshall is one of the top two ranking federal officials at the DRA, Gov. Jay Nixon is the state Co-Chairman, Southeast Missouri State University does a lot of important work promoting small business/entrepreneurialism and other economic development initiatives, Melissa Rice of the Cape Girardeau food bank serving 16 southeast Missouri Delta counties gave an insightful presentation on Nov. 2 about the stresses on the food bank and the many pantries it serves caused by the recession, USDA Rural Development in Missouri is engaged in a wide variety of constructive activities, and Martha Ellen Black, director of the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in East Prairie, Missouri is a member of the Delta Caucus board of directors and one of our key partners.

Congressman Rick Crawford of Arkansas is the co-chairman of our Congressional counterpart, the Mississippi River Congressional Delta Caucus, which disseminates information to Members of Congress representing the entire eight-state region. Rep. Crawford is one of our many veterans we honor today. He also has a background in agriculture, which is so important for our region. Mayor Larry Owens of Hughes introduced the Congressman, noting his hard work as Co-Chairman of the Congressional Delta Caucus, his strong support of the DRA, flood control and other initiatives for the Delta region.

Desha County Judge Mark McElroy spoke up in the discussion section to say how much people in the Delta appreciated Rep. Crawford’s hard work on flood control at the time of the devastating flooding this year. Without the levee system having held, wide expanses in Arkansas and throughout the region would have been devastated and the destruction would have been far worse than it was. We appreciate Rep. Crawford’s strong support for the vital levee system.

Albert Nylander, Dean of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education and Professor of Sociology and Community at Delta State University, Cleveland, Mississippi, gave a presentation about developing a more educated workforce in the Delta, which is essential in the effort to create and retain jobs. Delta State University is one of our leading academic institutions in the heart of the Delta and we appreciate their longstanding contributions to our activities. Dean Nylander spoke about how gratifying it was when students he had encouraged went on to complete their degrees, and years later would contact him to express their appreciation for his constructive role in their careers.

Lee Powell discussed with Dean Nylander a proposal for many universities and colleges throughout the region, including Delta State University, to follow the innovation of President Fitzgerald Hill of Arkansas Baptist College and the Arkansas Literacy Councils, with support from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and other partners, in which $1 dollar is added to the price of a football game ticket, along with sponsorships, with the proceeds to be given to literacy programs in Arkansas.

President Hill’s explanation of this idea is that “You can’t get 50,000 people to attend a chemistry lecture, but you can get 50,000 people to attend a football game.” The Delta Classic for literacy football game has generated substantial funding for literacy programs in Arkansas. Why not replicate this innovation across the region?

Look at the list of universities and colleges who participated at this conference: Louisiana State University, Grambling State University, Delta State University, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Mid-South Community College in West Memphis, Arkansas, Arkansas State University, Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Murray State University in western Kentucky, Shawnee Community College in southern Illinois, and Southern Illinois University. If all of these universities could either add $1 to a footbal game ticket’s price and add some sponsors once a year, it could produce substantial revenue.

Why literacy, some may ask, when there are many worthy causes? Because literacy affects virtually everything else, from getting and keeping jobs to following medical prescriptions and instructions, to many other issues. Our colleges and universities receive many students each year with inadequate reading ability. We must close this literacy gap if the Delta is to make progress.

Nov. 2 Senate session: This session began with a big picture regional economic development panel led by Christy LeGrand of the Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. We have already noted SEMO’s important collaboration with the DRA on small business and entrepreneurialism. SEMO has been one of our steadfast partners every year since the Delta Grassroots Caucus began and their support is deeply appreciated.

We have also already noted Billy McFarland’s excellent work at the University of West Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Services on a wide variety of economic development initiatives. Mr. McFarland and his wife Sarah were also gracious enough to make a sponsorship contribution for the Caucus in DC.

Our southern Illinois representative on the “big picture” panel was Emily Carter, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Development at Southern Illinois University. SIU has been a key partner in the Delta regional development movement ever since Rhonda Vinson played an important role on the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission began its work in the late 1980s, and this university has maintained its support for regionalism in the Delta through all those years, and we appreciate Emily Carter continuing in SIU’s great tradition.

The western Kentucky representative was Loretta Daniel, Director of the Regional Business and Innovation Center at Murray State University. Ms. Daniel is engaged in a variety of constructive economic development activities including promoting small business and renewable energy. Murray State University is the counterpart to Southern Illinois University and Southeast Missouri State University in their steadfast and important contributions to the regional activities every year.

Joe Black is a veteran regional leader with Southern Bancorp, which is engaged in many constructive and innovative community and economic development activities across the Delta. Mr. Black is based in the important community of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, but he is knowledgeable about activities throughout the region. Southern Bancorp is an institution of not just regional but national stature: it is the largest and most profitable rural development banking organization in America.

The focus on rural economic development of Southern Bancorp is demonstrated by the fact that its offices are located in small rural communities, most with populations of 15,000 or less. Their work has resulted in the investment of millions of dollars in target communities and the creation of thousands of new jobs and businesses since its founding in the 1980s.

Following the big picture panel, we were glad to have Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana speak and then field questions. Sen. Landrieu is there every year for us, and she is one of the most powerful leaders in the Senate, as chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, a member of the Appropriations Committee and chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, where she is in a position to work for disaster victims such as those who suffered from Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill. From here senior position in the Senate, Sen. Landrieu pledged to work for the House level of funding for DRA at $11.7 million rather than the extremely disappointing figure of $9.92 million in the Senate.

Sen. Landrieu agrees with the small business emphasis of the Delta Caucus 10-Point Plan and as chair of the Small Business Committee is strategically positioned to work for those initiatives.

The Delta Caucus endorses Sen. Landrieu’s innovative plan to waive the matching requirement for the 100 most impoverished counties of the United States, and a substantial number of these are in the Delta. The problem that many impoverished communities have is that they cannot come up with the local matching requirement, and thus miss out on much larger pots of funding. Larger and wealthier communities elsewhere also have the funding and staff to put together high quality grant applications, but again small, impoverished Delta communities do not have such resources.

The DRA does have the ability to use its grants to count as the local match, but the difficulty there is that the DRA budget is so small that they can only fund a relatively small total number of projects across the region. For the most impoverished counties, Sen. Landrieu is absolutely right that they should be exempt from the local matching requirement, and the current system unfairly locks them out of many constructive funding opportunities.

We were glad that Jessica Vermilyea, state director for Louisiana’s Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response based in New Orleans, was one of our speakers at the Senate session. She complimented Sen. Landrieu for being so involved in Lutheran Social Services’ work in helping people who are still working to recover from the twin disasters of Katrina and the oil spill in New Orleans and the Gulf coast. Delta Caucus leaders met Ms. Vermilyea when we were in New Orleans at the time of the Gulf oil spill and she is one of the most knowledgeable nonprofit leaders in the region on the long-term effort to rebuild from those disasters.

Congressman Tim Griffin of the central Arkansas district spoke and fielded questions at the Senate session. Some of the easternmost areas of his district are Delta areas, but much of his district consists of the relatively large and basically prosperous city of Little Rock and its suburbs, so we appreciate his taking time to participate in our activities. We believe it is very important for Little Rock and the other cities to feel that they are included in and part of the regional effort, because it cannot be good for Little Rock to be so prosperous and then you go down I-40 a short ways and you are in an economically stagnant region. When we are in Little Rock we frequently ask people where they came from, and you often get replies such as Forrest City, Dumas, McGehee, Helena-West Helena and other Delta communities, so the ties between Little Rock and the Delta are obvious in this and many other respects, and Congressman Griffing clearly understands that by taking the time to participate in our activities.

Rep. Griffin reiterated his support for the DRA budget, as well as concerns about EPA regulations that could slow down the already glacially slow recovery.

Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas gave an excellent presentation, and was very kind and patient considering his extremely busy schedule in waiting as Sen. Landrieu and Rep. Griffin completed their remarks. In introducing the Senator, Lee Powell observed that Sen. Boozman has taken many thoughtful stands about American foreign military interventions, such as the one in Libya.

Many of the Delta Caucus partners share his concern about the enormous strain on our budget of so many foreign military involvements. The administration needs to be careful to appropriately consult with Congress, as the late Sen. J. William Fulbright so eloquently argued in his era. Sen. Boozman has observed and the Delta Caucus partners agree that we should be able to reduce foreign military spending as we wind down the Iraq and Afghanistan involvements, and that funding can be used constructively to get our economic and budgetary house in order in the USA.

Sen. Boozman said he will work in the Senate and in the House and Senate conference to get the DRA funded at the higher House funding level. He indicated he is discussing this issue with his Senate colleagues, and we appreciate his support for the DRA. Sen. Boozman was quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as saying, “We’re banding together as a group to try to advocate for as much funding as we can get and to protect the funding we’ve got.”

Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas is a very influential, senior Senator who is a longstanding supporter of the DRA. He was quoted in the Democrat-Gazettethe Stephens media chain’s coverage of the conference as saying that “I’m going to fight hard to keep the program. They really do help.” Sen. Pryor is strategically situated to be helpful on this issue, because he is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Pryor covered a wide range of other economic development issues in his thoughtful, informative presentation. Mayor Carl Redus of Pine Bluff paid tribute to Sen. Pryor’s longstanding service to the Delta in introducing him at the Senate session. The Senator unfailingly supports our issues and stays in communication with our group year in and year out and we greatly appreciate it. In addition to being on the Appropriations Committee, he is known to be a pragmatic, nonpartisan Senator who can work across both sides of the aisle. His jobs plan that he offered as an alternative to the Obama plan has much to recommend it and we carefully considered his views in developing our proposed recommendations.

We were glad to have Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi speak to our group. Sen. Wicker was upbeat about the prospects for getting at least a somewhat better end result, commenting that he thought it is better that the House started with the higher figure than the Senate when it goes to conference. Usually, there will at least be a compromise when there are divergent funding levels between the two houses, and there will be a compromise that will be higher than the lower of the two levels. The best result, of course, would be moving up to the House figure, on the basis that it is irrational to cut a program that creates jobs in America’s most economically distressed area in the middle of a long recession.

In illustrating how serious the budgetary situation is, Sen. Wicker asked the group to guess how many cents on every dollar goes to just service the national debt. One answer was close to the figure, which is 43 cents of every dollar. We would argue that major defense cuts, closing of tax loopholes and a fairer tax code, and putting people back to work as taxpayers are essential in this regard. Sen. Wicker gave a thoughtful presentation and we appreciated him for taking part.

A comical episode took place just before Sen. Wicker spoke, as we had been informed that the Senator would be over in a few minutes, which in most cases usually turns out to be 15 minutes or more. Therefore, we asked George Miles, director of the Mid-South Delta LISC, based in Greenville, Mississippi, which engages in many beneficial community and economic development activities across the region, to speak about his excellent organization’s work. Lo and behold, Sen. Wicker made his entrance about 10 seconds after George Miles started speaking. Mr. Miles took the situation in good humor and was given a rousing ovation as a result, and Sen. Wicker amiably remarked that “The young man who was filibustering as I was coming in did an admirable job.” Then we told the Senator that the filibusterer was his constituent who headed up a major nonprofit organization in his state, further adding to the comic relief.

A special thanks to George Miles for all of Delta LISC’s great work for his region, and apologies for our unlucky timing. Mr. Miles joined a small group on Nov. 3 that had a lengthy session with USDA Assistant Secretary Pearlie Reed and we appreciated his contributions at that meeting. Assistant Secretary Reed gave our group almost an hour and a half, which is remarkably generous for a leader who is one of the most influential leaders at USDA. He gave us many helpful suggestions about USDA programs for agriculture, nutrition, rural development, aid to small farmers and many other vital issues. Secretary Reed is from the east central Arkansas Delta and is recognized as one of the most knowledgeable leaders in the country regarding rural America.

Congratulations to Secretary Reed for the great progress that has finally been made on the cases involving USDA discrimination against black farmers. Pearlie Reed began his work on that terribly difficult issue in the Clinton administration, and we are now most of the way home toward trying to resolve those cases. A special thanks to Mayor Larry Owens of Hughes, Arkansas and Frederick Freeman of Forrest City for helping to set up the meeting with Secretary Reed.

The final speaker at the Senate session was Congressman Cedric Richmond, who is the new Congressman from New Orleans, and it is always essential to have participation from that great city at our conference. This time we had Sen. Landrieu, Rep. Richmond, Jessica Vermilyea of Lutheran Social Services, and Amir Webster, now a graduate student at American University in Washington and the son of our much admired leader from New Orleans, Rev. Dwight Webster, senior minister of Christian Unity Baptist Church and a Hurricane Katrina victim and survivor.

Congressman Richmond is on the Small Business Committee and is the ranking Democrat on the Healthcare and Technology Subcommittee. He is a native of New Orleans and bore witness to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the disastrous oil spill of 2010. He is another of our region’s members strategically situated to help on the small business jobs front as a member of the Small Business Committee, where he emphasizes bringing innovation to the marketplace. When he was in the Louisiana state legislature, Richmond created the Louisiana State New Markets Tax Credit program that generated over $250 million of investment in damaged areas after Katrina.

Rep. Richmond is a dynamic speaker and another of our rising stars in Congress. He expressed a thoughtful point of view which we felt was very congenial to our progressive, practial approach in our plan on job growth and spending priorities.

At the final Capitol Hill group session on Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 2, we addressed the vital issues of housing and nutrition programs.

A longstanding national leader on rural housing across the country and especially in the Delta is the Housing Assistance Council based in Washington, and we were glad to have Joe Belden, HAC’s Associate Director, speak to our group in the beautiful, elegant setting of the historic sanctuary of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill.

HAC contributed the section of our 10-Point Plan on rural housing issues, and we have been in regular communication with them and have benefited from their expertise for many years. Joe Belden gave a thoughtful summary of the housing crisis, which disproportionately harmed the Delta because there were already so many housing problems in our region. Mr. Belden noted that unfortunately, both the Republicans in Congress and the Obama administration had supported major cuts in USDA rural housing programs. The Senate has taken a better position on this set of issues. We would urge President Obama to take a more positive and appreciative position regarding the many vulnerable people in the Delta and their plight in the vital issue of housing.

Much of the last Capitol Hill group session focused on nutrition issues. That session was led by Ed Cooney, executive director of the Congressional Hunger Center. Ed Cooney is one of the nation’s leading experts on federal nutrition programs, and he was a Presidential appointee in the Clinton administration. Mr. Cooney gave an overview of the situation on nutrition programs, saying that on this set of issues President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and the Senate Democrats have generally taken constructive positions. The problem in this area is that Speaker Boehner of Ohio and Republicans in the House are in favor of cutting vital nutrition programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps), WIC and the other USDA nutrition initiatives that are the only obstacle standing between many of our economically stressed families and hunger. It would be a travesty to cut these programs.

As already noted, Melissa Rice and the other personnel of the Cape Girardeau Feeding America food bank serves 16 counties in the southeast Missouri Delta. The sources of the food for the food bank has been decreasing. Many of the pantries served by the food bank have had to shut their doors early because they run out of food. Melissa Rice said that this serious situation will be made far worse if Congress makes spending cuts in TEFAP, the vital federal nutrition program that serves food banks across the country.

The situation Ms. Rice described in southeast Missouri is the same plight we are seeing in food banks across the Delta. Food banks across the country, of course, are under stress, but two factors make it much more severe for food banks like the one in Cape Girardeau: first, most Delta areas rank near or at the bottom of food insecurity and the recession has made that problem even worse.

Secondly, there are enormous logistical problems in getting the food out to hungry people who are scattered over a huge, rural geographical area. The Cape Girardeau food bank works hard at dealing with this difficulty by such innovations as utilizing a mobile food pantry.

Melissa Rice and food banks are working as effectively as they can with limited resources. Her poignant presentation of the southeast Missouri nutrition issues clearly reveal how disastrous it would be for low-income people in the Delta if vital programs like SNAP, WIC or TEFAP suffer budget cuts.

One of our key supporters and one of the most exemplary hunger, nutrition and poverty organizations not only nationally but internationally is Heifer International. Tamidra Marable, Heifer International’s US Country Programs manager is based in Little Rock and is engaged in a wide variety of constructive programs in the east Arkansas Delta.

Tamidra Marable highlighted Heifer’s Seeds of Change initiative, which emphasizes access to better, more nutritious food, wealth creation and related anti-poverty and anti-hunger fundamentals. She pointed out that the poverty rate in 2010 was the highest at any time since 1993, with especially disturbing rates for minorities, with a rate of 27% for blacks, 26% for Hispanics, 12.1% for Asians, in contrast to the poverty rate for whites at 9.9%.

Ms. Marable struck a chord that certainly resonated with the Delta Caucus when she said that by collaborating in a broader coalition we can have a collective impact that will be far greater than it we all took parallel tracks and sought a series of isolated impacts. The Seeds of Change initiative emphasizes principles such as shared measurement and accountability, mutually reinforcing activities, and continuing communication, among others, in working towards the goals of stable production, local input and an affordable, nutritious diet. She noted that at present the prospects appear bleak in our region, citing a Feeding America study that 17.7 % of Arkansas households have food insecurity. Approximately 25% of Arkansas children are threatened by hunger.

We would like to add this extended summary of the “Seeds of Change Initiative” in Arkansas: It will help to organize and provide resources and support for local communities to fight hunger, poverty and environmental degradation. This outcomes-driven project will help broad-based community coalitions design and implement community-owned food systems to provide sustainable livelihoods within the food system—especially among women and minority populations; improve access to locally-grown, healthy food for low-income people; and improve the environment by implementing responsible agricultural practices. The project will specifically target high-need populations in the Arkansas Delta.

Heifer USA will be facilitating and building the capacity for collaboration among key partners. There will be emphasis placed on increasing the number and the sustainable productive capacity of small and medium-scale farmers. With partners, this project will work within the value chain to create and support the establishment and sustainability of community food enterprises linking small and medium-scale farmers to diverse markets. Limited resource families will have increased access to, and the ability to influence the quality and availability of, local, healthy food within their own communities. Education and awareness-raising as well as public policy work are also key strategies as part of realizing long-term, systemic change.


Across the world the standard indicator for extreme poverty is earning less than one or two dollars a day. In the United States there is an equal comparison; families living in poverty are surviving on the salary equivalent to $9.83 an hour, which is actually higher than the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Calculations for what is considered a living wage for a family of four across the area of intervention for this project show that approximately $24.33 an hour is required just to cover basic needs such as food, shelter, education, transportation and healthcare.1

Here in the United States, a child is born into poverty every 27 seconds.2 Data from the USDA suggests that this results in 1 of 5 children being food insecure, meaning that at any time during the year, a child is hungry because of the household’s lack of money and other resources for food.3 Additionally, the leading causes of death among Americans—heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers directly linked to poor nutrition—are rapidly on the rise.


Through this project, Heifer USA will…

· Work with vulnerable and marginalized populations who lack access to resources, services or opportunities, setting them on a path first to being less vulnerable and relatively food secure, and then to being resilient, sustainable and linked to markets, recognizing that being vulnerable and marginalized is not one of choice, but the result of historical events, economic disparities, social inequalities and injustice.

· Create critical mass, i.e., work with more members of communities, doing enough on the ground to help set the community development process in motion, assuring greater impact that goes beyond Heifer and optimizes the value and potential of scarce resources.

· Partner with governments, private sector organizations, other non-profits, coalitions and networks as components of critical mass that delivers programs and services.

· Define the path to greater empowerment, building social capital, disaster management and will integrate value chains in its values based development model with a clear plan for Passing On the Gift, which is the sharing of resources gained in project activities to others in the community.

· Increase in income and assets, improvement of nutrition and health, improvement of the environment, and building social capital, e.g. community organization and empowerment, networks and coalitions, gender equity, youth empowerment etc.

· Achieve multiple levels of impact that will include positive changes on social capital, gender equity, nutrition and income, economic development, environment, as well as individual and community transformation.

Sources: 1



We were glad to have three experts on obesity and other nutrition issues in the Delta working in Louisiana and Mississippi:

–Catherine Champagne, Louisian State University Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana;

–Lisa Tussing-Humphreys, USDA Agricultural Research Service Delta Body & Soul project, Stoneville, Mississippi;

–Jessica Thomson, USDA Agricultural Research Service, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Ms. Champagne, Ms. Thomson, and Ms. Tussing-Humphreys are working in areas that are generally related to the fine work of Dr. Margaret Bogle of the USDA Obesity Prevention Research Unit in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Dr. Bogle, Catherine Champagne and other colleagues at the LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and many others have worked for years on the tremendous problem of obesity in the Delta. Their work is tremendously important in a region where obesity, heart disease, and other nutrition-related diseases are a profound dilemma. Their budget is very small—approximately $4 million—and should be fully maintained.

One of the long-time partners of the USDA Obesity Prevention Research Unit is the BGACDC agency based in Phillips County, led by Beatrice Shelby. Rev. Jerome Turner and Louis Bennett of Phillips County are key leaders of the BGACDC agency. Rev. Turner took part in the Lutheran Church of the Reformation and carried the information on nutrition to the Nov. 3 meetings such as the one at Rep. Rick Crawford’s office, Co-Chairman of the Congressional Delta Caucus, as noted earlier. We appreciated the contributions of Rev. Turner and Mr. Bennett throughout this conference.

There is no rhyme or reason to eliminate obesity prevention in the Delta at this time when the Delta states lead the nation in obesity rates for children and adults. The epidemic is not subsiding, but rather the economy continues to suffer through not only increased health care costs, but also loss of productivity in the workplace. The Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit employed over 200 individuals (all in the Delta of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi) for its research through cooperative agreements with 8 universities and through two small minority business owners in Jackson, MS who also assisted in the research.

The session at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation provided excellent information for people to use in the break-out sessions in small groups on Thursday, Nov. 3.

Thursday, Nov. 3 session in which we split up into many small groups or individuals to cover many more additional offices.

We have noted the excellent presentations of Sen. Mark Pryor, as well as the two co-chairs of the Congressional Mississippi River Delta Caucus, Rep. Mike Ross and Rep. Rick Crawford, and they were gracious enough to also meet with small groups of their constitutuents on Thursday, Nov. 3 at their offices to go into further specfics on job growth and spending priority issues in the Greater Delta region.

We would also like to thank the following Congressional offices for their communication in smaller groups or with individuals: Rep. Rodney Alexander (LA), Sen. Richard Shelby (AL), Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL), Rep. Jo Bonner (AL), Sen. Paul (KY), Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY), Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO), Sen. Blunt (MO), Rep. Jerry Costello (IL), Sen. Richard Durbin (IL), Rep. Bennie Thompson (MS), Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Rep. Ed Whitfield (KY), several members of the “super committee on spending cuts.

As already noted, USDA Assistant Secretary Pearlie Reed was exceedingly generous with his time and gave us many helpful suggesions in meeting with a small group including Harvey Joe Sanner of AAM of Arkansas, George Miles of Delta LISC, community and economic development expert Frederick Freeman of Forrest City, Mayor Larry Owens of Hughes, Lee Powell, Gloria Smith and Angela of the Rivers of Joy Ministries in northern Louisiana, and other Delta partners.

We were very pleased that Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez took time out from his very busy schedule to discuss proposals to put people back to work on roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Johnnie Bolin, former executive director of the Arkansas Good Roads Transportation Council and now a state legislature candidate, summarized the Delta Development Highway System plan, including the I-69 Corridor, which has been officially designated as one of six “Corridors of the Future” across America.

We were joined by David Gillies, chief of staff to Rep. Jerry Costello of southern Illinois, a senior Member of the Transportation Committee and one of the foremost proponents of legislation to put people to work on roads, bridges, rails and other infrastructure. We appreciated having David Gillies there and it certainly helped gain the attention of the Federal Highway Administration officials to have the chief of staff of a senior Transportation Committee member supporting our positions.

We were able to strengthen our argument because the DRA, DOT, state, local and other expert sources had already developed and researched the DDHS plan, and it was much more effective to say “Here is a plan ready to be invested in and we’ve already done the research to show that this is the most effective use of transportation infrastructure dollars.” We believed that we got a receptive response from Administrator Mendez.

Kenny and Melissa Gober of McGehee, Desha County Judge Mark McElroy were all there to attest to the great importance of the Delta Development Highway System plan in general, I-69 in particular, as well as port improvements for the heart of the Delta.

We were glad to have with us Wilson Golden, a distinguished lawyer now with the Xerox Corp. who was formerly Congressional Affairs Director for US DOT under Secretary Rodney Slater in the Clinton administration and was in fact “present at the creation” when the legislation creating the DRA was passed late in 2000 and signed into law by President Clinton. We value Wilson Golden’s sticking with us through all these years and always being there to lend his expertise at these conferences.

We discussed with Administrator Mendez that Rep. Emerson had stressed that even if the exact Obama plan version of the transportation infrastructure/job creation concept did not pass, a revised, “tweaked” version still had a good chance of doing so.

Ruth Hawkins of Arkansas State University is director of the Arkansas Heritage program, and she gave strong support for the scenic byways program, another small but very effective program that helps the economy and should not be placed on the chopping block. ASU is a major institution for our region and we greatly appreciate Ruth Hawkins and all our colleagues at the university.

President Larry Peterson of Shawnee Community College led a meeting with US Department of Education officials and several of our educators at universities and colleges from the region. President Peterson was quoted in an article in the Carbondale, Illinois Southern Illinoisian as saying that education and literacy were among his strong interests.

President Peterson said that one result of the Dept. of Education meeting was that the institutions agreed to form a higher education coalition so that when they go to Washington they would speak with one voice. The Education meeting focused on access to higher education, developing a well-educated workforce, literacy and other issues essential in gaining and keeping jobs.

We would like to thank Pat Webb of the Lincoln County (AR) Industrial Corp. for going to EPA to discuss with them delaying implementation of the EPA regulations that were the subject of significant concern by leaders from both parties. Pat Webb had the toughest job of anybody at the conference so we appreciate him taking that on. He also brought up the subject of developing lignite resources, which are plentiful in the Delta and would both create jobs and increase America’s energy independence.

Pat Webb reported that he was given a lengthy, cordial and thoroughly professional opportunity to make his case, that he did so in great detail, and they listened carefully. Again, this was the toughest assignment of the whole conference and it is very unlikely that EPA will change their stance, but it’s always good to make the effort, express our point of view and have a dialogue with them.

Media coverage included the Stephens media chain including a number of newspapers across the Delta, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Carbondale (IL) Southern Illinoisian, and smaller media outlets in southeast Missouri, western Kentucky and Alabama.

Last but certainly not least, we would like to thank our sponsors and all those who contributed registration fees and annual membership dues in order to make our work possible:

Sponsors for the Delta Grassroots Caucus

November 1-3, Washington, DC

Lead Sponsor

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

Major Co-Sponsors

McGehee Industrial Foundation

National Housing Assistance Council, Washington, DC
Heifer International

Mississippi County Economic Opportunity Commission


Southeast Missouri State University

Mr. and Mrs. J. William McFarland, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

AvanTech Services, Clifton Avant, President & CEO

Desha County Judge Mark McElroy

Grambling State University, Louisiana

Southern Bancorp Bank

Helena National Bank

Lincoln County Industrial Corp., Star City

First State Bank & Trust, Caruthersville, Missouri

Mid-South Delta LISC

Southeast Missouri Delta Caucus Partners

Phillips County, Arkansas Delta Caucus Partners

East Central Arkansas Delta Caucus Partners

Delta Grassroots Caucus Partners

Last but not least, we would like to thank the hundreds of people and organizations who made smaller contributions in the amounts of $100, $50 or $25 for registration fees, annual membership dues or other modest contributions. For a grassroots regional coalition, we need to have a diversified, broad base of financial support from a large number of smaller contributions. The large number of these contributions really adds up to a substantial amount of funding.