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.

Sen. Landrieu's Great Idea--End or Reduce Local Match for Poorest Counties in USA

Posted on November 21, 2011 at 03:09 PM

With the Congressional super committee apparently destined for failure to reach a compromise, Delta grassroots advocates should continue focusing on pending appropriations bills, the new farm bill, and innovative ideas for promoting the economy in the most economically distressed areas.

We endorse Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-Louisiana) proposal to eliminate or reduce the local matching requirement that the poorest counties have to contribute to gain federal grants.

The super committee’s failure was predictable, given the dysfunctional mess in Washington. They clearly paid more attention to their narrow political interests than the national well-being. The automatic cuts do not go into effect until 2013, so once again Congress just kicked the can down the road as far as solving the jobs and spending cuts issues.

We will focus on the initiatives for jobs and infrastructure, USDA Rural Development and nutrition, spending cuts in reducing foreign military involvement, aid to small business in pending and upcoming appropriations bills, the farm bill, and our support for Sen. Landrieu’s excellent idea about funding that she discussed on Nov. 2 at our annual Delta Initiative in Washington, DC. The Senator is in the process of preparing legislation to make her idea a reality.

As Sen. Landrieu correctly said, “All those people in the poor counties send their taxes into Washington and then they have hell getting it back. Why? Because every county has to put up the match.” Many impoverished counties in the Delta do not have the funding to provide the local match, thus losing opportunities for much larger amounts of funding.

Sen. Landrieu’s solution to this dilemma is to eliminate the matching requirement for the 100 poorest counties in America, which would include a number of Delta counties. Another idea is to create a sliding scale based on a county’s wealth. The best outcome would be to include both of these options, so that the absolute poorest of the poor would not need any local match, whereas the many other impoverished counties in the Delta and the rest of the country would pay a reduced local match, based on their much more limited ability to pay.

The Delta Regional Authority does have the ability to use its grant funding as the local match, and that is helpful; the trouble is that the DRA has a very small budget–currently only $11.7 million through energy and water and another approximately $2.9 million through USDA Rural Development. The DRA just has a very limited ability to fund projects, although of course their work is excellent and they do a lot with their small funding.

Sen. Landrieu’s proposal would remove the problem in the case of the poorest counties; if it is not possible to do both the elimination of the requirement for the 100 most impoverished counties and reduce the matching requirements based on a sliding scale for counties that are not in the lowest 100 but are still impoverished, the sliding scale option would be better, because the next group of counties would inevitably be in almost as bleak a situation as the lowest 100. Either option or both, nevertheless, would be excellent.

An article about Sen. Landrieu’s presentation at the Washington, DC Delta Initiative by Jonathan Tilove of the New Orleans Times-Picayune quoted Landrieu as saying, “I may not be the only member who thinks that, but I’m the only member I know who thinks that.”

She has asked her staff to research and draft the legislation to present in the spring, and to begin generating interest in the proposal. The Delta Caucus will do everything we can to support this effort. Please discuss this idea with your colleagues at the federal, state and local levels.

Sen. Landrieu expressed a great deal of concern about the wealth gap in America, and in explaining her proposal she said “For anybody who thinks that everyone starts out on an equal footing, I beg to differ, and if anyone believes that this is truly a society where people advance on merit, when people start off at such unequal levels, is fooling themselves, and that’s why the federal government, as well as the state and local government, have to be aggressive, appropriately aggressive, to help try to really provide equal opporunity.”

Sen. Landrieu’s focus on the wealth gap is amply substantiated by objective research: the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2010, median household income for whites nationwide was slightly less than $52,000, whereas Hispanic households median income was only $37,759, and median annual income for blacks was only $32,068. For a region like the Delta with a large African American population and a growing Hispanic population, those are chilling figures. We all know that the Delta economic figures are always much worse than the national averages as well.

The South was the only region to show statistically significant increases in both the poverty rate and the number in poverty: the poverty rate increased from 15.7 percent to 16.9 percent from 2009 to 2010, respectively, while the number of Southerners in poverty increased from 17.6 million to 19.1 million.

The majority of the DRA states–Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas are of course southern. But western Kentucky, southeast Missouri and southern Illinois unfortunately share higher poverty and unemployment rates with the Southern part of our region.

The 2010 poverty rate was the highest since 1993. The national poverty rate is still 7.3 percent lower than in 1959, the first year poverty statistics were kept, so we know that all the anti-poverty efforts in America have NOT been in vain and there has been some limited progress. But that is no consolation if you are one of the millions mired in poverty today.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently published a report entitled “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income between 1979 and 2007,” which indicated that the gains in wealth in the United States over those three decades basically bypassed the great majority of Americans and instead flowed to the most wealthy. In overall inflation-adjusted dollars, after-tax income grew in the USA by 62 percent from 1979 to 2007. But here is the bad news:

–For the one-fifth of households with the lowest incomes, the increase was only 18 percent

–For the three-fifths of households–the middle classes–the average increase was only 40 percent. The Delta is heavily either modest or middle income, so these figures again point out that the wealth gap is getting larger and relatively speaking the lower and middle income groups are falling further behind.

–For the top 1 percent of wage earners, their after-tax household income increased by a remarkable 275 percent. Their income essentially quadrupled.

This is a redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest Americans. This is not a level playing field and something needs to be done to give the poorest counties in America a fair chance to catch up with the rest of the country.

One long-term goal of the Delta Grassroots Caucus is to greatly increase the DRA budget, at least to the $30 million envisaged by President Clinton and the bipartisan group in Congress who originally envisaged an annual budget of $30 million when the DRA legislation became law in 2000. But that is not realistic any time soon with our massive deficits problem, although we continue to fully back the DRA and their excellent work and totally oppose any cuts in their very small budget.

Sen. Landrieu is one of the most influential and senior members of the US Senate, she is chair of the Senate Small Business Committee, a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, chair of the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, and an eloquent and powerful advocate for long-term recovery of New Orleans and the Gulf coast areas after Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill. We want to do everything we can to aid her efforts to jump-start the economy in the Delta and other economically disadvantaged areas.

Below is an exact copy of Jonathan Tilove’s Nov. 8, 2011 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Sen. Landrieu’s explanation of her idea at the Delta Caucus conference in Washington, DC in early November. This is a news article, of course, and the New Orleans paper is just stating the facts and this is not an endorsement. Thanks–Lee Powell, executive director, Delta Caucus (202) 360-6347

New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Sen. Mary Landrieu Wants Poorest Communities to Get Federal Grants without a Local Match”

Updated Nov. 8, 2011 By Jonathan Tilove, The Times-Picayune

Sen. Mary Landrieu says she wants to draft legislation that would relieve the poorest counties in the nation from having to provide a local match to get some federal funds. “All those people in the poor counties send their taxes into Washington and then they have hell getting it back, Why? Because every county has to put up the match.” Landrieu told members of the Delta Grassroots Caucus, representing some of the poorest stretches in America, at their conference on jobs and spending priorities in Washington last week.

The remedy, she said, would be either to eliminate the match requirement for the very poorest counties, or create a sliding scale, based on a county’s wealth. Landrieu said it’s an idea she’s had for a while. “I may not be the only member who thinks that,” but “I’m the only member I know who thinks that.” But, she said she is ready to move forward on the idea and would ask her staff to research and draft legislation to offer in the spring, and begin to drum up some interest.

Of late, the senator has increasingly been talking about the wealth gap in America, and she prefaced her proposal by saying, “For anybody who thinks that everyone starts out on equal foot, I beg to differ, and if anyone believes that this is truly a society where people advance on merit, when people start off at such unequal levels, is fooling themselves, and that’s why the federal government, as well as the state and local government, have to be aggressive, appropriately aggressive, to help try to really provide equal opportunity.”

Lee Powell, director of the Delta Caucus, said Landrieu’s proposal on matching monies sounded like a great idea.

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