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.

Congressional Participants on Health Care, Infrastructure, Delta Queen, & other Delta Issues

Posted on December 08, 2017 at 01:54 PM

Congressman Rick Crawford, Congressman French Hill’s Chief of Staff Brooke Bennett, and Sen. John Boozman addressed key issues including opening trade to Cuba, the Delta Queen bill, infrastructure and other subjects at the annual Delta conference in October. We want to update you on the subjects they addressed.

This is the fourth in a series of updates on the issues discussed at the Oct. 19-20 Delta conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. These reports are in-depth and we don’t expect people to read all of them, but rather to look at the Table of Contents and scroll down to the issue or two that are of most interest to you.

For the conference as a whole, participants included Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, the Congressional speakers noted above, Chelsea Clinton speaking on behalf of the Clinton Foundation’s nonpartisan, philanthropic work, Peter Kinder, Alternate Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority based in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Dean Todd Shields of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas, and grassroots advocates from southern Illinois and Missouri to New Orleans and eastward to the Alabama Black Belt.

Please call your Members of Congress on the pending legislation discussed below: health care, the DRA budget, the Little Rock Central civil rights historic site, and the Delta Queen bill. Detailed information on each issue is below in this newsletter.









We would especially ask all our partners in the 8-state Greater Delta region and the Washington, DC area to contact your Members of Congress on several key issues:

Health care–Supporting legislation to stabilize the marketplace as promised by President Trump in exchange for the ill-advised and detrimental provision inserted into the tax bill that ends the mandate that people have health insurance or pay a penalty. The bipartisan compromise of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) that would give states greater flexibility and make cost sharing reduction payments to insurance companies should be passed, as endorsed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and many other leaders.

Infrastructure investments–Continue to urge President Trump and Congress to invest in infrastructure in highways all across the region, including the major transportation artery of Interstate 69. If a temporary user fee attached to gas prices is needed to get this jump-started, most of our partners would support it. State gas tax increases will also be needed–infrastructure requires funding!!

DRA funding should be at $28 million-call your US Senators to advocate for this figure and not the lower level passed by the House at $15 million.

The Delta Queen bill continues to gain bipartisan momentum and we are hoping for a vote in the House in December after the Senate’s passage of the bill by an overwhelming margin earlier this year.

The boat has an exemplary safety record, would create 150 jobs if the boat is allowed to travel once again on the Mississippi, Arkansas, and Ohio rivers and their tributaries, is a national historic icon, generates tourist dollars, and educates people about the history and natural beauty of the heartland of America.

The civil rights bill to expand and protect the national historic site of the Little Rock Central High crisis should be passed by the Senate.

Original sponsors Rep. French Hill (R-AR) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)-the civil rights leader who once marched with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.,–passed the bill in the House unanimously-a remarkable achievement-by 390 to 0.

o The bill is being held up by only one US Senator, Maria Cantwell (D-WA), for no valid reason. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and many others from both parties support this bill and we encourage calls and email to Sen. Cantwell to remove the hold on this bill, especially at a time when we need to commemorate the legacy of our civil rights struggles and have a candid dialogue about race relations in America.

It is of course true that we are asking a US senator from the state of Washington to relent on this issue and she is not from our region-all the more reason as to why it makes no sense for her to obstruct this bill dealing with a historic site in Arkansas. Her office number is 202-224-3441.

Please contact Sen. Cantwell’s office and explain the need for passage of this bill, because it is crucial to preserve this historic site for the future. The bill would expand the national historic site to include seven homes near the school to provide the full street scene, and make the area appear as it did in 1957 when nine students integrated Little Rock Central for the first tme, and expand and protect the site for future generations.

Again, Sen. Maria Cantwell’s number is 202-224-3441. We understand the staff member in charge of this is named Jonathan Hale. If you cannot reach a staff member, please leave a message asking her to stop her opposition to Congressman Hill and Congressman John Lewis’ bill for the LR Central historic site.

Congressman Lewis attempted to communicate with Sen. Cantwell about this but even his efforts have thus far not accomplished anything. We do not know why Sen. Cantwell has placed a hold on this legislation that passed the House unanimously and should pass the Senate similarly. It really makes no sense.

We need to keep up the pressure on the Trump administration and Congress to end the counterproductive embargo against Cuba.

Congressman Crawford and Sen. Boozman are among the leading champions of the effort to open up trade with Cuba, which would benefit Delta rice and chicken producers but other producers across the country. The embargo has been a failure and does nothing to weaken the authoritarian Cuban regime.

Appreciation for Sen. Boozman’s leadership on Delta issues: Delta Caucus senior partners expressed their support for Sen. John Boozman’s constructive work on a range of key issues for the Delta. Sen. Boozman had Senate votes until one or two o-clock in the morning of Oct. 20, so of course it was impossible for him to be at the Delta Caucus event in person as originally planned. But he took the time to record a video dealing with substantive issues such as trade to Cuba, the Delta Queen bill, and the Delta Regional Authority.

The Delta Caucus praised President Trump’s choice of Chris Caldwell, a long-time aide to Sen. Boozman, as Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority. The Senate is expected to confirm this appointment soon. Sen. Boozman has consistently stated his strong support for maintaining the DRA budget in many appearances before the Delta Caucus.

Please contact your US Senators and tell them to restore the DRA budget to its current level of $28 million, and reject the House of Representatives’ unfortunate vote in September to cut the budget to $15 million. We know that Senators John Boozman, Sen. Thad Cochran and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and other Senators from our region are strong DRA supporters.

The Senators need to hear from our region about this. It makes no sense to cut the budget of $28 million-which was already quite modest considering the size of the 8-state Greater Delta Region of 10 million people.

Sen. Boozman is a leader as well on hunger and nutrition issues, which are crucial in the Delta due to our high levels of food insecurity. He is Co-Chairman of the Senate Hunger Caucus. Among his many constructive activities are included initiatives to bring more access to summer meals programs to rural areas.


We need to urge Congress to take steps to shore up health insurance coverage in the Delta and across the country in the aftermath of the tax bill’s ill-advised and detrimental provision repealing the mandate that Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty.

President Trump promised to Sen. Susan Collins and others who were concerned about the impact of repealing the mandate that he would shore up health insurance with other bills, including one to stabilize the market. The bipartisan compromise bill of Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray would give the states greater flexibility and make cost sharing reduction payments to insurance companies. We urge passage of this bill.

At the October conference, Congressman Rick Crawford and Rep. French Hill’s chief of staff, Brooke Bennett, said they would take an open mind about supporting the Alexander compromise bill, which was endorsed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson at the conference.

Congressman Crawford said that he was open to any measure that would improve access and affordability to health care, including the Alexander-Murray compromise. He said “I would absolutely not support Medicare for everybody, but I would entertain supporting the Alexander-Murray bill.”

Rep. Crawford said that unfortunately health care policy is too often dictated by major metropolitan areas and rural areas like the Delta do not get sufficient attention. He said that he is working with Arkansas State University on initiatives to expand educational and other outreach for health care in the region. He has launched a Delta health improvement project in recent years to bring health care providers and stakeholders together to come up with solutions. He pointed out that one problem was demonstrated at a meeting in Lake Village AR of many people involved in health care, when they learned that there were at least five federal agencies working on health care issues. But in many cases these agencies did not know what the others were doing, so part of the challenge is a lack of communication among the government agencies trying to deal with the problem.

Crawford emphasized that he relies heavily on input from each local community on health care and other key Delta regional issues. His DREAM (Delta Regional Economic Advancement Mission) Council includes a number of Delta Caucus partners who advise him on Delta regional issues, as discussed below in the section on infrastructure and jobs.

Brooke Bennett, Rep. Hill’s chief of staff, emphasized that the health care system was in need of reform because costs are not sustainable. She said that Rep. Hill would be open to supporting the Alexander-Murray compromise. Speaker Paul Ryan has said there are no plans for the House to consider that bill, but Bennett said that if a companion bill does make it to the House Rep. Hill would consider it.

Bennett said we need more programs like Arkansas Works, the health insurance program in Arkansas supported by Gov. Hutchinson that has led about 307,000 Arkansans to get health insurance that did not previously have it. This is a revised, modified version of the ACA that differs from the national ACA program. She said the priority throughout much of this year had been to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but since those had not been passed the focus was on how to reform and improve the health care system.

III. Infrastructure, Jobs, and Rep. Crawford’s DREAM advisory council:

Rep. Crawford emphasized the importance of improvements to infrastructure and progress on the Interstate 69 corridor, which would go through the heart of the Delta from Louisiana through Arkansas, Mississippi, west Tennessee and western Kentucky.

Crawford said that in addition to his efforts to obtain federal support for these efforts, he suggested that if a pooling of local bonds across the rural Delta region could be used to help fund investment in rural infrastructure, as a long-term solution. He also called for more emphasis for progress on I-69 at the state level, because other states were making progress on I-69 in those areas. He said Arkansas needs to make I-69 a top priority in the statye improvement plan.

Crawford said that the challenges in getting funding for infrastructure improvements include the reality that the gas tax is not yielding the revenue that is needed, and in addition rural regions like the Delta are at a disadvantage in a nationwide competition for funding because of the smaller numbers in small-town areas. He pointed out that in Arkansas Little Rock is thought of as a big city and it is compared to the smaller Delta communities, but even Little Rock is small compared to big cities like Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Kevin Smith, long-time Delta regional advocate from Helena, thanked the Congressman for his work and acknowledged the difficulties that Crawford discussed. He said that the Delta as the poorest region of the country nonetheless has never received the much larger resources that went to the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Smith asked Rep. Crawford to “pound the table in Washington, DC” to work for higher priority in funding for the Delta region.

Crawford said he will continue all he can to bring resources to the Delta. He pointed out that solutions will ultimately come from the communities themselves, and said he has formed a DREAM (Delta Regional Economic Advancement Mission) advisory council to give him input about challenges and solutions from people in each part of the First District based on their knowledge in living and working there every day.

The DREAM advisory council includes Randy Henderson of Nucor Yamato Steel and Nucor Steel of Arkansas in Blytheville, one of our senior advisers to the Delta Caucus. Blanche Hunt, vice president for community relations at Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville, recently became a member of the DREAM council, which includes local leaders from all over the region and a number of Delta Caucus partners.

One of the activities of the DREAM advisers and Congressman Crawford’s office is to pair teachers with local industry, so that students can be steered into jobs that are identified at the local level. They engage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) tours to coordinate industry with educators to see what opportunities are there locally.

Crawford said east Arkansas has almost an embarrassment of riches in vocational education, and that we do a disservice to young people by telling all of them that they all must go to college and the only way to succeed is to get a college degree. In some cases this is not true.

For example, if a student can get certification to be a technician they can get jobs at $15 an hour without the time, debt and expense of four years in college. A college degree can be very helpful in many cases but college does not have to be for everybody.

As an example of a useful trade, Crawford cited heating and air conditioning repair jobs. Nobody is more popular and needed than a heating repair expert when the heat goes out in the winter, or an air conditioner expert when the A/C goes out in the summer when it’s 100 degrees.

Crawford also pointed out that part of the problem at times is not just a lack of funding but a lack of communication. He convened a meeting of health care providers and stakeholders throughout the region in Lake Village on one occasion, and they discovered that five federal agencies were working on various phases of health care. In many cases, these agencies did not know what the others were doing, so clearly part of the problem was a lack of communication to avoid duplication.

Crawford said he was “not content to tell young people that you’re only worth wat the government will give you.” He emphasized the value of work, keeping people to live and work in the region, and that ultimately homes, schools and communities are where the solutions will come from.


Little Rock Central High historic site bill: Ms. Bennett discussed a bill originally sponsored by Rep. Hill and Rep. John Lewis, the legendary civil rights leader, to expand the historic site at Little Rock Central High School, where nine brave students integrated the school for the first time 60 years ago.

The bill has great support and passed the House unanimously, 390 to 0 on Sept. 12-a rarity in the current Washington, DC environment.

It is now unfortunately languishing in the Senate because Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington inexplicably placed a hold on the bill, which had been expected to gain unanimous passage in the Senate. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is among the bill’s supporters in the Senate.

The bill, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Boundary Modification Act, H.R. 2611, would extend the site’s boundaries to include seven homes on South Park Street and thus preserve the streetscape that provided the backdrop to this major event in American history.

In a statement on Oct. 26, Rep. Hill said: “I’m calling on the leadership of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to lift the hold on our bill and allow it to pass the Senate and go to the President’s desk for signature,” said Rep. Hill.

“Preserving the streetscape on South Park Street as close to what it was in 1957 will serve as a historic reminder for all modern-day travelers retracing the steps of the civil rights movement. It’s vitally important that together with the high school, these historical homes are able to stand as living monuments to the civil rights movement in Arkansas and the United States.”

In a letter from Congressman John Lewis and Congressman Hill on Oct. 24 to Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Sen. Cantwell, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, they urged prompt action of the Little Rock Central bill. They wrote:

“During desegregation in Little Rock, images of the Little Rock Nine who were the inaugural Africn American students enrolled in Central High School, protestors, and federal troops were broadcast on television and appeared in newspapers around the country. In the backdrop of these images are seven homes along Park Street. The US Department of Interior recommended in its 2001 General Management Plan and 2004 Long-Range Interpretative Plan that these seven homes be included in the historic site boundary.

“Bringing these properties into the boundary of the site will provide the US National Park Service (NPS) with the tools and flexibility to partner with homewoners to preserve the front façade and yards of these homes. The property owners and NPS have expressed a mutual desire for the boundary expansion. We also believe that the expansion of this boundary will also help renew intrest in this iconic area and historic part of our Nation’s civil rights movement.”

HR 2611 was placed on a procedure in the Senate known as a “Hotline,” which is reserved only for clearly meritorious bills that are expressed to receive unanimous consent. Without the hold placed on it by Sen. Cantwell, the bill would be able to pass the Senate by unanimous consent and be sent to the President for signature.

Please make a call as concerned citizens of the United States of America to Sen. Cantwell, explain the historic importance of this site, and urge her to remove her hold on this bill. Again, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state’s phone number is 202-224-3441.

V. Opening up farm trade to Cuba:

Congressman Crawford and Sen. Boozman are promoting legislation to open up farm trade to Cuba. Congressman Crawford said that we are missing a huge opportunity in Cuba, noting that Arkansas is the nation’s number one rice producer and number two in chicken; chicken and rice are two key staples of the Cuban diet so Arkansas and the Delta would benefit tremendously from opening up trade to Cuba.

Crawford emphasized that this issue is not just about agriculture, but for the bigger picture we have a broader strategic interest in Cuba. He said there are many belligerent, aggressive actors such as Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela who are getting involved in Cuba and they are there to make mischief. Crawford said that Cuba is only 90 miles from Florida, and we can’t stand on the beach at Key West and keep track of Cuba with binoculars, but have to get involved and change the trajectory of developments with this nation.

“We’ll push back against an economic model based on oppression,” he said. Crawford has visited Cuba and follows events there and closely, and said the Cuban people are very entrepreneurial and want capitalism. Crawford said about promoting constructive change including trade with Cuba thaty “If I don’t do anything else in Washington that’s one thing I’m not allowing to escape my attention.”

Sen. Boozman has emphasized that the embargo has been in place for 50 years and has done nothing to undermine the authoritarian government. He spoke to the group by video because he had votes in the Senate up until one or two o’clock on the morning of the event so it was not possible for him to be there in person.

Harvey Joe Sanner, President of the American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas in Des Arc, echoed the positions of Rep. Crawford and Sen. Boozman. Sanner traveled to Cuba in the 1980s and met with the late Fidel Castro to discuss opening up trade between the two countries. He said the trade issue has nothing to do with the nature of the Cuban dictatorship, which is of course opposed by all Americans. But he pointed out that the US trades with other communist regimes like China and Vietnam, and said it makes no sense that we can sell our products to China and Russia but not to Cuba.

VI. Delta Queen bill gains momentum:

The Delta Caucus was very pleased that Congressman Hill announced at the Oct. 20 Delta Caucus in Little Rock his support for the bill to allow the historic steamboat, the Delta Queen to once again travel the Mississippi, Arkansas and Ohio rivers and their tributaries. The boat will go to Little Rock in Rep. Hill’s district, as well as many places from New Orleans, Vicksburg, MS, Helena, AR, Memphis, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Paducah, Kentucky, and to Cincinnati on the Ohio and beyond.

Congressman Crawford spoke enthusiastically about his longstanding support for the bill and its excellent prospects for passage, as did Sen. John Boozman, who has also been a long-time champion of the Delta Queen.

Earlier this year the Delta Queen bill passed the Senate by the huge margin of 85 to 12.

The DQ has been designated a National Historic Landmark, placing it back on the river is estimated to create over 150 jobs, it will generate tourist dollars in the 80 river ports where it will stop, and it has an exemplary safety record in having been operated safely on America’s inland waterways for over 80 years.

To add additional layers of safety to a boat that has an exemplary safety record, the legislation requires that 10% of the upper portions of the boat that contain wood must be modified each year. The Delta Queen has a steel hull, 75% of its total weight is of steel or other non-combustible materials,(with approximately 25% of the weight being wood) and it has state of the art sprinkler systems and other safeguards.

Please note–the Delta Queen is primarily made up of steel and other non-combustible materials–it has a steel hull and 75% of its weight consists of steel and other non-combustible. Some opponents of this bill have falsely described the boat as “wooden.” This is erroneous. It is not entirely made up of wood and in fact the great majority of its weight is not of wood.

The Coast Guard assures that there cannot be any safety issue, because the Guard has to do a rigorous safety inspection annually to grant a cerfificate of exemption, in addition to quarterly inspections and random inspections. If the Coast Guard finds any safety issues, the boat can’t move an inch off the dock.

In its previous history for many, many decades, the Coast Guard passed the Delta Queen in its safety inspections, of course.

Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) said “Allowing the iconic Delta Queen to operate again will promote job creation and allow tourists to experience this historic treasure while supporting the economies of communities along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. I’m pleased my Senate colleagues supported this long overdue legislation.”

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) said “With the Delta Queen’s rich history and the potential for new economic growth along the Mississippi river, this legislation has earned staunch support year after year. I have confidence that the House will pass the Delta Queen bill, and we will see her cruising on America’s major water ways once again.” -

The Safety of Life At Sea Act of 1966 (our italics for “At Sea”) was intended to cover ocean-going vessels, not riverboats that are never more than a few minutes from land. Due to this fact and the Delta Queen’s longstanding excellent safety record, Congress passed exemptions for the Queen from the 1960s until 2008, when a dispute between the Seafarers International Union and the former owners of the boat broke out. The exemption was blocked at that time due to that dispute, but currently the union fully supports the legislation and works closely with Cornel Martin and the new ownership.

The legislation is supported by the Delta Caucus, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the American Maritime Officers, the Seafarers International Union and many other historic preservation organizations.

The bill spends no federal money but only allows the boat to operate on America’s rivers once again.

Martin said, “The Delta Queen offers the last opportunity for Americans and international visitors to cruise on an authentic 1927 steamboat, to see firsthand the natural landscapes along the Mississippi and other majestic rivers, and help preserve the great legacy of steamboating in America.”

Delta Queen ports of call will include communities from New Orleans, Natchez, Greenville, Helena, Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Memphis, Cape Girardeau, Kentucky, Ohio River stops to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

The exemption passed the US House of Representatives in 2013 by the wide margin of 280 to 89. It stalled in Senate committee in 2014, and there have been numerous delays since that time. The May, 2017 vote was the first time the full Senate has voted on it in many years. It passed by 85 to 12.

The center of opposition to the bill is led by a competing steamboat company, American Cruise Lines that operates out of offices in Connecticut and also owns a shipyard in Maryland. They have complained that if the Delta Queen is allowed to travel again it will harm their business, although there has been a major resurgence of steamboating on the Mississippi and its tributaries in recent years and there is plenty of room for a number of steamboats on our rivers.

American Cruise Lines’ lobbyist has also erroneously made charges about the safety of the Delta Queen, in spite of its excellent safety record over 80 years in its earlier history and the new layers of safety requirements that have been added to the legislation in recent years.

Martin’s Delta Queen Steamboat Company is conducting extensive renovations for the boat, which has been docked for about six years now and needs upgrades to get into traveling condition after having been stationary for so long. Martin will install new boilers, generators, make other overhauls, in addition to the new statutory requirement of modifying 10% of the wooden parts of the superstructure annually. Again, the Coast Guard has to conduct rigorous safety inspections of the Delta Queen, and the boat cannot travel one inch off the dock unless the Coast Guard allows it.

This legislation has long been championed in the House by US Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), and we would like to again express our appreciation to him and many other Members of Congress in the Ohio and Mississippi River regions for supporting this initiative.