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.

Agenda for Delta Conference by Zoom, Oct. 13 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Oct. 14 from 8:40 a.m. to 1:55 p.m. CENTRAL TIME

Posted on October 12, 2020 at 10:07 AM

The Delta Conference by Zoom Webinar begins tomorrow, Oct. 13 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and then Oct. 14 from 8:40 a.m. to 1:55 p.m. ALL TIMES ARE CENTRAL TIME.

This is the first and we hope the last time we have had to do a conference totally by Zoom due to the coronavirus.


Link to Oct. 13 and Oct. 14 Greater Delta Region Conference by Zoom webinar:

Greater Delta Summit on the 20th Anniversary of the White House Conference on the Delta and the Grassroots Movement from the 1990s to the Present.

We are not “celebrating” the 20th anniversary of the White House Conference on the Delta in 2000, the Clinton administration’s bipartisan Delta regional movement, and the origins of the Delta Grassroots Caucus; rather, we are looking back at what has worked and where we still have serious challenges to develop policy ACTIONS for 2020 and beyond.

Please tune in to as much of the two-day conference as possible: We would expect people to take breaks occasionally, but we only have this opportunity once a year to gather so many influential and knowledgeable Delta leaders together, so we ask that you tune in to as much of the conference as possible.


1) Short list of policy actions to urge Congress, states & other powers that be to act on now


3) Appreciation for Sponsors

4) Some key accomplishments and remaining serious challenges for 2020 and beyond, looking at the more than two decades of the Delta Regional Initiative


This is the height of an election year, and while we do not make any endorsements, we want to weigh in on key issues to the federal, state and regional powers that be on community and economic issues for the 8-state Greater Delta.


JOBS–First, job creation and retention initiatives, including Small Business, Labor, and other large-scale programs, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Empowerment Zones, New Markets Tax Credit and other initiatives, especially those promoting small business/entrepreneurialism. Women and minorities are being hit hardest by the economic and health impact of the pandemic.

Major infrastructure expansion to create jobs & repair deteriorating infrastructure–We need a major federal and state program of transportation, housing, broadband & other infrastructure to create jobs and repair our infrastructure. We’ve heard talk about this a long time and it’s time to DO IT.

Strong relief, unemployment benefits, and economic stimulus to see us through the recession. Data has shown that the Delta is suffering more from unemployment, food insecurity and other problems than the rest of the country. We must get the virus under control and the economy recovering first, and then we can cut back on the huge spending that has been necessary in the Covid-19 era.

Medicare, Medicaid expansion and other major health care programs need to be fully funded and supported during the pandemic. While most of our partners generally support Obamacare, certainly some would prefer other methods of health insurance expansion. But we need to keep those programs steady during the pandemic and we can consider changes after the health crisis has passed.

SNAP, Pandemic EBT and other major nutrition initiatives need to be strongly funded and supported during the spike in food insecurity from Covid-19. Delta states ranked at the bottom before the pandemic and now food insecurity is even worse.


Opening session—October 13, 2020, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m

Introduction—5 p.m. to 5:07, Lee Powell, Delta Caucus Director

5 p.m. to 5:40 p.m.–Big picture speakers on maintaining job growth during the pandemic

–5:10 to 5:20–Mayor Errick Simmons of Greenville, Mississippi, on his city’s efforts to deal with the economic and health impact of the pandemic

–5:32 to 5:38—Brad Cole, Executive Director, Illinois Municipal League

Hunger, Nutrition, Health and Poverty in the Pandemic

–5:38 to 5:46 –Lisa Church, Chief Advancement Officer, Southeast Missouri Food Bank, Sikeston, Missouri

–5:46 to 5:54–Leesa Freasier, University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (UAMS) Delta project on nutrition and obesity

–5:54 to 6:02—Tomiko Townley, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance

–6:02 to 6:12—Troy Wells, CEO, Baptist Health, the largest health care organization in Arkansas

–6:12 to 6:20—Jimmy Cone and Johnny Pettus, project for in-door greenhouse produce farming projects for year-round production in volume, create jobs, and increase access to fresh, nutrition produce

Maintaining Education and workforce development during the pandemic—6:20– 7 p.m.

–Alan Gumbel, Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce, Memphis, Tennessee;

–Glendscene Williams, Director of Delta State University’s Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Research, Cleveland, Mississippi

–Professor Charity Smith, Philander Smith College in Little Rock;

Oct. 14 Session, 8:40 a.m. to 1:55 p.m.

Dialogue on Our Legacy regarding Race and Gender in the Past and in the Pandemic 8:40 to 10 a.m.

–8:40 to 8:50— Jake McGraw, William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, Jackson, Mississippi

–8:50 to 9 a.m.–Millie Atkins, community leader in Monroe, Louisiana and veteran Delta regional advocate

–9 a.m. to 9:08—Peggy Bradford, former president of Shawnee Community College in southern Illinois, attorney and veteran Delta regional advocate

–9:08 to 9:16 a.m.—Lee Powell, Caucus Director—the complex legacy of Senator Fulbright as a case study on our past in war, peace, poverty and race

–9:16 to 9:24—Anna Beth Gorman, Woman’s Foundation of Arkansas, on issues of economic and health equality and justice during the pandemic and beyond

–9:32 to 9:40 a.m.—Sheila Smith, TS Police Support League, Eutaw, Alabama in the Alabama Black Belt

–9:40 to 9:50 a.m. Mayor Kevin Smith of Helena, Arkansas If there is time, Q & A.

10 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.–Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston, the chief economic development official for Arkansas

10:15 a.m.—Congressman Bruce Westerman, who represents a large part of the southern and southeastern Arkansas Delta


10:30 a.m.–State Senator Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, Democratic nominee

11 a.m.—U.S. Representative French Hill of Little Rock, Republican nominee

Moderators: Roby Brock, Talk Business and Politics, and Michael Hibblen, KUAR Arkansas Public Radio news department

Continuation of WOMEN AND MINORITIES IN THE ERA OF OUR TWO DISEASES: Racism and Covid-19, 11:30 a.m. to noon

Mike Marshall, CEO, Sikeston, Missouri Regional Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp., former Alternate Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority

Mayor Shirley Washington of Pine Bluff

—NOON TO 1:50 P.M.–20th Anniversary of the Clinton administration’s bipartisan Delta Regional Initiative and White House Conference on the Delta: Real Accomplishments, but Still Remaining Serious Challenges for 2020 and Beyond

12 to 12:10–Donna Gambrell, CEO, Appalachian Community Capital, Chair of the board of Southern Bancorp Community Partners, the longest-serving and first African American woman to serve as Director of the US Dept. of Treasury Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund)

12:10 to 12:20–Kevin Thurm, CEO Clinton Foundation on the Foundation’s domestic USA programs

12:20 to 12:30–Caucus Director Lee Powell, Presidential appointee in the Clinton administration and one of four managers for the Clinton administration Delta Regional Initiative along with Harold Gist,

12:30 ro 12:36–Wilson Golden, and the late Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation Al Eisenberg: Summary of Some Key Accomplishments over the two decades of the Delta Regional Initiative, and Remaining Challenges for the Future

12:36 to 12:44–Janie Ginocchio, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, Southern Bancorp Community Partners

12:44 to 12:55–Cassandra Williams, Senior Vice President, Hope Credit Union and Hope Enterprise Corporation

12:55 to 1:05 p.m.–Joel Berg, CEO, Hunger Free America, national anti-hunger and poverty organization based in New York, Presidential appointee in the Clinton administration

1:05 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.–Rodney Slater, US Secretary of Transportation in the Clinton administration, chair of the Clinton administration’s Delta Regional Initiative, Partner, Squire Patton Boggs based in Washington, DC

Closing comments looking forward to return to Washington, DC, May, 2021

Appreciation for Sponsors

TS Police Support League, Greene County, Alabama

Sikeston, Missouri Regional Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp.

Municipal League of Illinois

Mississippi County Economic Opportunity Commission

Harvey Joe Sanner, President, American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas

Partners Bank headquartered in historic downtown Helena, Arkansas

Some Key Accomplishments & Remaining Challenges for the Delta Initiative, 2000 to 2020 and Beyond

Delta Caucus, Oct. 13-14, 2020 Regional Conference by Zoom

What policies are followed makes a huge difference and at times the regional community and economic development has been substantially better than others. Since the White House Conference on the Delta in May, 2000, the listening sessions jointly held by grassroots forces and the Clinton administration in the late 1990s and 2000, we have seen what has worked as well as other areas where we have serious remaining challenges as we look forward to 2020 and beyond.

Economic indicators saw substantial improvement from 1993 to 2001– unemployment was 7.5% in the Delta as a whole in 1993, but improved to 4.2% by 2000. Poverty also decreased from 18.4% in the mid-1990s to 16.6% in 2001—this was significant for data that over the years has tended to either stagnate or become worse. This was energized by a synergy of broad-based economic growth policies including small business development and inclusion of lower to middle-income levels rather than a trickle-down approach from Clinton administration bipartisan policies working with Congress, as well as private sector innovations.

The 1993-2001 improvement demonstrates how erroneous is the notion that the Delta has always been impoverished through all times and administrations and there have never been any improvements or changes. There was positive change in this era and in others, along with the too frequent downturns of which we are all aware.

Those gains were already eradicated by 2004, followed by the recession and a gradual recovery in the Obama administration and early Trump years. The poverty level was already higher by 2004 than it had been in the mid-1990s. Whatever anyone thinks about trickle-down economics in general, it has not fared well in a region with much fewer wealthy people like the Delta. These gains—it must be emphasized—had been lost in our region before the Bush recession. The Obama administration’s recovery can be fairly characterized as too slowl, but recovery there was and it lasted through the Obama and first few years of Trump. We now have the unique burden of the pandemic, of course.

Need for getting the virus under control and economic recovery–put first things first: We must first be cautious about opening up the society and economy to get the virus under control, while maintaining sufficiently strong economic aid, relief, unemployment and stimulus packages to keep the economy going. We can cut spending when virus cases go down and when we truly see a solid economic recovery, but we have not seen that yet.

Education and workforce development—This is the starting point toward a brighter future. We need strong support and funding levels for K-12 as well as higher education. The number one answer we get when we ask economic development experts and investors what the key issues is in investing in the Delta is a wel-trained and educated workforce. During the pandemic we may require distance learning depending on the local situation with Covid-19, but education and workforce development has to continue. It will be with us for a larger or lesser extent for a long time to come.

JOBS/ECONOMIC EQUALITY–New Markets Tax Credits, rural Empowerment Zones, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Community Reinvestment Act and other initiatives to attract investments to create jobs that were a major feature of Clinton administration policy and continued through generally similar initiatives in all the administrations since then. We call on Congress to provide strong funding for Small Business Administration, Labor and other larger-scale federal job-related initiatives. Accomplishments of institutions like Southern Bancorp, HOPE Credit Union and Enterprise Corp. and similar institutions in the nonprofit and private sector are highly constructive as well.

Women and minority issues–women are hit worst by job losses in the pandemic recession, and minorities are hit worst in the number of virus cases. Moreover, low-income people tend to not have as strong access to affordable quality health care. We must have equal pay for women doing the same work as men.

Restoring and protecting the Voting Rights Act and other gains of the civil rights movement, major increases in funding and stature of the Minority Business Development Agency, equal access and opportunity in federal procurement and employment across the federal government, are among the top priorities. The CDFI, New Markets Tax Credit and other initiatives cited in the jobs/economic equality section will provide major benefit for African Americans and Latinos who have lower income and job opportunity.

Police reform, combating racial violence and bigotry—We need to acknowledge that most police officers are non-violent enforcers of the law. This truth was tragically driven home recently when an exemplary officer, Kevin Collins—who happened to be African American—was killed while engaging in criminal investigation in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Nonetheless, we do have a recurring dilemma of police violence against blacks. We support reforms such as banning chokeholds and similarly dangerous actions, requiring officers to restrain other officers when they see them being abusive, emphasis on scaling down and defusing rather than escalating tense situations, firing, criminal prosecution where appropriate and other stern punishments for officers who engage in violence or racial slurs, creating a national registry for police officers with abusive records, and last but not least, we must assure higher pay for law enforcement officers. They need to be well paid if we are going to attract high quality officers.

Medicaid expansion–one of the biggest pluses for our region was Obamacare. In Arkansas this has led to more than 200,000 people gaining health insurance for the first time. In Louisiana, more than 400,000 people were involved in Medicaid expansion. Medicaid and Medicare programs should be fully funded and supported during the pandemic.

SNAP, Pandemic EBT and other major nutrition programs deserve an increase during the pandemic: This is a bedrock issue that has an impact on everything else, because people can’t function if they are ill-fed. We have seen a spike in food insecurity during the Covid-19 era, and this in a region that already ranked at the bottom in hunger and nutrition data. SNAP is primarily beneficial as the landmark against hunger, but also has an economic stimulus impact as each dollar from SNAP generates about $1.70 in economic activity.

We call for a major Infrastructure expansion. We could certainly point to certain improvements, but what we are calling for is a major federal and state investment to greatly expand and improve our transportation, housing, broadband and other infrastructure to create jobs and repair our deteriorating infrastructure. There has been a lot of talk but the major infrastructure expansion program has not happened. We think it needs to.happen now during the pandemic’s recession.

Creation and retention of the Delta Regional Authority– The current budget of approximately $28 million is much smaller than is needed, but the DRA has still done a fine job with many job training, creation and retention, infrastructure, educational efforts on health and nutrition and other initiatives. The DRA’s Delta Leadership Institute has brought together hundreds of leaders and enhanced their knowledge of the region while helping grow their leadership skills.

We fought to create the DRA and President Clinton signed the bill establishing it in December, 2000. Then we opposed the Bush administration’s slashing the DRA budget down to $5 million in the early 2000s or even abolishing it, and worked to get the budget back up to the level of $28 million. But when it was originally authorized at $30 million as President Clinton signed it into law in late 2000, we saw that as a low starting point and envisaged steadily increasing it over the years—instead we have had to fight to retain the original level. The powers that be must do much better and recognize that this is a good but seriously under-funded agency.

Need for expansion of budgets of all regional commissions–The DRA and all the regional commissions—the ARC, Northern Border, Southwest Border, Southeast Crescent, Denali and others—are all either grossly underfunded or have been authorized but not funded at all. The DRA and the other regional commissions must have major budget expansions based on objective criteria of poverty levels, population, size and need. The baseline should be the much higher levels of the ARC back in its earlier history at about $500 million. The DRA requirement would be not quite that large—somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million—and objective criteria would determine all the commissions’ budgets. We cannot achieve this by only advocating for each commission by itself because the others will inevitably say, “What about my region?” All commissions have to join together for an across-the board expansion.

Delta heritage tourism is a bright spot. The pandemic has undeniably harmed it over the short run, but it will come back when the virus is under control. The Greater Delta has abundant resources including natural resources tourism, Civil War, Reconstruction, African American history, civil rights movement, blues, jazz and other great musical traditions. Delta heritage tourism creates jobs, brings in tourist dollars and educates people about the Greater Delta/Black Belt’s legacy. We must continue to highlight it as a major plus for the region.

Open up agricultural trade: In addition to our longstanding call for a safety net for family farmers, the Greater Delta is one of the world’s great agricultural regions, but we can’t prosper without exports. Tariffs invite retaliation against our farm exports. We should also be selling to Cuba like our competitors are, while we still cling to the counterproductive embargo. We need policies for open markets for the abundant agricultural products of the Delta region.