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.

“Delta Vision, Delta Voices”

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Executive Summary

Structure of This Report

This Report has taken its guidance from a single overriding goal: To recognize the enormous natural, capital, and cultural resources of the Delta, and to enable all of the Delta’s citizens to participate as full and successful partners in America’s social and economic growth. All work and recommendations have flowed from that goal, articulated by President Clinton to Secretary Slater when asking him to spearhead this Delta Initiative. This Report’s Federal section is organized on four key themes:

  • To improve the quality of life,
  • To revitalize the regional economy,
  • To protect and restore the natural resources and the environment and enhance tourism, and
  • To promote regional planning and development.

Success stories/vignettes: In this Report, a number of vignettes summarizing success and meaningful action in the Delta serve to demonstrate the strides made and the commitment of the Delta’s citizens to their future. These vignettes go into some detail examining specific projects that have proven effective, in order to illustrate the fundamental policy objectives described in condensed form on each issue. Most importantly, the focus of this Report is on the Delta’s future and harnessing the resources necessary to advance the region’s development at this moment in time.

Background—the Delta in the 1990s

Although the Report is focused on the future, there will be brief summaries of recent developments in the region on a series of major issues. People interested in in-depth analysis and data on each of these issues should consult the Department of Transportation’s Delta website at

Job growth: The annual average unemployment for the entire 219-county region declined from 7.5 percent in 1993 to 4.2 percent in December 1999. From 1993 to the beginning of 1999, 184 of the 219 counties experienced job growth. There were some substantial success stories by the end of 1999, such as declining unemployment rates for the major regional urban areas such as Pulaski County, Arkansas; Jackson County, Illinois; Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee; Cape Girardeau, Missouri and Hinds County, Mississippi, that were similar to or slightly lower than the historically low national unemployment averages of the 1990s. A few rural areas witnessed improvement, such as Madison Parish, Louisiana, where the unemployment rate fell from 14 percent in 1990 to 7.5 percent in June 1999.

President Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, two major pieces of legislation designed to dramatically help people in making the transition from welfare to work. Virtually all of the participating agencies in the Delta 2000 Initiative pursued policies directly or indirectly related to job growth, such as welfare-to-work, transportation, small business promotion, Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities, and other economic development initiatives.

Persistent unemployment dilemmas in rural areas and inner cities: However, some inner city neighborhoods did not participate in the overall urban prosperity, and rural areas in general still lagged far behind the national unemployment rate. In fact, some rural counties still suffered from unemployment rates two and three times as high as the national average. For example, the unemployment rate for St. Francis County, Arkansas, declined from 13.4 percent in 1993, but in December 1999 its rate—though a substantial improvement—still remained at a relatively high 6.9 percent. The continuing unemployment problems in many rural areas pose the greatest remaining challenge in the region’s employment horizons.

Education: Nearly a decade after the 1990 Commission’s recommendation to target resources to “low-income, rural students” in the Delta, the Department of Education allocated over $350 million in fiscal year 1998 alone to high-poverty school districts in the Delta. Under President Clinton’s Class Size Reduction Initiative, the Department provided more than $50 million to this region in fiscal 1999 to hire approximately 1,500 new teachers in the early grades. A series of initiatives such as the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund (TLCF), Star School and the “E-rate” program targeted funding for improving technology to high-poverty regions. For example, the Delta districts in Louisiana received $4.6 million under TLCF in FY98.

While continued investment in public education is needed to increase student academic achievement in the region, many Delta schools and districts have recently demonstrated significant gains in student test scores. For example, third grade students at the Portland Elementary School in Ashley, Arkansas improved their reading scores on the Stanford Achievement Test from the 25th percentile in 1993 to the 46th percentile in 1999. The percentage of eleventh graders in the Memphis City Public Schools scoring ‘proficient’ on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) Writing Assessment increased from 19 percent in 1994 to 56 percent in 1999. “We still have a long way to go, but we believe our progress is largely a result of our school wide approach to reform and the initiation of extended learning opportunities, both of which are facilitated by Federal program funding and flexibility reforms,” States Memphis City Schools Superintendent—and American Association of School Administrators (AASA) 1998-99 Superintendent of the Year—Dr. Gerry House.

Housing: Under the leadership of Secretary Andrew Cuomo, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has promoted more equitable housing opportunities for moderate- and low-income people, both in homeownership and rental housing. HUD has vigorously enforced the Fair Housing Act to attack the problem of discrimination in housing. Funding for HUD’s homelessness assistance programs more than tripled from 1992 to 1999, although the 1990 Commission’s ambitious goal of eradicating homelessness entirely in the Delta remains elusive. HUD has pursued innovative housing policies to expand opportunities in inner city areas; one example is the renovation of the Farish Street district in Jackson, Mississippi.

Rural housing: Under Secretary Dan Glickman’s leadership, USDA’s Rural Housing Service assisted approximately 43,000 Delta households to buy or improve their homes; loans for single-family housing in the region from fiscal years 1993 through 1999 came to a total of $2.236 billion. In rental housing, more than $254 million was provided for more than 10,000 rental units in the region. Despite these achievements, many senior citizens and minorities in the region still suffer from inadequate housing. Fifty eight percent of rural elderly renters in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi are “cost-burdened” in housing, meaning that they pay greater than 30 percent of monthly income for shelter costs. Rural African-Americans in the Delta have a 51 percent poverty rate in Arkansas, a 54 percent rate in Louisiana, and a 52 percent rate in Mississippi. While some areas have experienced some advances in housing, large sectors of the population have not participated in these gains, especially low-income senior citizens and African-Americans in rural areas.

Health care: The health of rural residents is a particular concern to the Administration. In this Report, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), led by Secretary Donna Shalala, reviews Medicare, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the special needs of rural hospitals and inadequate access to health care in rural areas. HHS also pursues programs aimed at improving health care for senior citizens, minorities, and HIV/AIDS patients in the Delta. A division of the Centers for Disease Control has worked on an initiative for health education, training, research and environmental health in the region through the Mississippi Delta Health and Environment Project, a partnership among Federal, State and local governments, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), faith-based organizations, community organizations, and environmental advocacy groups in the region.

Childcare and youth issues: HHS takes the lead in a series of childcare initiatives. The early childhood education program, Head Start, expanded its enrollment in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi from 41,996 in 1990 to 55,248 in 1998. The Child Care Development Fund, Healthy Child Care America Campaign, and other childcare efforts are active in the Delta. A network of Family Youth Services Bureau Program centers operate in the region to prevent youth from dropping out of school, provide temporary shelter to runaways and reunite them with their families when possible, and help teenage parents make the transition from unemployment to self-sufficiency. Teen pregnancy declined in Arkansas by 7.9 percent from 1991 to 1995, while in that period Louisiana reduced its rate by 8.2 percent and Mississippi by 5.9 percent. The national reduction was 6.5 percent. Despite these gains, teen pregnancy in the region is still too high.

Hunger, nutrition and food security: The Food and Nutrition Service of USDA reviews issues in the school lunch, food stamp, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Cooperative Extension nutrition programs, food recovery and gleaning, and other initiatives that form the hunger safety net for low-income Americans. Although these bedrock anti-hunger programs have eliminated the most grievous cases of malnutrition that Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy dramatized in the Delta in the late 1960s, low-income people in the Delta still suffer from inadequate access to good nutrition.

Two innovative models of anti-hunger efforts are the Lower Mississippi Delta Nutrition Intervention Research Initiative and the Mississippi Action for Community Education (MACE) anti-hunger partnership. The Research Initiative is a coalition of community leaders, nutrition experts, and USDA officials that evaluates nutritional health in the Delta and develops strategies for addressing health problems. The MACE anti-hunger efforts include food stamp outreach, nutrition education, support for local food pantries, and increasing School Breakfast and summer feeding programs. For example, during 1994 and 1995, MACE sponsored and administered a demonstration food stamp outreach program through a grant sponsored by USDA. MACE was instrumental in identifying and enrolling thousands of low-income and/or elderly people living in rural areas of the Mississippi Delta region who were eligible for but not receiving food stamps. This project also supports efforts to expand summer feeding and School Breakfast programs in rural school districts.

Disaster assistance: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under Director James Lee Witt, spent more than $600 million in disaster assistance for the Delta during the 1990s to help victims of flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters. FEMA devoted almost $300 million to flood mitigation projects in recognition of the widespread devastation that natural disasters such as the 1993 floods can create. The Small Business Administration worked with FEMA in helping families and businesses recover from disasters.

Community law enforcement: Attorney General Janet Reno’s Department of Justice pursued a variety of initiatives in the Delta, including vigorous enforcement of Federal civil rights and environmental statutes. The Department pursued strategic partnerships with State and local law enforcement agencies, provided funding and technical aid, and supported innovations in crime fighting and prevention. These efforts helped drive crime rates down for seven consecutive years to the lowest levels in nearly 30 years.

Transportation: The Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission’s 10-year goal envisioned an improved network of limited access highways, airports, and rail and port facilities to promote economic growth. The great majority of the nearly 70 specific transportation recommendations in The Delta Initiatives have either been completely or substantially fulfilled. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century of 1998 (TEA-21) dramatically increased Highway Trust Fund investment in highways, transit, and other transportation programs in the region. Delta States have used the flexibility established in ISTEA to fund improvements to the Great River Road, as well as for scenic easements, historic preservation and other projects.

For example, in Arkansas during the 1990s approximately $140 million was used to complete about 120 miles of highway reconstruction, surfacing, widening and other projects in Delta counties. A number of rail service improvements were made throughout the Delta. In November 1998, the Gulf Coast High Speed Rail Corridor linking New Orleans with Baton Rouge and other cities in the South was designated, with about $2 million in funding for high-speed rail development and grade crossings being provided. Numerous maritime transportation projects were completed throughout the region, and from 1993 to 1999, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provided more than $400 million to the region for airport improvements in the region. Such transportation improvements constitute a powerful engine for economic growth and a better quality of life in the Delta.

Empowerment Zones/Enterprise Communities (EZ/EC) and Champion Communities: The EZ/EC program is the major Clinton-Gore Administration innovation in the field of community development, which Vice President Gore has played a leading role in advancing. In Round I of the EZ/EC program announced in 1994, there were eight rural and five urban EZs and ECs in the Delta, with another rural Delta EZ (in southern Illinois) being added in Round II of the program in 1999.

A new initiative that developed in tandem with the EZ/EC program within USDA’s Rural Development was that of Champion Communities. In order to be considered for EZ/ECs, communities organized and completed the valuable strategic planning process as part of their application for Round I EZ/ECs. To assure that this effort produced continuing benefits to these communities, USDA designated them as “Champion Communities” and provided continuing assistance to them.

Some Representative Results of EZ/EC Activities

The following includes results in a number of important categories for the eight rural EZs and ECs in the Delta from 1994 up to early 1998:

  • Number of jobs created or retained: 2,133
  • Number of job training programs created: 34
  • Number of people trained: 5,387
  • Youth development programs created: 65
  • Youth served by development programs: 6,425
  • Educational facilities built or upgraded: 21
  • Health care facilities built or upgraded: 6
  • Computer learning centers established or upgraded: 29
  • Number of computers donated to organizations through federal surplus: 2,193
  • Revolving loan funds or micro-lending funds created: 21
  • Housing units built or rehabilitated: 162
  • Water and waste projects under construction: 28

The program has expanded since 1998, and the above data is intended only to demonstrate the wide range of activities pursued by the EZ/EC program.

The EZ/EC program is based upon the principles of sustainable development, leadership from the local grassroots level, economic opportunity, long-range strategic planning, and community-based partnerships. This Report summarizes the Federal funding and tax incentives offered by the EZs and ECs; however, the grassroots leadership and strategic planning phases of the program are more important, ultimately, than the Federal funding amounts. One of the great successes of the program has been the communities’ successes in “leveraging” funds. For example, the rural communities drew $10.225 million from their EZ/EC funding from 1994 to the beginning of 1999, while their total funding—including State, local, private business, and nonprofit foundation sources—amounted to ten times that much, or approximately $107.4 million. The EZs and ECs provide a model for grassroots community leadership and sustainable development. EZs and ECs in the Delta successfully parlayed their EZ/EC resources and experience into a variety of community development activities, such as transportation services connecting low-income people to jobs.

Agriculture: Agriculture remains an economic juggernaut in the Delta. This region is one of America’s most prolific producers of cotton, rice, soybeans, and other major agricultural products. USDA pursued policies to promote the economic viability of the traditional major producers, as well as new initiatives intended to promote, domestically and internationally, direct marketing, sustainable agriculture, alternative products such as aquaculture, and other policies aimed at preserving marketing and credit opportunities for small and minority farmers. In the late 1990s, farmers faced one of the most severe depressions in American history. Emergency Federal relief for agriculture was developed in the summer of 1999. Proposals for agricultural policy reform are presented in both the Federal agency section and the “Voices of the Delta” section of this Report.

Infrastructure: The Departments of Commerce, HUD, EPA, Energy, and USDA’s Rural Development have brought numerous local infrastructure projects to the region, such as adequate water and sewer systems, telecommunications, electricity and natural gas lines, rural health care, public safety and other projects needed for economic development and improved quality of life. For example, the Department of Commerce programs provided more than 370 grants totaling over $114 million in the Delta from 1993 to mid-1999. The total funding for the 219-county area from Rural Development’s Community Facilities, Rural Business Programs, and Water & Waste programs amounted to approximately $858,224,000 from 1993 to mid-1999. The Rural Utilities Service provided first-time telephone service to more than 8,200 rural residents, while more than 77,000 residents received improved telecommunications. In addition to traditional infrastructure, Rural Development’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program combined improvements in access to health care and educational opportunities in the health care field for approximately 800,000 rural residents in the region. The Commerce Department will provide $10 million through targeted Economic Development Administration funding for public works and economic adjustment assistance. These programs require a State or local match, except in extremely distressed communities.

Natural resources and the environment: The Clinton-Gore Administration has dealt with major natural resource and environment issues facing the Delta, including wetlands protection and restoration, air and water quality protection, wildlife and natural resource conservation, and environmental justice. In 1993, the Administration developed a fair, flexible, and effective wetlands policy that increased regulatory certainty for private landowners while protecting wetlands. Approximately 300,000 acres of wetlands have been protected, restored or enhanced through a variety of programs, including the Wetlands Reserve Program. In addition, by the end of the 1990s a total of two million acres were enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, which had begun before the 1990s but expanded during the decade. This Program encourages voluntary enrollment of highly erodible land, cropped wetlands, wildlife habitat, and wetland restoration acres to ensure protection from erosion while improving water quality and wildlife habitat.

The Administration is working to empower States and localities to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields and other waste sites. It is also providing stronger public health protections by establishing new safety standards for all pesticides used on foods under the Food Quality Protection Act, and by providing new tools and resources for cleaner, safer water under the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments and the 1998 Clean Water Action Plan. In addition, the Administration is focusing attention on the environmental and human health conditions plaguing minority and low-income communities in the Delta. The designation of the Lower Mississippi River as an American Heritage River by President Clinton in 1998 is helping to focus these and other Federal efforts to strengthen historic and cultural preservation, natural resource protection, and economic revitalization.

Tourism: The natural splendors of the Delta, as well as its historical and cultural sites, are among its major tourist attractions. Thus, initiatives related to preserving natural resources and the environment support efforts to promote the region’s tourist industry. Tourist revenue brought almost $13 billion to the Delta in 1998. Millions of visitors come to enjoy the natural beauty, culture, food, and deep historical, musical and literary heritage of the region.

The President’s designation of the Lower Mississippi River as an American Heritage River in 1998 (as mentioned above) will help preserve and enhance the great river’s appeal for tourism. In 2000 the Clinton-Gore Administration will announce community trails across the nation. Together with the 16 national Millennium Trails and 50 Legacy Trails that have already been designated, these trails will help connect people to our culture, natural resources and neighborhoods. The National Park Service, Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce and other agencies will pursue a series of initiatives designed to promote tourism for the region, starting with the development of a regional tourism marketing plan that will enhance tourism industries. This plan will seek to build upon the Civil War and civil rights experiences, recreation and wildlife preservation areas, and other assets that can attract visitors from around the world.




Improving the quality of life in the Delta begins with celebrating one of its greatest strengths—its rich ethnic, cultural and racial diversity—and attacking its greatest flaw—the blight of racism. A series of policies—all of which are undertaken in the basic spirit of the President’s “One America” Race Initiative—are reviewed as successes, and these are recommended for continuing support and expansion in the future:

Educational opportunity: The Report contains a series of recommendations supporting Magnet Schools; Title I funding targeted toward schools with high percentages of low-income students; support for the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); bilingual and minority education programs; assistance for migrant worker families; and other policies aimed at enhancing minority educational opportunities.

Housing: HUD’s policies of attacking housing discrimination should be expanded. USDA’s Rural Housing Service funded the Migrant Farm Labor Center in Arkansas, which provides housing as well as other social services for migrant workers, and similar complexes should be built in other parts of the region.

Minority business: The Report contains a series of recommendations for supporting HUBZones, Small Business Administration, Department of Defense, Rural Development and other policies aimed at enhancing the ability of minority businesses to succeed.

Federal enforcement: This Report summarizes the Department of Justice’s efforts to attack discrimination and promote equal opportunity in the fields of disability rights, education, employment, fair housing, and voting rights.


Fundamentally, the major innovations pursued during the Clinton-Gore Administration should be continued and expanded. These include the following basic initiatives:

  • Title I and programs aimed at targeting improvements for low-income, rural students;
  • the President’s Class Size Reduction Initiative;
  • family literacy programs targeted to migrant workers and other disadvantaged groups;
  • policies aimed at enhancing the ability of teachers to provide an educational experience enhanced by computers and other advanced technology, including the Technology Literacy Fund, Technology Innovations Challenge Grants, Star Schools, and the E-rate;
  • the greater flexibility given to States and schools under the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Ed-Flex program;
  • projects for improving mathematics scores, such as the Algebra Project in Jackson; and
  • America-Reads Program and other innovations encouraging reading skills.

Safe and Drug-Free Schools: The Department will disseminate information on funding opportunities from the Federal government aimed at promoting safe, disciplined, and drug-free learning environments. The National Resource Center for Safe Schools will provide training in a technical assistance conference in 2000 that will be tailored to the needs of Delta communities.

In addition to these basic program innovations, the Department of Education proposes a series of outreach conferences and technical assistance in the Delta for community colleges, Charter Schools, migrant education, and educational standards.


AmeriCorps pursues a broad spectrum of activities in the fields of hunger, nutrition, work with the EZ/EC program, tutoring in the America Reads program, disaster relief, and other meritorious activities—and all for a relatively tiny cost. In 1999, with funding of $4.5 million from the Corporation for National Service, more than 2,000 AmeriCorps members served in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and more than 1,500 residents of the Delta have completed their service with AmeriCorps and qualified for education awards valued at more than $9 million. It is essential that Congress, the Administration and State and local authorities preserve and expand the funding and all other support for this superb program that has brought so much energy and idealism to the region.


This Report explores in-depth the various housing initiatives of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service in promoting homeownership, combating homelessness, and fighting discrimination in housing.

Homeownership: Fundamentally, in the years after 2000 the Federal government should persist in its commitment to the President’s National Homeownership Strategy in promoting more equitable housing opportunities for moderate, low, and extremely low-income people. The Department of Housing and Urban Development should continue to pursue the policies adopted during the 1990s in reducing the financial, informational, and systemic barriers to homeownership in the Delta. Policies for assisting low- and moderate-income people include: escrow accounts of a percentage of monthly rent for high-end paying tenants to be used later for down payments on homes; Community Development Block grant funding; assistance with loans; assistance for the elderly and disabled; and a variety of policies aimed at eradicating racial and other forms of discrimination in housing.

Rural housing and community facilities: USDA’s Rural Development mission area offers a suite of programs to address the housing and community facilities needs of rural Americans. Rural Development provides subsidized rental housing, subsidized homeownership loans and guarantees, and home repair loans and grants. It also offers rental housing for farm workers as well as a self-help housing program that allows participants to earn “sweat equity” by building their own homes. Finally, Rural Development offers subsidized loans, loan guarantees, and grants to public bodies and nonprofit organizations to build essential community facilities such as health care clinics, childcare centers, assisted-living facilities, teacher housing, and fire stations. These programs serve people with very low incomes. Because of its extensive network of field offices, Rural Development has succeeded in improving the quality of life in some of the most rural areas of the Delta.

Between 1993 and 1999, Rural Development provided more than $2.2 billion in direct loans and guarantees to allow 43,000 Delta families to become homeowners, most for the first time. In addition, Rural Development provided $254 million to build more than 10,000 new rental units in the region. The average annual income of tenants in these rental units is slightly more than $7,000. In general, USDA’s Rural Housing Service (RHS) will continue its policies of assisting Delta families in housing opportunities. In spite of these achievements, many rural areas still lack adequate housing, and greater support for RHS’s constructive programs will be seriously needed in the years beyond 2000. There is a critical need for affordable rental housing in the Delta. USDA’s rental housing programs serve families and elderly people with very low incomes, as well as moderate-income people such as teachers and police officers. Funding for these rental programs should be expanded.

Assistance for rural homeownership: The Department of Agriculture’s direct and guaranteed loan programs should continue to receive funding increases (as proposed in the President’s fiscal year 2001 budget) to assist families whom the private sector cannot: very low- and low-income people of color, single parents, people with disabilities, and elderly people.

Home repair: In addition, USDA’s Rural Housing Repair loan and grant programs, of which elderly women are the primary users, should also continue to receive strong funding. These programs are slated for increases in the President’s FY 2001 budget as well. These programs make essential home repairs as well as modifications to accommodate disabilities and thus allow seniors to remain at home as long as they are able. Most able-bodied seniors prefer to live in their own homes and to stay out of nursing homes.

Self-Help Housing: In addition, the USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing program should continue to be expanded. The Clinton-Gore Administration doubled this program from $13 million to $26 million a few years ago and is calling for a program level of $40 million in the FY 2001 budget. The program brings homeownership within the reach of families with very low incomes by allowing them to earn “sweat equity” by building their own homes. In this program, a technical assistance organization receives a grant to supervise groups of 6-12 families in the construction of their own homes. Each family works on every other family’s home until all the homes are completed. The families typically finance their homes through a USDA direct loan. Because the families work together to build each other’s homes, they develop not only home maintenance skills but also a strong sense of community.

Targeted assistance for the Delta: HUD will allocate special population points for applicants proposing to do work in the Delta. HUD would seek to provide additional Community Development Block Grant funding to States and entitlement communities in the Delta that would be awarded on a discretionary basis to grantees as rewards and incentives for progress in addressing chronic problems. In addition, housing counseling, training for nonprofits and Historically Black Colleges and Universities would be enhanced.

Farm labor housing: Migrant workers are one of the most disadvantaged groups in the Delta. Many of them are Hispanic or other minorities. One of the successful programs in housing during the 1990s was the Hope, Arkansas Migrant Farm Labor Center, funded by the Rural Housing Service. This project provides housing, job referral and other social service assistance to farm worker families who are passing through this migrant stream. At least two additional migrant farm labor centers need to be established in other areas of the Delta, patterned after the center in Arkansas.


The Departments of Commerce, HUD, EPA, Energy, Transportation and USDA’s Rural Development have brought vital local infrastructure projects to the region, such as adequate water and sewer systems, transportation, telecommunications, electricity and natural gas, rural health care, public safety and other projects needed for economic development and improved quality of life. These projects are discussed in the Report. Yet, in spite of these accomplishments, many areas of the Delta still suffer from inadequate infrastructure. These infrastructure programs need to be steadfastly supported and broadened in the new century.

Health Care

Medicaid, Medicare, and other fundamental health care programs: This Report summarizes a series of Clinton-Gore Administration activities regarding Medicare; Medicaid; HIV/AIDS; child care; youth services; efforts to reduce teen pregnancy; efforts to eliminate infant mortality; and rural health care issues. The tremendously important and complex issues in the field of health care are explored in detail. These health care innovations and activities should be supported and broadened in the coming years. In addition to these fundamentals, a number of specific activities are proposed, including the following:

State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is intended to maximize health care coverage, including behavioral health. Delta States have close to $450 million available to them in SCHIP allotments secured through FY 1999. State governments are in charge of reviewing eligibility standards, policies, procedures and points-of-entry and improving outreach activities.

Rural health: States and the Health Care Financing Administration should investigate inequities in funding rural health care delivery systems in Medicaid and Medicare. HCFA is conducting a Rural Health Workgroup to investigate these issues and identify areas for improvement. HCFA will help ensure that all health care delivery systems are adequately and equitably funded and will continue to take into consideration the unique and pressing needs of rural areas in the Delta.

Increase Federal funding for child care to assist low-income working families and child care education: Congress should pass bipartisan legislation to increase funding for child care subsidies, and to expand the Dependent Care Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit as requested in the President’s budget.

Teen pregnancy: A youth development fund to support community-based adolescent pregnancy prevention activities is needed. Each State should partner with local action teams to create an interagency State-local fund to support youth development programs that include job skills courses, childcare cooperatives and adult mentoring. School-based health clinics are supported through funding in the bureaus of Primary Health Care and Maternal and Child health in the HHS Health Resources and Services Administration.

Health and the environment: States could create environmental research centers in institutions of higher education; they should focus on environmental research, including solid and hazardous waste research. These centers should become part of a larger Delta consortium to assure technology transfer and share research and technical information, both regionally and nationally. Through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), The Mississippi Delta Health and Environment Project is a multi-phase initiative designed to identify and address environmental factors that may harm human health.

Rural Development’s Community Facilities health care activities: This program has provided extensive funding in the Delta for health care clinics, hospitals, elder care facilities, and emergency services equipment such as ambulances and fire engines. USDA will continue to finance the construction of essential health care facilities such as clinics and hospitals and the purchase of emergency rescue equipment. The Community Facilities (CF) program can provide funding for childcare centers, including Head Start facilities and teen centers. These meritorious programs should be continued and expanded.

Hunger and Food Security

The goal of eliminating hunger in the Delta is and must continue to be a high priority of the Federal government, and it must be pursued through a series of aggressive policies:

Expansion of Food Stamps use: The Delta has historically suffered from the scourge of hunger more seriously than any other region. The Food Stamp program is the cornerstone of the nation’s safety net against hunger. The President recently announced that bonus awards to States for excellence in welfare reform will be based, in part, on their success in enrolling eligible families in Food Stamps. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has engaged in a major campaign to publicize and expand the use of Food Stamps among eligible people in the Delta. USDA should continue to pursue an aggressive campaign of disseminating information about the food stamp law’s access requirements and the best ways to gain access to the program.

Expansion and improvement of the WIC program: In collaboration with Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, FNS is expanding the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program to more eligible women, infants and children in the region. FNS is also working to expand the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program to include more States and to cover larger areas of currently participating States. Five of the seven Delta States—Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Kentucky, and Illinois—are in the program. Louisiana and Tennessee would certainly be welcomed into the program. The participants are given vouchers to enjoy fresh, wholesome produce that they otherwise would not get, while small local farmers gain financially by expanding their markets to the WIC population.

In addition to the fundamental cornerstones of the hunger safety net such as Food Stamps, WIC, and school lunch and breakfast, the after-school program should be expanded to improve access to nutrition after school through the National School Lunch Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Methods should be developed for food stamp use to continue at farmers’ markets after the development of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) payments; farm-to-school programs for local farmers to sell directly to school lunch programs should be expanded; and the Delta Nutrition Research Initiative (discussed in the Report) should be continued.

Recognition of continuing pressing needs regarding health, human services and hunger in the region Despite the progress, problems persist in health and human services, particularly in providing appropriate services to low-income and minority Delta residents. HHS, USDA, other Federal agencies and their State, local, and private partners are committed to building upon the accomplishments made thus far in the 1990s to bring equal opportunities in health and human services to the people of the Delta.

Revitalizing the Regional Economy


The majority of the Commission’s recommendations have been fulfilled, and landmark legislation of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) aided the Delta’s transportation system. However, much more remains to be done:

The President’s budget proposals for increasing funds for transportation improvements: The Transportation Department will provide a total of $69 million in funding targeted to the Delta region for fiscal year 2001, including $48 million for new bridge and highway infrastructure in the Delta. Of the latter amount, $25 million would be dedicated specifically to I-69 and the Great River Bridge; $20 million would be provided for transit funds, consisting of $15 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program for public transit buses and bus facilities to provide affordable transportation and $5 million from FTA’s Access to Jobs and Reverse Commute Grants to promote vanpools, new bus routes, and transportation alternatives; and $1 million would be allocated from Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) administrative funds for technical assistance, including training on Federal programs and developing a tourism marketing plan.

Development of a regional transportation plan: Delta leaders have expressed great interest in the formation of a Delta regional transportation plan. Such a plan could be aimed at coordinating activities among States and localities, as well as technical assistance. It would highlight interstate intermodal facilities. The Department of Transportation would provide funds to bring States and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) together to jointly develop the plan, and then provide technical assistance in its development. The regional transportation plan could be an enterprise of the proposed permanent regional commission, working in concert with State departments of transportation and MPOs, as well as their national associations. Its development would be funded from FHWA funds and other money that the States and metropolitan planning organizations in the region may allocate.

Access: Residents of the vast rural areas and numerous small towns of the Delta suffer from disproportionate isolation and diminished access to jobs, education, health care and other necessities of life.

Transportation industry jobs: The transportation industry presents enormous opportunity for future job growth. A model project is now beginning at Mid-South Community College in West Memphis, Arkansas that could open the door to transportation careers for many of the Delta’s young people. This initiative would benefit area youth who are often under-trained and under-employed, as well as assisting the affected industries that suffer from a labor shortage, and point the way toward other such education programs in other parts of the Delta. Mid-South’s proposal would link the college with high schools and other institutions of higher learning through a network of facilities, specialized curricula and technology. A crucial part of the program would be participation of State and business interests that could assist the program financially in light of their interests in the success of such an enterprise. The Department of Transportation would assist with educational materials, while the Departments of Labor, Education, and Commerce would determine their capacity and authority to provide appropriate financial support for facilities and other program elements.

Transportation development: Transportation development, particularly intermodal connections and elimination of bottlenecks, is critical to the economic advancement of the region. A number of high-priority projects—such as Interstate-69 and the Great River Bridge—should receive the required funding from State and local governments to make them become a reality.

Training: People from the Delta who attended the many Delta 2000 meetings held in the region made it clear that a great need exists for information on the programs, activities and related funding of the Federal government and how to gain access to them. DOT proposes a continuing set of training/information sessions for stakeholders, including local government officials, private nonprofit groups, and other interested parties to improve familiarity with the programs of DOT and the process for using them. This project would coordinate with other agencies and departments that will be providing their own training and education programs.

Community Development

EZ/EC expansion: The Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities should be expanded. Funding for the Round II communities should be placed on the same sound, 10-year footing as Round I, instead of having to struggle for the funding each year. There should be a Round III that would further expand the network of EZ/ECs in the Delta. Nationally, the President’s FY 2001 budget requested ten Round III Empowerment Zones (eight urban and two rural).

Champion Communities should gain greater preference points for their funding applications, planning grants, and other benefits to enhance their Champion status.

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI): In addition to expanding the EZ/EC program, funding should be increased to a number of community development innovations that have demonstrated success in recent years, particularly CDFIs and the Community Adjustment and Investment Program.

Welfare-to-Work, Job Training, and Workforce Investment The following programs and policies have proven to be constructive in recent years regarding the issues of welfare-to-work, job training and workforce investment activities in the Mississippi Delta region. These policies should continue to be supported and expanded in the years beyond 2000.

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 provides welfare-to-work (WtW) grants to States and local communities in the Delta (and throughout the country) to help hardtoemploy welfare recipients move into lasting, unsubsidized jobs. The national funding level for WtW grants was $3 billion, $1.5 billion each in fiscal years 1998 and 1999. There are two types of grants: formula grants to States and competitive grants to local communities. 75% of the WtW funds are distributed as grants to States according to a formula and the remaining 25% of the WtW funds are distributed through a competitive process to various entities.

The Workforce Investment Act of 1998, (effective July 1, 2000), provides the framework for a unique workforce preparation and employment system designed to meet both the needs of the nation’s businesses and the needs of job seekers and those who want to further their careers. Key components of the Act will enable customers to easily access the information and services they need through the “OneStop” system; empower adults to obtain the training they find most appropriate through Individual Training Accounts; and ensure that all State and local programs meet customer expectations.

The Workforce Investment Act specifies three funding streams to the States and local areas: adults, dislocated workers, and youth. Each State will establish both State and local workforce investment boards. The local board shall promote the participation of private sector employers in the statewide workforce investment system. A majority of members shall be local and distant owners of business concerns, chief executives or chief operating officers of non-governmental employers, or other private sector employers. The State board will help the Governor develop a fiveyear strategic plan describing statewide workforce development activities.

A variety of benefits and reemployment services are available to unemployed workers. They are as follows: (1) rapid response assistance, (2) coordination, integration, and deliverance of basic readjustment services, (3) retraining services, (4) needsrelated payments, and (5) coordination with the unemployment compensation system and crossreferral for resources provided by other agencies.

Job Corps: Funded by Congress and administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, Job Corps is the leading residential employment-training program in the Delta and has been training young adults for meaningful work since 1964. There are 16 Job Corps Centers located in the States encompassing the Delta region.

The Youth Opportunity Movement (YOM) is a partnership with the private sector to invest in young people. In conjunction with the Workforce Investment Act, the U.S. Department of Labor awards Youth Opportunity grants to qualifying communities. The underlying principle is to reduce poverty and unemployment among youth aged 14-21 in specific communities by concentrating resources in those areas with greatest need.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families programs: There should be an increase in education, training and employment programs for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) clients in order to ensure that low-income families have access to programs to improve their skills and move up the career ladder. There should also be an expansion in training programs for welfare workers.

Small Business Development, Access to Capital and Economic Empowerment The New Markets Initiative: This is a broad Presidential initiative that seeks to develop the untapped markets in regions that have not participated fully in the great prosperity of the 1990s, such as the Delta, the Southwest Border, Appalachia, and Native American reservations. Although “New Markets” is of course much broader than the Delta, its principles were embodied in the 1990 Commission—where Governor Clinton explicitly referred to the need to “expand into new markets.” President Clinton’s fiscal year 2000 balanced budget provides funding for this new initiative designed to create the conditions for economic success by prompting approximately $22 billion over the next 10 years in new investment in rural and urban areas.

Small business access to credit: There should be an expansion of various Small Business Administration programs such as microloans, surety bond guarantees, investment capital financing, export loans, Section 7(a) general small business loans, and other policies for enhancing new small business markets.

Enhancing entrepreneurial development: SBA will expand technical assistance to small business through its Business Information Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers, the Mid-Delta One Stop Capital Shop, on-line courses and its virtual Small Business Classroom.

Rural economic development: The Rural Business Service has pursued a number of initiatives for promoting business and industrial development in the poorest and smallest communities in the Delta. The Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, Intermediary Lending Program, and Rural Business Enterprise Program have been highly effective in promoting economic development in the region, and these programs should be enhanced and broadened in the years after 2000. In particular, the Rural Business Opportunity Program (RBOG) should have a percentage of its funding allocated to help build capacity in distressed areas like the Delta. Similarly, a percentage of the Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) should be allocated to support efforts in the Delta to develop the capacity of grassroots organizations to undertake projects for improved housing, community facilities and economic development.

Economic Development Administration (EDA): For many years, EDA has enjoyed an impressive reputation for promoting a wide variety of infrastructure, economic development and other activities. EDA continues to earn support both from Congress and from communities and local and State governments that it partners with to develop local solutions to addressing economic deterioration. As the country continues to reap the benefits of a surging economy, now is the time to focus resources toward areas of the country that have not benefited from this new economy.

Economic adjustment to base closures: In 1999, the President signed legislation enabling DOD to convey surplus base closure property to communities at no cost in order to stimulate economic revitalization. In the years after 2000, the Federal government should continue to support DOD’s Economic Adjustment Program and other policies designed to help communities make transitions after base closures and military downsizing.

The farm economy: In 1999, there was an almost $9 billion Federal emergency package for farmers across the country. Agriculture remains a vital economic activity in the Delta, which ranks among the nation’s most prolific producers of cotton, rice, soybeans and many other agricultural products. However, rather than having to pass major bailout legislation whenever the farm economy is rocked by periodic price crashes, farm legislation should be reformed to provide an adequate safety net for farmers, especially small- and medium-sized producers.

Trade: The Administration firmly supports the expansion of exports as a critical element of the Federal government’s response to the farm crisis. Further energizing our export expansion activities will help us bring markets into balance sooner, thus hastening the recovery of the farm economy. Therefore, the Administration is renewing its request for authority to roll forward the Export Enhancement Program balances to future years or use some of those funds for food aid or other export assistance activities.

Export assistance for small and minority farmers: Small and minority farmers have historically suffered from disadvantages in export trade, and in order to help address this problem, USDA plans to conduct pilot programs in Mississippi and perhaps other Delta States to train small and minority producers in export marketing. The Export Readiness Training (ERT) pilot program is developed under the aegis and with the funding support of the Emerging Markets Program of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). Additional funding is being provided by SUSTA (Southern United States Trade Association) and the international Small Business Development Centers in Mississippi (the program will also be conducted in Alabama and Georgia). The program will be conducted in partnership with the State departments of agriculture; the international Small Business Development Centers; Alcorn State University, one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which will conduct the training; SUSTA; and FAS’s Emerging Markets Office. (Details are provided in the agriculture section of the Report.)

Research, education, and extension, and assistance for small- and medium-sized farmers: This Report outlines a series of policy initiatives for advancing alternative agriculture; direct marketing for small farmers; research, education and extension programs; small farmer cooperatives; and sustainable agriculture.


Natural Resources

Progress has been made on many of the 1990 Delta Commission recommendations in areas from wetland restoration to navigation. Building on these activities and the partnerships, great strides can be made in protecting and restoring the Delta’s natural resources in the next five to ten years.

Wetland Restoration: Protection and restoration of coastal and freshwater wetlands has consistently been a priority in the Delta. Wetlands provide critical habitat for many species and help to improve water quality by filtering out pollutants before they reach the water supply. Continued and increased support of regional and local partnerships could accelerate wetland protection to at least 45,000 acres/year and slow coastal land loss by 25 percent, providing human health, fish, wildlife, recreation and tourism benefits.

Water quality and quantity: Inadequate supply of high-quality water is a growing problem in the Delta. State and Federal agencies could increase their water quality monitoring and act to protect communities from water pollution and fish consumption advisories by encouraging local governments and individuals to adopt Best Management Practices and other voluntary programs. They can also develop water use and availability plans to ensure adequate water supplies would protect the future needs of the local communities and an expanding economy in the Delta.

Flood Control and floodplain management: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funds a number of water resources projects, including a major flood control project along the main stem of the Mississippi River and in the watershed of one of its two principal outlets, Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River basin. In the Delta region, as elsewhere in the Nation, the Corps also seeks to identify ways through which local communities can reduce the risk of flood damage while enhancing the natural values of their waters.

Assistance to flooding victims—Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA): FEMA has achieved an exemplary record of providing expeditious aid for victims of floods and other disasters in the region. The Report goes beyond the impressive disaster relief assistance to discuss FEMA’s flood mitigation projects in the region. As part of the new proposed regional commission, FEMA proposes the creation of a Mississippi Delta Project Impact Commission, comprised of States and communities in the region. The Commission’s goal would be to develop a regional approach toward mitigation planning and project implementation to protect communities, enhance the environment, help manage growth and promote economic development.

Protecting wildlife: Protecting wildlife should continue through public land protection, increased support for voluntary private land restoration, and invasive species eradication using programs such as Land and Water Conservation Fund and Conservation Reserve Program. Wildlife lands also provide the benefit of enhancing recreation and tourism.

Access to Information: By increasing public access to information about fish, wildlife, water quality, toxins, and other information, local communities can enhance their planning and decision-making processes. Partnerships with communities and academic institutions could be developed to increase the collection and distribution of information through the Internet, pamphlets, and other methods.


The 1990 Delta Commission identified protecting the environment as a key area of emphasis. Continuing the ongoing improvements in water and air quality, waste clean-up, and other pollution abatement activities is integral to revitalizing the economy and improving the quality of life in the Delta.

Air and water quality: Emphasis should be placed on ensuring that air and water quality meet health-based standards. By providing technical assistance and partnering with local communities, monitoring of air and water quality will be increased; efforts will continue to assure that people in the Delta will have safe drinking water; and contamination in fishing and recreational waters should be reduced to safe levels.

Site cleanup and redevelopment: Delta communities have increasingly focused on cleaning up and redeveloping contaminated sites to protect the health of local communities and provide tangible economic benefit. Increased focus should be placed on the Brownfields Program and other collaborative efforts. In addition, construction at all Superfund sites on the January 1, 2000 National Priority List should be completed.

Reducing harmful chemical exposure: The risk to public health and the environment from pesticide use is becoming an area of concern for the Delta. Through training and outreach this risk can be decreased by 50 percent through reduced application, buffer zones, and other methods to protect ground and surface water from runoff. In addition, new and safer pesticides could be reviewed and made available more quickly.

Public’s right to know: Across the nation there has been interest in improving the public’s right to know about issues that affect their communities. Access to information on public health, safety, and environmental quality, including water quality, toxic releases, and fish consumption advisories, could be increased through the Internet, public outreach, and other tools.


Tourism was recognized by the 1990 Delta Commission as an area of vast opportunity for economic growth. Despite this recognition, the Delta area lags behind the rest of the nation in tourism opportunities and awareness.

Delta Heritage: Through the American Heritage Rivers Commissions and building on the ideas of the Lower Mississippi Delta Heritage Study, a network of nationally significant sites could be developed to support tourism development. Technical and other assistance could be provided to help plan, develop, and implement educational and tourism opportunities, with emphasis on Civil War, African-American, civil rights, and Native American sites, history, and culture.

Tourism planning and development: Tourism opportunities could be greatly enhanced by the development of a regional plan, encompassing State and local tourism organizations. The plan could help increase awareness of the Delta’s assets, strengthen marketing efforts, and coordinate activities between the Delta States.

Outdoor recreation and open space: Recreation continues to be an important aspect of the quality of life in the Delta. Increasing the recreation opportunities offered on public land can benefit the local communities and provide tourism sites. In addition, technical assistance could be provided to develop urban and rural parks, trails, and river corridors.


“I offer my support for the Delta Initiatives and the creation of the Delta Regional Authority. It is my hope that we can work together to realize the enormous potential of the Delta and its people.”

Governor Don Sundquist, Tennessee

A Permanent Regional Planning and Development Entity Communities throughout the country have found that working together within a regional development context can yield a variety of benefits for economic and community development. They can speak with a united, regional voice. They can use their resources more effectively and wisely. Working collaboratively, they can enhance efforts to attract Federal resources and ensure accountability while allowing residents and entrepreneurs to gain access to capital resources for the creation and expansion of business.

Regional infrastructure funds can create opportunities for capitalizing innovative public/private projects. The cooperative, regional approach provides a sharing of information and expertise across communities throughout a region that faces common social and economic challenges.

Many regions throughout America have seen the wisdom in developing a unified regional approach to developmental issues; this has proven effective in areas including Appalachia, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains, and other regions. The Southwest Border region is beginning a similar regional initiative. Indeed, Federal statutes, such as TEA-21, which guides all Federal surface transportation funding, require regional planning bodies.

Delta Regional Authority

Legislation similar to that previously proposed by the Administration during the last Congress has been introduced with bi-partisan support in both the Senate and the House, respectively, by Senator Blanche Lincoln and Congressman Marion Berry. The Authority would undertake a set of activities in support of Delta priorities, in partnership with States, localities, and the private sector. In addition to its coordinating and administering functions, the commission would also provide a modest program of grants to encourage a broad range of economic and related activities.

“Voices of the Delta”

In this section, the Delta voices are speaking for themselves. Therefore, we will not attempt to characterize their positions here, except to briefly note the basic categories of the “Voices.” The Delta 2000 Initiative stresses that these comments are part of the ongoing dialogue regarding the future of the region. We would greatly appreciate any and all further comments, either through the Department of Transportation’s new Delta Website ( or through the Delta 2000 Initiative address. The “Voices” published in this Report include:

  • Grassroots regional organizations, such as the Delta Caucus, Southern EZ/EC Forum, Delta Compact, and others;
  • Governors of the Delta States;
  • Members of Congress from the region representing both parties;
  • Private business leaders, including BusinessLinc, Entergy, the Delta Council, and others;
  • Organizations and leaders interested in diversity issues, such as the Delta Race Relations Consortium and other groups;
  • Summaries of Delta listening sessions in the fall of 1999;
  • Groups and individuals interested in transportation issues, such as the Interstate-69 Initiative and the Great River Bridge project supporters;
  • Agricultural groups and experts, including Delta representatives of the President’s Commission on 21st Century Agriculture and others;
  • Other voices expressing opinions on a variety of other issues regarding the region’s future.

“I’ve asked 12 Arkansans to serve on the Governor’s Arkansas Delta Development Initiative work group. This work group will join key State agency directors and legislators in recommending legislation needed to address the social and economic needs of the Arkansas Delta. The main goal of the work group is to develop legislation for the 2001 legislative session that will improve the quality of life and eliminate poverty in the 42 Arkansas counties that were part of the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Act… The ADDI work group will be the first State legislative effort addressing significant issues in the Delta, and it will be designed to complement Federal initiatives.”


One purpose of this section is to underscore the importance of strong partnerships in the Delta to deal with the issues facing its population, and the Federal government’s commitment to helping forge those alliances. The second purpose is to foster the nature of this Report as an ongoing dialogue to which this Administration is committed and to which it has provided leadership.

The Future of the Delta

The Mississippi Delta 2000 Initiative calls for the formation of a dynamic coalition to move the region forward: Federal, State and local governments, private business, faith-based organizations and nonprofit foundations must all play energetic roles. The Federal government can provide technical assistance and resources, but ultimately empowerment and lasting change flow from leadership at the grassroots level. As Bill Clinton expressed the empowering nature of broad-based grassroots participation in 1990, “Being in the vanguard of change need not be a distinction limited to the freedom-hungry citizens of Eastern Europe or Poland or the aggressive business people of Singapore or Korea. The people of the Delta belong in that vanguard. They want to be there, and they can be, if each of us will do our part.”