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.

Farm Bill Conference Report Beneficial for Vital SNAP Nutrition Program

Posted on December 11, 2018 at 03:30 PM

UPDATE: The Farm Bill Conference report passed the House by 369 to 47. Thanks to all our partners who advocated for this constructive result.

The Farm Bill Conference Report is a constructive, bipartisan compromise that deletes provisions harmful to the SNAP program that is vital for Arkansas and the Greater Delta Region, where food insecurity is much higher than national averages. Conferees from both parties and both houses should be praised for this positive outcome for nutrition, agriculture and rural development.

“We applaud the bipartisan Farm Bill Conference Report and urge all nutrition advocates to endorse final passage. This will scrap a provision that would have kicked some deserving people off the program and delete earlier proposed cuts of $20 billion over 10 years in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding. SNAP is a vital safety net for 40 million Americans who struggle with food insecurity,” Caucus Director Lee Powell said.

Farm bill issues have been the most urgent matters the Delta Caucus has dealt with all year, including at its November annual conference in Little Rock with Members of Congress, state and grassroot leaders from across the region. “We need to follow up and urge all our House and Senate members across the region to support the Farm Bill Conference Report,” Powell said.

“In addition to preserving the SNAP safety net, the conference report contains other essential provisions to preserve the safety net for farmers when they are being harmed by trade disputes, re-authorizes the Delta Regional Authority, and continues USDA programs in infrastructure, rural small business, expanding broadband access and the fight against the opioids epidemic,” Powell said.

State Rep. Reginald Murdock (D-Marianna) said “I am grateful to see leaders from both parties in Congress working for a compromise that will support the all-important nutrition programs and other farm bill provisions that are crucial for east Arkansas and the entire Delta region.”

Johnnie Bolin, Chairman of the Cornerstone Coalition in southeast Arkansas (Desha, Chicot, Drew, Ashley and Bradley counties) said “This is great that leaders from both parties are working together on a bipartisan, practical compromise that will be beneficial for nutrition, agriculture and rural development in southeast Arkansas and the Greater Delta Region.”

At a time when Congress is often lambasted for dysfunctional gridlock, this was a welcome exception to that pattern as House and Senate leaders worked together for a constructive compromise. The Delta Caucus would especially express our appreciation for Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), (Rep. French Hill (R-AR), Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan), Ag committee ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn), and many others for this result.

The conference report has overwhelming support in the Senate where it passed by a huge margin earlier in the year. The House passed its version by only two votes by a strict party-line vote, but with the bipartisan conference result, all we need are a few more US Representatives to support this bill, which is likely the single most important piece of legislation for the Delta Region.

Delta states unfortunately had five of the six worst food insecurity levels in America in the USDA 2016 data. Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama were the three worst, with Arkansas and Kentucky respectively fourth and fifth. The only state outside our region in the worst six states was New Mexico.

The Delta Regional Authority received a vote of approval for the great job they are doing promoting the community and economic development of the 8-state Greater Delta Region from southern Illinois and southeast Missouri to New Orleans and eastward to the Alabama Black Belt. Kudos to DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Caldwell and DRA State Co-Chairman, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and all the many supporters of the DRA across the region.

Food insecurity in 2016 data from the USDA Economic Research Service (states with the worst food insecurity:

Mississippi: 18.7%

Louisiana: 18.3%

Alabama: 18.1%

New Mexico: 17.6%

Arkansas: 17.5%

Kentucky: 17.3%

Delta Regional Conference Set for April 25-26, 2019, ASU Mid-South in West Memphis

Posted on December 10, 2018 at 01:46 PM

The Delta Caucus spring conference next year will be held at one of the major educational institutions in our region—Arkansas State University Mid-South in West Memphis, Arkansas, April 25-26, 2019. Education is always one of our key issues and ASU Mid-South has a great record of preparing people for well-paying jobs in the heart of our region.

BASIC SCHEDULE:

Opening session is late Thursday afternoon and early evening, April 25, 2019, 4:45 p.m. to 7 p.m.m ASU Mid-South in West Memphis

Friday, April 26, 2019, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., ASU Mid-South in West Memphis

Chancellor Debra West of ASU Mid-South will be one of our key luncheon speakers on April 26, along with invitations that we are starting to work on to Members of Congress, and other prominent state, federal and private sector leaders. We would like to express our appreciation to Chancellor West for providing ASU Mid-South as the host location.

We considered several communities as the host and were gratified that they all expressed strong interest. ASU Mid-South was chosen due to their great work for education in our region, our longstanding ties to their institution going back to the 1990s, and the advantageous geographical location of West Memphis that makes it easier to reach for our partners, starting of course with the Memphis/West Memphis area, but also being relatively convenient for east Arkansas, northeast Louisiana, much of Mississippi, western Kentucky, southeast Missouri, and southern Illinois.

Bachelors’ degrees in the region improving but still lagging behind national averages: We have just received mixed news about higher education in our region: our states have increased their percentages of people with bachelors’ degrees, but four of the five states in the United States with the lowest are in our region—West Virginia is last, followed by Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and Louisiana. (Data is below in this message.)

REGISTRATION FEES AND ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP DUES

You register by paying the $100 registration fees, which are $25 for the annual membership dues for 2019, and $75 for registration fees.

For those who have paid their annual membership dues the registration fees will be $75. Those who have paid the annual dues will also receive a discount on the fall, 2019 conference, usually held in Little Rock at the State Capitol Rotunda and Clinton Presidential Center.

The easiest way to pay registration and dues is to go to the website at mdgc.us and go to the PayPal link at the top of the site that says “Donate.”

If you prefer to pay by check, please make out the $100 check to “Delta Caucus” and mail to:

Delta Caucus

5030 Purslane Place

Waldorf, MD 20601

We are working on getting a group discount rate at a West Memphis hotel and will pass that information along soon.

This is by invitation and space is limited.

Data from the American Community Survey, 2013-2017 regarding numbers of people with bachelors’ degrees

For 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico—52 jurisdictions (reported in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and other media)

National average: 30.9%

Bottom Five:

  1. West Virginia 19.9%

  2. Mississippi 21.3%

  3. Arkansas 22%

  4. Kentucky 23.2%

  5. Louisiana 23.4%

Those with the highest percentage with bachelor’s degrees were the District of Columbia with the highest at 56.6%, Massachusetts at 42.1%, Colorado with 39.4%, and Maryland with 39%

On the positive side, Arkansas’ rate of bachelors’ degrees rose by 2.9%.

Two other states—Tennessee and Missouri–in the Greater Delta Region had among the highest percentage increases in the number of bachelors’ degrees in the nation, with Tennessee’s rate increasing by 3.4% and Missouri only slightly lower in its increase.

On another positive note regarding education, in Arkansas from 2010 to 2017 the number of Arkansans 18 and older who had graduated from high school rose from 81.9% to 85.6%, for a 3.7% increase.

Arkansas’ rate of increase for high school graduates was higher than the national average for that period, which was 2.3% increase in high school graduates, from 85% to 87.3%.

Delta Queen Bill Passes US House by Voice Vote with no Opposition--Nov. 27, 2018

Posted on November 28, 2018 at 10:41 AM

“Delta Queen Supporters Win Historic Victory after 10-Year Struggle to Permit Historic Steamboat to Travel on Mississippi and its Tributaries”

Tuesday night the US House of Representatives passed by voice vote without opposition the Coast Guard Authorization Bill including language that will allow the Delta Queen to travel America’s rivers once again. This is the final Congressional vote on the legislation that the Delta Caucus and many other Delta Queen supporters have been supporting for 10 years now.

“The Delta Caucus would like to thank all of our grassroots supporters across the region for never giving up on the Delta Queen for so many years and through so many disappointments. We have won and it was worth all the hard work,” said Lee Powell, Delta Caucus director.

Passage of the bill means that the Delta Queen will return to its travels on the Mississippi, Arkansas and Ohio rivers. The boat has an exemplary safety record, there will be additional layers of safety precautions added by the ownership, the boat is a national historic icon that will educate many people across the country about the great legacy of steamboating, and it will generate tourist dollars in the many ports where it stops.

Cities where the boat will stop will include New Orleans and other Louisiana destinations, Helena, Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Memphis, Cape Girardeau, St. Louis, Paducah, Kentucky, Cincinnati and many other cities along the Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas rivers.

With the voice vote passage in the House without opposition and the Senate’s earlier overwhelming passage by 94 to 6, President Trump is expected to sign the Coast Guard Authorization bill that included the provision allowing the Delta Queen to travel once again across America’s inland waterways.

Kudos to Cornel Martin, CEO of the Delta Queen company, and the many grassroots supporters from the Delta Caucus and other organizations who have fought so hard to keep the boat traveling on America’s inland waterways over the past 10 years, despite many trials and tribulations.

Cornel Martin will be doing a system of upgrades to the boat, including new boilers, generators, rebuilding the paddlewheel, adding more exit routes, and the bill requires 10% of the wooden or other parts of the boat to be replaced with non-combustible materials each year.

“Cornel Martin has gone above and beyond the call of duty in adding layer after layer of safety precautions to a boat that already had an excellent safety record,” Powell said.

This will create 150 jobs as well as generating tourist dollars in places where the boat will stop like Helena, Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Memphis and many other ports on the Mississippi, Arkansas and Ohio rivers.

Delta Queen Movement Wins Historic Victory--US House Passes Delta Queen Bill

Posted on November 26, 2018 at 11:46 AM

Delta Queen supporters won a historic victory on the night of Nov. 27, 2018 in our decade-long movement to allow the historic Delta Queen to once again travel America’s rivers—the US House passed by voice vote without opposition the Delta Queen (DQ) bill.

The Delta Caucus and other DQ supporters have been advocating for this legislation ever since the last required Congressional exemption lapsed in 2008—it has taken 10 years but we have now achieved victory.

With the House having passed the bill without opposition and the Senate passing it overwhelmingly by 94 to 6, President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

NOTE: The Delta Queen has an exemplary safety record, extensive upgrades will add new boilers, generators, rebuild the paddlewheel, a system of state-of-the-art safety requirements, creation of additional exit routes, and the Coast Guard has to give a rigorous safety inspection (as it does all publicly operated vessels) before the DQ can travel one inch off the dock. Allegations about a “terrible fire hazard” are simply bogus.

Opponents often make the false claim that the boat is entirely made of wood, but this is bogus: the boat consists of 75% steel and other non-combustible materials. The wooden portion is only about 25% and will be further reduced. The boat has a steel hull and state of the art safety systems.

As expected, the bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate by a vote of 94 to 6 on Nov. 14.

The bill also adds a requirement for replacing 10% of combustible materials each year, thus adding additional layers of safety to a boat that was operated safely for decades on America’s rivers. Again, if the Coast Guard finds any safety issue, they will prohibit the boat from traveling until the issue is resolved, in the unlikely event that there is any issue after all the upgrades are in place.

The Delta Caucus asked our supporters to contact your US House representative and urge passage of S. 140, the Coast Guard Authorization Bill including language that will allow the Delta Queen to return to overnight cruise service, for a vote on Tuesday. The bill required a 2/3rds vote for approval, but we were pleasantly surprised by the unanimous approval.

The exemption is for the Safety of Life at Seas (our italics) Act of 1966, which as the name clearly states was intended to apply to ocean-going vessels, not a riverboat like the DQ which is never more than a few minutes from land.

The boat is a National Historic Landmark, and the bill has been endorsed by the International Seafarers Union, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the American Maritime Officers, and many other historical preservation organizations.

Allowing the DQ to resume its travels will preserve a national historic treasure, educate many travelers about the history of steamboating across America’s heartland, promote appreciation of our region’s natural resources with the first-hand exposure to the beauty of the region by travelers, create about 150 jobs, and generate tourist dollars in the ports where it stops.

Most importantly, passage will reward Cornel Martin and his team’s exemplary efforts to go above and beyond the call of duty by adding so many layers of extra safety precaution on the boat.

This does not require any taxpayer funding, but merely legal permission for the boat to travel again.

We commend the many Members of Congress in both Houses who have championed this legislation, including Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Rep. French Hill (R-AR), Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Rep. R-Ohio, and the many other members of Congress (too numerous to list here) who support this bill.

The center of opposition to the bill is led by a competing steamboat company, American Cruise Lines that operates out of offices in Connectict and also owns a shipyard in Maryland. They have complained that if the DQ 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 opportunity for a number of steamboats on our rivers.

American Cruise Lines’ lobbyist has also made erroneous charges about the safety of the DQ, in spite of its excellent safety record over 80 years of being safely operated on America’s rivers and the many new layers of safety requirements in the legislation, the program of renovations planned by Cornel Martin, and above all the fact that the Coast Guard has to inspect the boat before it travels and will prevent it from traveling if any safety defect is found, until the issue is resolved.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Please note that the Coast Guard inspectors’ actions in approving the boat for travel over the decades was the true meaningful statement about the boat’s safety, and their inspections in the future if the bill passes will be the definitive action on this subject.

It is certainly true that when bureaucrats in Washington, DC at the US Dept. of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard of any other agency for that matter who know little or nothing about the DQ are asked slanted questions such as “There is this entirely wooden, old boat that is a terrible fire hazard called the Delta Queen. Do you think it should be allowed to travel on America’s waterways again?” Of course they will say “No.” But they are not informed about the facts of the boat’s safety record and the new upgrades, and again the only actors who matter are the Coast Guard inspectors on the rivers who do the actual inspections.

American Cruise Lines has several boats on the river now and one in the Pacific Northwest. Their lobbying firm is Blank Rome. Their CEO, Mr. Charles Robertson has spent well over a half million dollars over the last several years with the Blank Rome firm trying to defeat any effort to pass legislation to allow the Delta Queen to return to overnight cruise service.

Updated Agenda & Note on Starting Times for Oct. 31-Nov. 1 Greater Delta Region Conference

Posted on October 26, 2018 at 03:46 PM

The Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2018 Greater Delta Region conference will feature important Congressional and gubernatorial candidates’ forums, as well as grassroots leaders on economic development across the 8-state region. Updated agenda and notes on timing are below.

We are dedicating this conference to the legacy of the late, great Carol Willis, a true champion for the community and economic progress of his native Delta region and our country as a whole. Bob Nash, community and economic development expert, former Director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel and USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development, will give a presentation paying tribute to Carol’s legacy at the Oct. 31 opening session.

BASIC SCHEDULE

OPENING SESSION—Wednesday evening Oct. 31, 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Arkansas State Capitol Rotunda

Please note: Little Rock rush hour traffic gets very heavy starting a little before 4 p.m., so please allow time to get there when we have to start with the first speaker promptly at 4:30 p.m.

CLINTON LIBRARY SESSION: Thursday morning and lunch, Nov. 1, 8:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Clinton Library Great Hall

Please note: Little Rock morning rush hour traffic is heavy from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., and we need to start promptly at 8:15 a.m.

REGISTRATION:

You register by paying the late registration fees, which are $150, although we have some larger group discount rates for networks that plan to bring a group.

The fastest and easiest way to pay the registration fees is to go to the website at mdgc.us and go to the Paypal link at the top of the site that says “Donate.”

If you are very late in paying the registration fees you can bring a check to the front desk on Nov. 1 at the Clinton Library, but we would greatly prefer that you just use the PayPal link on the website.

While we discourage people from coming in briefly for these conferences except for Congressional and gubernatorial candidates, state legislators, and a few others at that level, for campaign staffers who come in for the candidates’ forum we would request $25 each, which is the minimum we request from all people, as we have indicated many times previously.

By Arkansas Capitol rules, we cannot accept any checks at the Arkansas Capitol Rotunda session on Wednesday evening, Oct. 31.

Thanks—Lee Powell, Executive Director, Delta Grassroots Caucus (202) 360-6347

Greater Delta Region Conference, October 31-November 1, 2018

Little Rock, Arkansas

We would like to dedicate this conference to the legacy of the late, great Carol Willis, Senior Adviser to President Bill Clinton, a True Champion for his native Greater Delta Region and social, racial and economic justice everywhere.

Information Tables

Sikeston, Missouri Economic Development Foundation and Supporters of Interstate 57 from Sikeston, Missouri to Little Rock, Arkansas

Heifer International

Society of St. Andrew Fresh Produce Project for Nutrition, Limited Resource Farmers, and Rural Economic Development—Johnny Pettis

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

Dumas, Arkansas Chamber of Commerce

**Opening Session, Wednesday Evening, Oct. 31, 4:30 p.m.–7 p.m. Rotunda of the Arkansas State Capitol**

“Best Practices in Community and Economic Development”

4:30 p.m. to 5:40 p.m.

Lee Powell, Introduction

Millie Atkins, Co-Chair of Economic Equality Caucus and Delta Caucus; Community Leader, Monroe, Louisiana

Nathan Pittman, Southern Bancorp, Senior Vice President for Policy and Communications

Ginny Blankenship, Education Policy Director, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

Alan Gumbel, Veteran Delta regional advocate, now with Greater Memphis Alliance for Workforce Development, Memphis, Tennessee

Mayor Sheldon Day, Thomasville, Alabama

“Interstate 57 from Sikeston, Missouri to Little Rock, Arkansas”

5:40 p.m. to 5:50 p.m.

Mike Marshall, CEO, Sikeston, Missouri Area Economic Development Foundation

“A Tribute **to the Legacy of Carol Willis, a Champion for the Delta”

5:50 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Bob Nash, community and economic development expert, USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development and Director of White House Presidential Personnel for President Bill Clinton

“Jobs, Infrastructure, Small to Mid-Sized Towns and Rural Economic Development”

6 p.m. to 6:40 p.m.

Ben Burkett, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Jackson, Mississippi

Mayor Errick Simmons, Greenville, Mississippi

Rep. Vivian Flowers, Pine Bluff, Arkansas (please note—Rep. Flowers is recipient of the first annual Carol Willis scholarship for this conference, which is intended to recognize emerging political leaders in the Greater Delta Region

Mayor Shirley Washington, Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Mayor Diane Delaware, Yazoo City, Mississippi

“The Great Potential of Opportunity Zones for the Delta” 6:40 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Brad Cole, Executive Director, Municipal League for the state of Illinois

Lisa C. Ferrell, CEO, North Bluffs Development, Founding Partner of Southern Capital Opportunity Zone Fund, Attorney, Little Rock

Thursday, Nov. 1, 8:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Library

8:15 a.m.—Lee Powell, Introduction

8:30 a.m. Opening speaker–Rep. Reginald Murdock, Marianna, Arkansas—on Arkansas Works health insurance program

8:40 a.m. to 8:50 a.m.—Judith Goodson, state legislature candidate

8:50 a.m. to 9 a.m.—Andrew Collins, state legislature candidate

Forum for Candidates in the Second Congressional District Election

Questioners for candidates’ forums are Lee Powell, Caucus Director, and Brad Cole, previously a senior aide to former US Senator Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, veteran Delta regional advocate, now executive director of the Municipal League of Illinois, Delta Caucus Board of Directors

9: a.m. to 9:30 a.m.—State Rep. Clarke Tucker, Second Congressional District Democratic nominee

9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.—Congressman French Hill, Second Congressional District

Forum for Candidates for Governor of Arkansas

10 a.m. to 10:25 a.m.—Jared Henderson, Democratic nominee for Governor of Arkansas

10:25 a.m. to 10:50 a.m.—Governor Asa Hutchinson

Forum for Candidates for First Congressional District of Arkansas

10:50 a.m. to 11:05 a.m.—Chintan Desai, Democratic nominee for First Congressional District of Arkansas

11:05: a.m to 11:20 a.m..—Congressman Rick Crawford, First District of Arkansas

“Issues Regarding the Most Vulnerable Populations—Health Care, Nutrition, Immigration, Dreamers”

11;20 a.m. to 11:30 .a.m..–Bo Ryall, Arkansas Hospitals Association, on the Arkansas Works health insurance program

11:38 a.m. to 11:46 a.m, Joey Keys, Chief Advancement Officer, Southeast Missouri Food Bank, on hunger and nutrition covering 16 counties in the southeast Missouri Delta

11:46 to 11:55 a.m.—Maria Meneses, Arkansas United Coalition Community Organizer and Student, Philander Smith College, on Hispanics and Dreamers Issues in Arkansas

11:55 to 12:03—Will Staley, nonprofit THRIVE, based in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas

Luncheon

Kevin Smith, veteran Delta regional advocate from Helena-West Helena, introducing Clinton Foundation Executive—either Executive Editor Stephanie Streett or Deputy Executive Editor Lena Moore regarding the Clinton Foundation’s USA domestic programs on women’s issues, nutrition, health care and other philanthropic activities

12:10 to 1:30 p.m.

“Womens’ Issues and Education”

Professor Tracey Barnett, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, on her research regarding the impact of proposed cuts in the SNAP program in Arkansas

Rupa Dash, CEO, World Woman Foundation

Betty Dobson, Executive Director, Upper Town Heritage Foundation, Paducah, Kentucky

Chancellor Debra West, Arkansas State University Mid-South, West Memphis


Appreciation for Sponsors

Delta Grassroots Caucus, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2018, Arkansas State Capitol and Clinton Library Great Hall, Little Rock, Arkansas

Lead Sponsor

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

Major Co-Sponsors

Sikeston, Missouri Regional Chamber & Office of Economic Development

Heifer International

Sponsors

Municipal League of Illinois

Harvey Joe Sanner, President, American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas

Millie Atkins, Co-Chair, Economic Equality Caucus, Community Leader based in Monroe, Louisiana

Municipal League of Arkansas

Delta Grassroots Partners

Last but not least, we would like to thank the hundreds of grassroots partners across the Greater Delta Region and the Washington, DC area for their many contributions of registration fees, annual membership dues, and other voluntary contributions in the amounts of $150, $125, $100, $75, $50 and $25.

As a grassroots private sector coalition, we need to have a diversified financial base with large numbers of medium-sized and smaller contributions, and we could not do our work without these numerous contributions.