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”

<< Previous | Table of Contents | Next >>

IV. Promoting Regional Planning and Development

“I was very excited when Senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas asked me to join her and our House colleagues in the introduction of S. 1622, the Delta Regional Authority Act. This important legislation sends the message to the Lower Mississippi Delta that we in Washington are working in a bipartisan manner to encourage economic development for the people of this region.”

U.S. Senator Bill Frist, 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, including Appalachia, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains, and other regions. The Southwest Border region is beginning a similar regional initiative. Indeed, many States require regional planning bodies, such as Federal law TEA-21, which guides all Federal surface transportation funding.

Mississippi Delta Regional Initiative: The regional development approach in the Mississippi Delta received a powerful impetus from the establishment of the Southern Empowerment Zones/Enterprise Communities Forum. This Forum began as an informal organization of rural and urban EZs and ECs in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This organization held quarterly meetings starting in 1995 to share program ideas and discuss issues of mutual concern. The Chair is Thelma French, New Orleans EC (urban), and the Vice Chair is Moses J. Williams, Northeast Louisiana Delta EC (rural). The USDA Office of Community Development (OCD) discussed with Forum leaders in August 1997 the possibility of forming a Delta regional initiative similar to the Southwest Border Regional Partnership that was organized in June 1997. Because of the similar cultural and economic conditions throughout the Delta, the regional approach was supported as an effective way to strengthen the area’s ability to attract resources by speaking with one united, regional voice.

In October 1997, OCD began implementing a Cooperative Agreement between USDA and the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Center (LMDDC), which was formerly known as the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission. USDA and the Southern EZ/EC Forum developed a partnership with the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Center. By using the remaining years of priority funding in Round I and by leveraging other resources, they could effectively aid in implementing the recommendations in The Delta Initiatives.

The Forum and USDA cooperated in forming a Delta regional initiative consisting of the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Center, the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta, the Forum, and the Foundation for the Mid-South. The Forum then expanded to include all the EZs and ECs throughout the seven States studied by the Commission in 1990.

In April 1998, a Delta Partnership Agreement was drafted in the form of a social compact between the organizations to work cooperatively for sustainable economic and community development to improve the quality of life in the Delta. The parties signed the agreement in New Orleans in April 1998, with Vice President Al Gore, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, and Department of Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater signing as witnesses. The Delta Partnership plans to have a Board of Directors composed of community leaders from the EZs, ECs, and Champion Communities. The Board will develop an overall Delta Regional Initiative strategic plan based on the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Center’s recommendations, and upon the strategic plans of the EZ/EC members of the Forum.

In the summer of 1998, 10 Departments of the Federal government pledged to work with communities in the Delta to promote the region’s development. The Departments included USDA, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Small Business Administration, Interior, Commerce, Labor, Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Like the Southwest Border Regional Partnership, leaders of the Mississippi Delta regional Initiative believe that while the process looks toward gaining greater resources for the region’s development in the immediate and long-term future, there have already been benefits from the process of information-sharing and cooperation among the Delta communities. Moses Williams, Vice-Chair of the Delta initiative, said, “Sharing ideas about common problems was very helpful.” Initially, the communities were not familiar with the process of establishing benchmarks, but what the communities learned from each other, as well as from USDA and HUD, helped them understand that process. “We’ve also helped each other with organizational structure. Few of us at first knew about 501(c)(3), but we’ve learned how to organize to get the most bang for your buck.”

Before the Southern EZ/EC Forum and the Delta regional initiative, Williams said, “You tended to think you were alone in your community with your problems, as if you were on an island. You think to yourself, ‘I’m the only one with these problems.’ You feel better knowing you’re not by yourself… and then you start solving problems.”

Williams said the goals of the initiative started with “coming together as a region, uniting to address profound social and economic conditions.” With its grassroots support, the regional planning movement in the Mississippi Delta shows great promise of expanding the horizons of economic and community development for the people of the Delta in the years beyond 2000.

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.

“I would like to express my support for the Delta Regional Authority Act (SR1622, HR 2911). This legislation establishes the Delta Regional Authority to serve the needs of the 219 counties situated within the Lower Mississippi Delta region. Illinois is home to 16 counties within that region… The Federal programs and services introduced as a result of the Delta Regional Authority would interact with current and future State agency initiatives in Illinois. Therefore, we are working to develop our activities in anticipation of this legislation’s passage. I look forward to continuing to work with the President on this most important project.”

George Ryan, Governor of Illinois

Regional planning: The EZ/EC communities played a dynamic role in promoting a regional approach to economic and community development. The rural and urban EZs and ECs in the region banded together to form the Southern EZ/EC Forum, which is working with other nonprofit foundations as well as local, State and Federal governments to promote their long-range vision of regional development. The Southern EZ/EC Forum’s efforts are among the key forces supporting the overall Delta Vision, Delta Voices initiative.

Delta Compact: A key regional entity that promotes the Delta’s development is the Delta Compact, which is largely comprised of community-based nonprofit organizations in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi that attempt to direct resources to the most distressed communities and populations in the Delta. More than 35 Delta Compact signatories have committed over $40 million in resources and technical assistance to this collaborative enterprise.

Economic Development Districts: The Department of Commerce has continued its longstanding policy of providing regional planning support to the Delta during the 1990s. The Agency has funded 29 multi-county regional planning organizations (Economic Development Districts) helping Delta communities develop comprehensive economic development strategies to provide economic opportunity. The Economic Development Administration (EDA) provided further support for regional planning efforts by funding seven University Centers servicing the Delta.

FEMA Regional Planning Recommendations

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends that a Mississippi Delta Project Impact Commission be formed, comprised of representatives from the States and communities located in the region. The goal of the Commission 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.

Various resources available to such a Commission are identified below.

  • Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities: Through this initiative, FEMA encourages communities across the country to assess their risk, identify their vulnerabilities, and take steps to prevent disaster damage before disaster strikes. We do this by asking local officials and the private sector to plan together to prepare for future disasters. For communities in flood-prone areas such as the Mississippi Delta, this includes floodplain management and land use planning.

    To assist with this effort, FEMA has provided to the State of Louisiana the consulting services of Dr. Rodney E. Emmer, who specializes in issues relating to water and related land resources in alluvial, delta, and coastal regions, coastal zone planning and environmental planning. He will work with FEMA and the State to enhance hurricane mitigation and preparedness strategies through broad, regionally based planning initiatives. The strategies will include measures to encourage communities to include the protection and restoration of wetlands buffers and barrier island shorelines in their hazard planning efforts.

    Eleven of the 185 Project Impact communities are located in the Mississippi Delta region and there are over 900 businesses that have joined on as Project Impact partners. Project Impact is indeed having an impact. We are changing the way communities view disasters and stimulating a process that requires grassroots participation.

  • Mapping and the Cooperating Technical Community Program: A vital component of flood damage prevention is mapping the hazard risk areas and FEMA is committed to modernizing our flood maps. To expedite this undertaking, FEMA has launched the Cooperating Technical Community (CTC) Program. Under this program, FEMA will establish a formal agreement with communities, regional agencies, and States to do some, or all, of the mapping for a particular area. FEMA may cost-share the expense with the communities but because our funding is so limited, some communities will use their own resources entirely. Mapping the Mississippi Delta region is an essential step in a comprehensive mitigation plan for the area.

  • Repetitive Loss Strategy: FEMA has developed a listing of 10,000 properties around the country that are the most vulnerable to repeat flood insurance losses. These are properties that have had four or more flood losses or two to three flood losses that cumulatively exceed the value of the building. By focusing mitigation efforts on these properties, we can make a difference in the lives of people who live in these properties and a difference for the country by reducing National Flood Insurance Program expenditures and by reducing the amounts needed for Federal disaster assistance in subsequent events.

    We can demonstrate that mitigation works. In the past 5 years, FEMA and our State partners have bought out or elevated almost 23,000 properties nationwide. Not only have these projects saved untold human suffering, but also experience has shown us that these mitigation measures are also cost-effective.

  • Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and the Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) Program: Funding available to States for mitigation projects includes the HMGP and the FMA Program. The HMGP sets aside an amount equal to 15 percent of the total amount of Federal disaster expenditures to be used as a 75 percent cost-share for disaster mitigation projects. These projects can be located anywhere in the State for any relevant hazard and do not have to be in the region of the declared disaster.

    The FMA Program provides States with funding unrelated to a particular disaster for mitigation flood mitigation planning and to implement measures to reduce flood losses. As with the HMGP, the funding is a 75 percent cost-share contribution to the State.

  • National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP): In 1968, Congress created the NFIP in response to the rising cost of taxpayer-funded disaster relief for flood victims and the increasing amount of damage caused by floods. The NFIP makes Federally backed flood insurance available in communities that agree to adopt and enforce floodplain management ordinances to reduce future flood damage.

    To encourage communities to undertake and fund mitigation projects like buyouts and elevations, FEMA can offer the incentive of reduced flood insurance premiums in their jurisdiction under the Community Rating System (CRS).

Circuit Riders Project for Technical Assistance

This project is aimed at expanding technical assistance to the poorest and smallest of communities of the Delta, so that they can compete more effectively with larger communities in applications for State, local, Federal, and private sector resources. The President announced the initiative to develop a pilot project for east Arkansas when he visited West Memphis, Arkansas on December 10, 1999. The Memorandum among 15 Federal agencies was completed in the spring of 2000. The Memorandum is summarized below:


This Agreement among the Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of the Treasury, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, or their designees, and such other senior executive branch officials as may be determined by the Co-Chairs of the Task Force.

The Initiative will be managed in accordance with the President’s Memorandum of December 10, 1999, outlining his intent for the initiative.

The purpose of this Memorandum is to establish an Arkansas Delta Circuit Rider Pilot Project to provide local level technical assistance in community-based development needs. The program is to be a concentrated, coordinated effort by the Federal agencies named as party to this agreement. The program will be a comprehensive approach addressing needs such as housing, economic development, transportation, environment, tourism, cultural resources, infrastructure, technology, education, and health care.

Program proposal: The circuit rider program will dedicate staff to provide technical assistance at the local level. This staff resource will assist rural communities in the Arkansas Delta in:

  • identifying community needs and priorities in economic and community development;

  • coordinating Federal resources in the participating communities;

  • drafting strategic plans to leverage both private and public resources for such development; and

  • implementing the plans.

The staff will be based in the USDA Rural Development State Office in Little Rock, and when necessary will work out of Rural Development Offices in eastern Arkansas. The USDA Rural Development State Director will coordinate the requests for service; will assemble teams from the participating agencies to visit communities, as appropriate, and will determine the priority for service. To the extent possible and practical, the USDA Rural Development State Director will also engage appropriate Offices of the State of Arkansas in community briefings and in the provision of assistance to client communities.

The USDA Rural Development Office of Community Development and the Senior Community Builder from the Arkansas State Office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Area Office will assist communities in capacity and community building and with the development of strategic plans. Participating Departments and Agencies, named above, and other appropriate USDA Offices such as the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service will, as requested by the USDA Rural Development State Director for Arkansas, assign appropriate personnel to participate in community meetings, provide assistance to communities with strategic planning assistance and guidance in meeting local needs, and in applying for financial assistance through Federal programs.

This pilot project will be in effect for a five-year period beginning upon execution of this agreement. Over the long term, the pilot may serve as a model to expand the circuit rider concept to all seven States in the Delta region.

The Social Security Administration and Regional Technical Assistance: The Regional Social Security Offices have played a key role in the planning and implementation of Vice President Gore’s ” Hassle-Free” projects in the State of Tennessee—where Federal, State and local service providers deliver one-stop, hassle-free services to the public.

The Kentucky State Director’s Office staff are members of Kentucky Medicare Partners. Along with the Kentucky Department of Aging, Health Care Finance Administration Atlanta Regional Office, Administration (Kentucky’s Medicare carrier), and Medicaid of Kentucky, this group serves to educate the public throughout the State, especially the elderly, about all categories of SSA, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits and application procedures.

The Greenwood, Mississippi Social Security Office, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, participates in the following:

  • The Early Intervention System Plan, an interagency effort of nine Mississippi Delta counties to assist disabled children. Private, local, county, State, and Federal entities are represented, offering medical, dental, nutritional, psychological, support group, family counseling, and transportation services. A directory has been published, listing services available with contact information for entities providing the listed services. Referrals are also made for the elderly, where appropriate.

  • Outreach efforts are made in cooperation with Mississippi Valley State University (HBCU) to educate students and the community about topics such as SSA programs, solvency, entitlement to benefits, etc. Greenwood Field Office staff teach classes each semester that address these topics. They also sponsor a booth at the university’s annual community day with Field Office staff available to answer questions and provide general SSA information.

  • North Central Planning and Development Commission in Winona, Mississippi, heads the area Agency on Aging. Each year, the Greenwood SSA Field Office sponsors and staffs an information booth at the senior fair in cooperation with the Commission.

Through the Field Office’s outreach efforts, SSA has provided training to assist in eligibility and reporting requirements to area hospitals, all area nursing homes, Head Start centers, and charitable organizations.

In addition to the outreach efforts highlighted above, we propose that:

  • Field Offices in Mississippi Delta States in the Atlanta region (Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee) provide leadership in establishing a network of Federal agency representatives to provide information/education to local communities about Federal services available.

  • Field Office managers and public affairs staff in Mississippi Delta States will conduct public education campaigns to educate the population, particularly in rural areas, about SSI program eligibility and benefits.

Providing assistance in historically impoverished areas: Federal officials who work in the Delta have found that working in historically impoverished areas is quite often much more difficult than working in other parts of rural America. For example, qualifying a low-income family for a housing loan in the Delta is typically much more time-intensive than it is in other regions. The same often holds true for Rural Development business programs and infrastructure programs. Totally dedicated individuals are needed with the technical skills, patience, and a true understanding and appreciation of the importance of effective outreach efforts to insure that Rural Development programs are delivered in the best way possible. Unfortunately, it has been the experience of many Federal agencies in the region that when jobs come open in the Delta, the best qualified candidates may not apply for those positions. Compared to positions in other areas, working in the Delta’s complex issue environment has not provided an incentive for employment. USDA Rural Development officials in the region proposed looking into the option of paying key employees who work in the Delta incentive pay for positive results. This is often done in other fields of government when there is a shortage of qualified personnel. The military does this with physicians. Attracting the best people to administer Federal programs in the Delta would make them more effective.

The issue of a “brain drain” from the rural Delta is especially disturbing as we look ahead. To bring about a fully revitalized region, it is necessary to provide an environment for young people to stay and prosper—economically, intellectually and socially. This is the ultimate goal of the Delta 2000 Initiative.