Funding for the Delta Regional Authority would be eliminated under President Trump’s first budget request to Congress. The federal agency is set up to help encourage and coordinate economic development in eight states, including Arkansas, tied to the beleaguered Mississippi River Delta region.
Arkansans played a big role in the formation of the DRA at the turn of the century. Former U.S. Senators Blanche Lincoln (D) and Tim Hutchinson (R) co-sponsored legislation to launch the federal-state partnership in 1999. Former President Bill Clinton appropriated $30 million for the 2000 budget.
Two of Arkansas’s current congressman, Steve Womack (R-3rd District) and Bruce Westerman (R-4th District), sit on the House Budget committee.
UPDATE 5:15 p.m.: DRA Chairman Chris Masingill, U.S. Representative Steve Womack, and Governor Asa Hutchinson have weighed in with statements to KUAR.
Massingil is of course not pleased with the elimination of his agency's budget. He emphasized the federal-state partnerships in the agency and cast it as apart from "government as usual" while defending it as a vehicle for delivering on promises of better infrastructure and economic security.
"You cannot advocate for infrastructure development and economic security in rural America without also supporting the mechanisms, such as DRA, that make those projects a reality."
Congressman Womack didn't make a commitment on the issue either way saying it was early in the process.
"My colleagues and I will work hard to make the tough, but necessary decisions on how to rebuild our military while appropriately funding the non-defense discretionary programs on which so many Americans rely.”
Governor Asa Hutchinson praised the agency as a "crucial" partner in development and urged a second look by Congress.
“The Delta Regional Authority has been a very important partner in economic development in Arkansas, specifically in the Delta region. DRA funding has been a crucial factor in attracting industry, building infrastructure and meeting the needs of our communities in the Arkansas Delta. I am confident that Congress will take a second look at the budget."
But he ended his statement on a different note.
"Whether those needs are met through the DRA or another vehicle, it is important not to shift additional cost burdens to the state.”
Masingill's Full Statement:
“Since being created by Congress in 2000, DRA has been the leading advocate for supporting job creation, building communities, and improving lives across the eight states and 252 counties and parishes we serve in the Mississippi River Delta region and the Black Belt of Alabama.
“Our nation’s top goals include building out infrastructure and ensuring greater security for Americans. These are important and admirable priorities, but it is important to keep in mind that agencies such as DRA are proven vehicles for delivering a modern infrastructure, and security also means providing economic security to our people. DRA has an outstanding track record of making strategic investments in the physical and human infrastructure that supports the economic security of some of the poorest, most underserved communities in our nation.
“DRA is on the ground every day working to improve rural communities. We’re doing our part, and we’re not alone. Our eight Governors, congressional delegation, local mayors and community leaders work well with DRA regardless of political affiliation. We conduct business with the highest standards of public accountability and operational excellence.
“Our agency is not government as usual. We are a lean and effective organization that builds partnerships to invest in infrastructure improvements, workforce development, strengthening competitive communities and supporting small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs. Throughout its history, DRA has added value to the budget approved each year by Congress. DRA has invested $163 million into more than 1,000 projects that have partnered with other public and private investments for a total of $3.3 billion. Those investments have helped to create and retain more than 26,000 jobs, train more than 7,200 workers for 21st Century jobs, and deliver water and sewer improvements to more than 64,000 residents.
“You cannot advocate for infrastructure development and economic security in rural America without also supporting the mechanisms, such as DRA, that make those projects a reality. DRA has a dedicated team that will remain focused on the projects and programs that are building the Delta while we work through this long budget process.
“As Chairman of DRA, I will continue to fight for the residents and businesses of our region. The people and communities in the Delta will always be worth fighting for.”
Womack's Full Statement
“President Trump’s budget blueprint highlights his continued dedication to reversing the liberal legacy of the Obama Administration and ensuring America’s fiscal responsibility. Ultimately, Congress holds the power of the purse, and as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I look forward to reviewing not only this blueprint, but also the specific details of the President’s proposed budget in the coming months. My colleagues and I will work hard to make the tough, but necessary decisions on how to rebuild our military while appropriately funding the non-defense discretionary programs on which so many Americans rely.”
Posted at 8:30 a.m.
The DRA last received $28 million for its budget. In the past its budget has dropped as low as $4 million. The proposed elimination of the agency comes a couple years after it received a big uptick in funds.
The agencies website provides a breakdown of investments in the region in six categories: small business; workforce development; healthcare; small ports; transportation infrastructure; and public infrastructure.