Citizens have to demand more

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 9, 2003

Money should never be considered the key to success. It should not measure a man’s worth, nor should it become the staple for progress. At the same time, money makes a big difference in the world of economic development, and this region of Alabama is not in good shape, financially.

Three years ago, government officials in Washington, D.C., decided to help this part of Alabama by placing it in a new federal commission called the Delta Regional Authority. Initially, Alabama was not included in the area, but U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby used his political muscle to place many of our counties in the area that would receive federal funding for economic development.

Hayes Dent, who helps run DRA, said Congress allocated $30 million in 2001 to begin the process of helping economically distressed counties like those in West Alabama and the Black Belt. In that first year, only $20 million went to the organization.

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The next year, the allocation was supposed to be the same. Based on the text of the charter for DRA, this part of the United States was supposed to receive another $30 million. But in 2002, just $10 million was actually appropriated to the Delta Regional Authority. This year was the same, with only $10 million being given to DRA.

Next year, no one knows what will happen. Dent believes the funding will increase by 50 percent &045;&045; or around $15 million.

When it comes to the finances of the federal government, nothing is in concrete. The United States is just now emerging from a short recession, and the war in Iraq has consumed a great deal of our resources.

While the war in Iraq is not at issue, the war in regions like West Alabama and the Black Belt is at issue. People need jobs. Fathers need a way to put food on the table. Kids need book bags. Mothers need diapers for the babies.

While that may not seem like a war to some, the people who struggle every day to make it know the battles that rest here. One man recently stopped by this office looking for a job. He said he had being doing so for almost six months &045;&045; and he had a college degree.

Citizens in Alabama are some of the first to support the defense of this nation, and that is a respectable quality. While that attitude shouldn’t change, we believe it’s time for citizens in West Alabama to become more aggressive in their expectations for this area.

Senators, representatives, event the President should know what the people of West Alabama think. The men and women who represent this area in Montgomery should have to receive their mail in a trash barrel.

We need to tell the government officials who control the checkbooks that we need help. We don’t need welfare programs and blank checks. Instead, we need the government to help pass along incentives to businesses that locate in our region. We need the professional economic developers in government to drive through West Alabama and do more than tour a plant and have a picture taken.

If we ever want to see real change in the economy of this region, it will first take elected officials to do more than give us lip service. Based on the shrinking Delta Regional Authority, we’re left to feel that we’re a nice political puppet that can afford to have its strings cut.