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Federal Aid for Mississippi Delta Is Urged

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WASHINGTON--A proposed federal study of economic hardship in the Mississippi Delta should focus on ways to improve education, two Southern governors have advised federal lawmakers.

"If we don't do something about the educational system and the economic system in our depressed areas, we're going to have a very curious paradox,'' Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas warned members of the Small Business and Environment and Public Works committees at a joint hearing on June 28.

"We could be paying for people to be on welfare and importing workers because too many of our people simply don't know enough to work in today's economy.''

Mr. Clinton was joined at the hearing by Gov. Raymond Mabus of Mississippi in a show of support for the proposed "lower Mississippi Delta development commission act.''

The bill would provide $3 million for a year-long study of ways to improve the social and economic climate in the cluster of seven states that stretches from southernmost Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico.

Drafted by Senator Dale Bumpers, Democrat of Arkansas, the measure would establish a nine-member commission to report to the Congress on steps to be taken over the next decade to improve conditions in the region.

Supporters of the bill say the approach should be similar to that taken by the Appalachian Development Commission, which, since its inception in 1965, has dispensed $4.5 billion in federal funds--including $509 million in aid to education--to local authorities in the mountainous 13-state region that stretches from Mississippi to New York State.

Representative Mike Espy, a Mississippi Democrat who is co-sponsoring a companion bill in the House, told the Senate committees that ignorance and poverty are now more widespread in the Delta region than in Appalachia.

Governor Mabus added that in Mississippi's Tunica County, "the epicenter of the crisis area'' and the nation's poorest county, the 1980 census revealed that per-capita income among wage earners was slightly more than half the national average.

"In many ways, this Delta region has Third World status, economically speaking,'' Senator Bumpers said.

The Small Business Committee was expected to mark up the bill this week; the Agriculture Committee already has allocated $2 million for the measure, according to a spokesman for Senator Bumpers. --PW

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