WASHINGTON – Some of the nation's poorest counties were spared potentially crippling losses of federal aid in legislation signed into law Friday by President Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON – Some of the nation’s poorest counties were spared potentially crippling losses of federal aid in legislation signed into law Friday by President Barack Obama.

The $915 billion spending bill, which contains fiscal 2012 funding for most federal agencies, provides $11.7 million for the Delta Regional Authority for the fiscal year that began three months ago. The total is roughly equal to 2011 funding.

The authority, which provides economic development assistance to 252 counties in the financially distressed region along the southern Mississippi River, had been facing a potential $1.8 million cut in federal funding.

“Congress wisely decided to defeat the counterproductive effort to cut the DRA budget, and this is clearly a vote of confidence in the many constructive community and economic development initiatives of the DRA,” said Lee Powell, executive director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus.

The Senate had initially proposed reducing the Delta Regional Authority budget to $9.9 million for the 2012 fiscal year. The House proposal included the larger figure, which was eventually agreed to during final Congressional negotiations over the multi-agency budget bill.

DRA’s largest source of federal funding is the $11.7 million that comes through energy and water appropriations included in the bill. The authority is also getting $2.9 million through the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program. Those funds were set in a separate budget bill approved in November.

Powell said that the November spending bill also increased funding for most of the vital USDA nutrition programs including food stamps, school meals and aid to food banks.

“The Delta unfortunately ranks at or near the bottom in food security and nutrition data, so these increases during the severe recession are much needed,” he said.

Powell thanked Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, and Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, for their role in ensuring the DRA got the $11.7 million in the final budget bill.

“All these Senators and Representatives pledged to the Delta Caucus that they would work for this result as we met with them this fall, and they came through for us and were as good as their word,” Powell said.

The bill combined nine overdue appropriations bills needed to fund the government through the fiscal year. Combined with earlier legislation, lawmakers reduced discretionary spending by $7 billion from the 2011 fiscal year.

The federal agencies included in the bill had been operating under a short-term “continuing resolution” that would have expired Friday.