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Building Strong Readers in Delaware: Applying the Science of Reading

By: Dr. Tanya Hettler, PhD, Center for Education Policy

In 2022, Delaware passed HB 304, which has been called the Science of Reading Bill. This legislation mandates three annual screenings each year in kindergarten through third grade to look for students at risk for developing reading difficulties. It requires districts and charter schools to provide literacy interventions to students with a potential reading deficiency from a list maintained by the Delaware Department of Education. This is a commendable effort to address Delaware’s literacy crisis, but more must be done.
With only 41% of Delaware students reading proficiently, merely identifying students once they begin to struggle with reading is not sufficient. The majority of Delaware students are struggling to read. Therefore, we must use an evidence-based reading curriculum to teach early literacy to all students, and this instruction must be done proactively from day one in kindergarten. If we wait until reading problems are detected, it will be too late.
The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development’s research on reading has consistently shown that the “Science of Reading,” which includes phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, is essential for developing strong literacy skills. By teaching these principles to all students, we can prevent deficiencies rather than try to fix them after they develop. Once students learn the wrong way of “reading,” it is extremely difficult to correct it.
Over the past several decades, most students in teacher preparation programs were taught that students can read without explicit instruction. Strategies such as “whole language” or “balanced literacy” instruction were being taught. These methods, which encourage children to figure out how to read by looking at books and guessing what the words are rather than sounding them out, actually impede students’ ability to learn to read.
In fact, brain researchers have found that the neural pathways in the brain that allow students to read do not exist in the pre-literate brain and, thus, must be built through explicit instruction and much practice. Learning to read is an extremely complicated activity, and we have been doing teachers a disservice by not educating them on how to teach reading and doing students a disservice by not giving them systematic and explicit reading instruction.
Additionally, there is a short timeframe in which reading skills must be taught correctly to ensure students can read efficiently and with comprehension. Waiting to see if students will develop reading problems is not an effective way of providing early literacy instruction.
I applaud Delaware legislators and the Governor for passing a Science of Reading Bill. But I also urge the Delaware Department of Education, teacher colleges, districts, and schools to ensure that teachers learn how to teach reading based on the science of reading to all students in their classes from day one. Current teachers must be re-taught how to teach students based on empirical evidence that requires systematic and explicit reading instruction. By doing this, we can ensure that every student, regardless of their initial proficiency, receives the quality education they deserve.
This will have a profound impact on the percentage of Delaware students who can perform at grade level on tests of reading proficiency. Substantial evidence indicates that this is especially crucial for students who have not been exposed to many books at home and thus have yet to begin to make the connections between letters and sounds.
A thorough implementation of the science of reading for all students should be the goal of our state education system. Implementing these changes will not only improve literacy rates but will also equip our students with the skills necessary for future success. Teaching educators how to teach reading based on the science of reading will lead to Delaware students experiencing greater success in school, which will lay the foundation for higher learning and career success and lead to a more successful and productive populace.

 

Recent Changes in Delaware Employment Law

From: Delaware State Chamber Business May/June 2024 Issue

BY G. KEVIN FASIC, ESQ. AND ANTHONY N. DELCOLLO, ESQ.

IN RECENT YEARS, the Delaware General Assembly has introduced and passed legislation aimed at strengthening employee rights. While these efforts are positive for employees, some aspects create unintended consequences for small and mid-sized businesses. Increased regulatory complexity could make day-to-day operations more burdensome, potentially discouraging new business formation and impacting the growth of existing companies. These changes might make hiring decisions more challenging for employers, impacting overall workforce levels in the State. Some specific examples include:

SB 145 (signed): This new law clarifies and establishes caps on damages allowed in claims of employment discrimination. The caps exceed what is allowed under federal law. The likely result is that claimants will elect state courts to pursue these claims.

SS1 for SB 102 (signed): Contrary to decades of precedent, and federal law, this new law mandates prevailing wage rates on public works construction projects be paid to workers who fabricate custom components, regardless of where such work is performed. However, how this will be enforced when the work is performed out-of-state, by workers who never set foot in Delaware?

SB 27 (signed): This new law increases the statute of limitations for wage and other employment claims from one year to two years, changing decades of precedent.

HB 205 w/ HA3 (signed): This new law creates a state-sponsored retirement plan for employees that is to be “facilitated” by employers.

SS2 for SB1 (signed): This law, signed in 2022, creates an entirely new paid family and medical leave program that applies to employers with ten or more employees. Many employers are still unaware of this new law and its requirements. In addition to new tax burdens, this law provides for stiff penalties for noncompliance.

SB 35 (signed): This new law creates the crime of “wage theft” and subjects all Delaware employers (including owners and officers, individually) to criminal liability for various “wage violations.” For instance, improperly classifying an employee as an independent contractor is a violation.

SB 233 (pending): This Bill would establish employment protections, including mandatory employment by successor employers, for workers in the service sector.

HB 17 (pending): This Bill would mandate an hour of earned sick or safety time for every thirty hours worked by an employee, potentially conflicting with SS2 for SB 1, above.

SB 229 (pending): This Bill would allow former employees access to their former employer’s personnel file (including medical records) and expands what must be in the file.

HB 258 (pending): Overturning decades of precedent, this Bill would require domestic workers (including babysitters, housekeepers, nannies, and others) to be paid at least minimum wage.

The new laws and pending bills listed above are a sample of the efforts to protect employees from their employers. Whether they are necessary is a different question. What is clear is that employers, regardless of industry or size, have increasing regulatory obligations. Stay tuned for how these play out once enforcement begins.

G. Kevin Fasic, Esq. is managing principal of Offit Kurman’s Wilmington office and Anthony N. Delcollo, Esq. is a principal of Offit Kurman’s labor and employment practice group.

The Myth of “Green and Clean” Renewable Energy

By: Dr. David R. Legates, Advisory Board Member, A Better Delaware

Delaware is embarking on an ambitious plan to reach NetZero—zero emissions of carbon dioxide—by 2050 and reduce emissions by half by 2030.  The Legislature has already begun to propose numerous proposals to enact draconian legislation to achieve this goal including HB99, passed in 2023, which blames carbon dioxide for potentially disastrous climate change.

Some Delawareans, based on a somewhat one-sided information flow, believe that even if carbon dioxide emissions are not responsible for changes in our climate, reducing our dependence on oil, gas, petroleum, and other forms of fossil fuels will be good for the environment.

As a result, Delaware’s farmlands in Kent and Sussex Counties are being covered by solar panels. Proposals to construct offshore wind turbines and to run their new power lines through our state park or Fenwick Island to connect to the electric grid are being proposed.  We are told that, in the end, our environment will be better for the eyesores these proposals would create.

But will it be better?  Since “climate change” was still called “global warming”, media reports have told us that wind and solar—so called, renewable energy sources—are both clean and green.  The truth is, they are neither.

When one looks at a solar panel or a wind turbine, all that is evident is that they supply solar or mechanical (wind) energy to the grid, powering our homes and our businesses.
They seem to do so without producing any harmful byproducts.  Clean and green, right?

Clean energy technology requires a wide range of metals and minerals, such as aluminum, cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel, zinc, as well as rare earth minerals such as Scandium, Yttrium, Lanthanum and a host of others of which you probably have never heard and cannot pronounce.  They are largely obtained from mines in Africa, southeast Asia, and South America.

These mines are not like those for coal, with which you might be familiar.  Open pit mining must be used to extract these metals and minerals.  Such mines are considered very dangerous to both miners’ health as well as to the local ecology and hydrology because of the harmful pollutants that are produced.

Consider lithium, an important metal used in the construction of batteries for EVs.  Mining lithium causes extreme environmental damage since the extraction process requires lots of water.  The result is a toxic lake. which leads to surface- and ground- water contamination.

Diverse places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda in Africa, China, Inner Mongolia, and South Korea in Asia, and Brazil and Chile in South America are plagued with pollution arising from open pit mining, done to retrieve components of renewable energy.

In addition to the environmental concerns, the mining process in these countries should also raise flags for those concerned with social justice issues.  Slave and child labor are often used by the Chinese Communist Party which owns the mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Even those who willingly work in the mines suffer from extreme health hazards.

And we may not even know the true extent of the negative impact on our environment.  Italian researcher, Enrico Mariutti, examined the true carbon footprint of solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries and found that the extraction, production, and transportation associated with these so-called “green” energy technologies produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The nature and amount of the pollution created by these mines is reported by the mining companies themselves. Mariutti asks whether we would trust car manufacturers to certify emissions from their combustion engines or pharmaceutical companies to certify the safety of their drugs. Not likely.

He wrote “we are investing hundreds of billions of dollars a year in technologies that are low carbon only because someone wrote it down somewhere … there aren’t any national or international authorities who have bothered to understand on what basis and how this ‘paper knowledge’ was assembled.”

So, next time you see a wind turbine, a large solar panel, or an electric vehicle, think about the environmental damage that was wrought to mine the metals needed for their production, the energy that went into the mining and transport of the raw materials, and the health and social consequences of the miners who extract the necessary metals and minerals.

Are wind and solar energy really clean and green energy sources, or are they simply unreliable and expensive sources of intermittent energy?

Dr. David R. Legates is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Delaware and is the Director of Research and Education at the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.  He also is an Advisory Board Member of A Better Delaware.

Retail Theft Costs All of Us

 By: Dennis Godek, Advisory Board Member, A Better Delaware

Delaware residents and businesses continue to suffer from the consequences of retail theft. In 2022, the total revenue lost to retail theft in Delaware was $285,000,000.00. Nationally, retail theft losses increased by 10.5% in the same year. When combined with losses from “Return Fraud”, Delaware businesses lost a total of $547,000,000.00 in 2022. While Delaware’s retail theft per capita rate is a little lower than the average among all states, the numbers are beyond unacceptable.

The ability of retailers to reduce retail theft has been seriously impacted by their reluctance to have employees apprehend and detain suspects due to the increase in violence directed towards employees. Many retailers, including national chains, now prohibit their employees from intervening during a shoplifting. In fact, across the country, employees apprehend shoplifters only 2% of the time.  As a result, it is not unusual to see criminals casually walk into an establishment, pick up whatever merchandise they want, and walk out of the store unabated.

Organized Retail Theft Crime is a major challenge for retailers, and for law enforcement. The retail crime epidemic has led to the initiation of criminal enterprises dealing in the purchase and sale of property stolen in retail thefts. Arrests have been made in Delaware, but the activity continues. In January and March of 2024, the Delaware State Police charged individuals with Organized Retail Theft in three separate cases in New Castle County and Sussex County. One of those charged was tied to multiple thefts in three states through surveillance camera footage. Three of those charged in Sussex County were found to be in possession of over $20,000.00 worth of stolen property. All three were from New York City. In 2017, the Delaware Department of Justice civilly sued multiple individuals for Racketeering for operating a $6,000,000.00 business which purchased property stolen in retail thefts, and then sold it to individuals.

Our criminal justice system has not adapted adequately to this serious crime problem. Incidents are often not reported and the consequences fall to the employees and business owners who bear the burden of these crimes. We have seen Target and Walmart, as well as Walgreens and CVS, close multiple stores in Delaware and across the country with retail theft as the primary reason. People lose their jobs, maybe their homes, and the taxpayers see an increase in unemployment compensation along with other economic effects.

The State of Pennsylvania saw an increase in retail theft between 2021 and 2022. The Pennsylvania Legislature took definitive action and passed a law in 2024 which indicates a sea change in the approach to retail theft prosecution. The law requires the appointment of a Deputy State Attorney General and the hiring of a team of prosecutors specifically focused on retail theft throughout the state.  The law also elevates Retail Theft to a felony level crime based on the amount of value of property stolen. This includes a Class 1 Felony for property stolen valued at more than $50,000.00. Under the law in Pennsylvania, a Class 1 Felony is punishable by a prison term of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $25,000.00. In the case of the NYC thieves captured in Sussex County, under the new Pennsylvania law, they would be guilty of a Class 2 Felony and would be subject to a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $25,000.00. This is the type of commitment to addressing retail theft we must see in Delaware.

Retail Theft may be considered a “non-violent” crime, even absent physical assaults, the consequences to businesses and employees are serious and life changing. Many of them will be sentenced to probation in our courts.  While some are attempting to legislate any consequences out of violating probation, and weakening probation to near irrelevance, we must advocate for holding criminals accountable for their actions.

Advances in technology, training for employees, collaboration with law enforcement, and efforts through business associations are all contributing to the battle against retail theft, but the criminal justice system must not be able to excuse their way out of their duty to effectively prosecute these criminals.

Dennis Godek previously served as a New Castle County Police Officer and as Assistant Chief of Career Services at the Christiana Fire Company. He currently serves as Chair of the New Castle County Fire and Ambulance Advisory Board, which is the liaison between county government and the Fire/EMS service in New Castle County. Godek is a founding member of the Delaware Statewide Active Assailant Committee, which includes Law Enforcement and Fire/EM

Beware of Government’s Grab For Even More Control of Your Healthcare

By: Ben DuPont

History provides ample evidence that governments are not very proficient at managing processes and delivering services. This is not a criticism of hard-working people in government, but their efforts are often thwarted by an overwhelming tendency toward inefficiency.

A good illustration of the pitfalls of government overreach is legislation primed to be passed within the next couple days by the General Assembly. The bill’s rather innocuous title, “An Act to Amend Title 16 Of the Delaware Code Relating To Hospital Costs,” belies the extent of its sweeping power grab over how large portions of healthcare are delivered in the First State.

More bureaucracy and more cost to taxpayers. The bill establishes the new “Diamond State Hospital Cost Review Board.” It would seem that the last thing healthcare in the state and across the nation needs is yet more bureaucracy. Proponents can argue that the board is comprised of just eight members, but we know that bureaucracies always grow (the board grew just during the drafting process).  Hospitals will be required to provide reams of data to the board based solely on the whims of its members as there is no constraint on such requests apparent in the bill’s language. Who is going to review that mass of data? Certainly, it will require new analysts and data processors. The taxpayers will have to ante up for these new folks and hospitals will have to spend time and money preparing and supporting the information. Governments are good at creating and growing bureaucracies and mandates but not so good at evaluating and sunsetting them.

Shifting decisions to those the state deems as “experts.” As it stands now, all but one of the board’s members will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.  They will wield incredible power over hospitals that will be required to submit their budgets to the board for its review and approval. The board may, in its sole discretion, deem it necessary to, “engage with the hospital in revising” its budget. Imagine being the hospital management discussing possible revisions offered by the very board that can approve – or not – your institution’s budget. Hospitals that fail to meet the budget as approved by the board face underdefined penalties under the bill.  Perhaps the most deleterious (but not really surprising) provision is that hospitals that actually outperform their budget may see the financial benefit of such confiscated, at the board’s discretion, to the state. Why would we want to take decisions about the optimal way to provide effective care in a hospital away from those who know the hospital, the patient population, the medical and other staff, and instead give those decisions to a board whose members simply cannot know such details.

Greater pressure to go along to get along. Think of the breeding ground for conflicts of interest, cronyism, and even corruption this presents. Large bureaucracies staffed by” experts” and their staff with overbearing power create huge incentives of questionable practices. How can the board’s members, if they are versed in healthcare, not have relationships and favorites across Delaware? It turns into making sure the hospital has the right friends in the General Assembly, the board or its staff, accomplished by political contributions and other means of ingratiating the hospital with the board.

Delaware should learn from the Farmers Bank debacle from half a century ago. Here was a bank 80% owned by the state, with one-third of its board members appointed by the General Assembly, a shocking lack of accountability, and the potential for conflict of interest (does any of this sound familiar?). Even the New York Times, no enemy of government meddling in the economy, reported on the resulting fiasco, with evidence of malfeasance, the not-surprising conflicts of interest, acts of cronyism, and the resulting bad loans. The Times noted how the state ended up paying dearly, $20 million a year, for this failed attempt at government meddling. It was the just one example of what one knowledgeable Delawarean refers to as the “soft corruption of political control”

But do we ever really learn? I’m reminded of something my father wrote over a decade ago, “Markets work . . . and decisions made for the many by an elite few do not.” I would rather have a committee of doctors overseeing the Delaware General Assembly expenditures than a committee of politicians overseeing our hospitals.

Navigating the Offshore Wind Minefield

By: Jane Brady, Chair, A Better Delaware

Remember the old western movies in which there’s been a drought, people are starving, the cows are dying, and the crops won’t grow? The hero would come in and “seed” the clouds to make it rain. The movie may have ended well, but the reality was, those efforts were never very successful. What is rain? It is an intermittent resource, provided by nature and which we cannot generate or control.

So, as well, are solar and wind intermittent resources. We cannot generate them; we cannot control them. When, and where, it blows or shines is outside our ability to control.

And yet, Delaware’s policy makers are feeling pretty super-human these days. In an effort to eliminate all sources of carbon dioxide (which we will not debate in this article), bills and policies are requiring our electric providers to utilize a greater and greater percentage of the power we use from wind and solar. The result is less reliable and more expensive electricity. Currently, these intermittent resources are backed up and supported by reliable sources such as coal, natural gas and nuclear power. But Delaware’s government wants that to end. To help ease the cost of compliance with these restrictive policies, the State is providing significant subsidies to the companies who provide this “green” electricity. They are putting our money where their mouth is.

Delaware used to generate much of the electricity we used here in our state. Now, because we are required by our policy makers to use an ever-expanding percentage of “green” sourced energy, we get nearly 90% of our electricity from outside the state, losing much of what we pay for as it dissipates in the distance it is transmitted. So, we are paying not just for the electricity we use, but also the electricity we lose as it travels to our state.

Recently, Senate Bill 265 was introduced to create a framework for wind farms off the coast of Delaware. There are promises of cost constraint, but we have seen how that has gone before. Additionally, there is little regard for what we, the citizens, want. As with the EV Mandate, there is a great deal of opposition to looking off our coast at 140 or so wind turbines. The Department of Natural Resources promises public hearings on the proposed regulations, but they, and the Governor, did not listen to us when they went right ahead with the EV Mandate, and they are just as focused on getting this wind farm. That was evident at an informational meeting I attended at Indian River High School this past week.

Speakers at the event confirmed the Governor’s stated intention to allow 4 large transmission cables to come ashore in our beloved state park at Three Rs beach. The Governor essentially offered that specific alternative because he can bypass public opposition and won’t need to secure the consent of any of the coastal towns that will be affected by the sight of offshore wind turbines and the transition of their beach into an industrial site.

What makes the Governor’s offer so much less palatable is that the cables that he proposes to bring ashore in our state park are for a Maryland wind farm project. And, apart from the destruction of a portion of our beautiful coast, the cables are intended to go to the old Indian River power plant, traveling only 3-7 feet below the ground, or should I say, mud of the bay. Boaters beware!

Our leaders no longer represent our views. They seem poised to disregard our concerns about our beautiful shoreline, property value losses, loss of tourism, and the costs. They are not dealing with the realities of the available technology (at least eight offshore wind projects have been pulled because they could not be commercially successful even with significant government subsidies), not looking at alternatives that are more cost effective and promote significant environmental advantages (onshore wind, carbon capture and nuclear), and intentionally disregard the fact that Delaware is meeting all federal air quality requirements.

And they are being careless with our money. Estimates are that household electric bills will rise by $230-$350 per year, and businesses will see costs rise by many thousands, even millions of dollars.

There will be public hearings on the wind farm proposed regulations. Prior to that, an informational session is scheduled for June 5, 2024, from 4-7 pm at Beacon Middle School. Plan to attend, Be seen. Be heard.

Jane Brady serves as Chair of A Better Delaware. She previously served as Attorney General of Delaware and as a Judge of the Delaware Superior Court.

 

Hospital Intrusion is not a lifesaving infusion of capital for Delawareans

By: Ruth Briggs King, Board Member, A Better Delaware

For years I was the only member of the Delaware General Assembly with any medical education or experience. I brought my insight and ideas to improve the quality of care, access to care, and avoid unnecessary interference that is costly or unnecessary.

As a result of my experience, I am very concerned about S1(Substitute 1) for HB 350, now pending in the General Assembly. This misguided legislation purports to create control over the State’s health care costs. What it clearly demonstrates is that some State law makers have misdiagnosed the problems with existing health care costs in Delaware. They are proposing to try to control the finances of a complex entity and private, non-profit community hospital which, by any other unqualified individual, would be considered malpractice. This bill will create a chilling effect on quality and patient centered care in our State. I call on our legislators to consider the ramifications of HB 350 and to vote “No” on this bill.

First and most importantly, the legislation has misplaced the blame for increasing health care costs on the hospitals. This effort is clearly simply a look at the bottom line and not intended to address many other significant issues in the delivery of health care in Delaware.

A candid look at past performance demonstrates that the State cannot appropriately manage the health care services it currently seeks to deliver, and therefore should not, in any way, intrude into our private health care system. There has been much media coverage and internal discussion about the problems and woes in the State run hospitals, such as the home for the chronically il, the veteran’s home and the correctional facilities health care. Despite years of poor performance, the State has not fixed their own health care delivery problems.

Hospitals do not operate in a vacuum or an isolated environment. They are not immune to the impact of escalating energy costs; wage increase demands and government regulation imposed by multiple State and Federal agencies. Additionally, our hospitals provide emergency care at no cost to those who are uninsured. And we, the people who are served by these hospitals, expect the best care, the latest technology, and the best outcomes. This all comes at a cost.

The legislators are blind to the impact the very legislation they pass has on the cost of healthcare and, therefore, the hospital community. Delaware’s expanded Medicaid eligibility provisions have forced Delaware taxpayers to pay $20-30 million more each year for the last 4-5 years. At the same time, the Medicaid reimbursement to the hospitals, as well as long term care facilities, has not accelerated to cover the costs. For example, a small community hospital in Sussex County loses money on each Medicaid newborn delivery. And they lack the volume of deliveries to make it “balance” the cost. Should they stop delivering babies? No, in fact, the hospital voted to continue the service at significant loss. Will the State cover the “loss” on those services? No. The State expects the hospitals to do more with less and then is critical of their budgets.

Let us be specific. Hospitals have to plan for increased demand. They hold aside reserves in anticipation of future construction and equipment needs. Would the proposed legislation affect these, and other, capital budgets or simply operational budgets? And what happens when real-time operational decisions have to be made? How could this arrangement “manage” a 20-car pileup on I95, or, worse, a pandemic, such as COVID?

Our current hospital boards are, generally, well governed and represent the community in which they are located. The remedy for increasing healthcare costs is less government intrusion and for lawmakers to understand how their decisions impact the cost of care and services. Healthcare and hospitals are not in a cloistered environment that protects them from escalating costs.

Hospital boards face complex decisions and need skill and expertise to make the sophisticated analysis to develop a strategic plan to serve the community. They anticipate population growth and need. Our Sussex County community hospitals recently established residency programs to address the lack of supply and high demand for primary care physicians. Furthermore, it is the hospitals that have sought and funded consulting firms to discuss the need for a medical school in Delaware. The State’s medical resources, including at DHSS, are severely inadequate and rely on the professionals and the local community boards to be the driving force for superior health care. Why would legislators seek to cripple a system that is not on life support?

Did anyone consider that hospitals get bonds to fund their projects based on operational performance and balance sheets? Legislative interference would stifle a hospital’s ability to grow and demonstrate the need for bonds to invest in healthcare expansion when needed.

No one is mentioning the liability and potential detriment of care. The hospitals absorb the risk and liability resulting from poor decisions or inadequate care. Will the new Commission accept the risk if their approved budget affects the hospital’s ability to provide the care, they believe is necessary?

Further, consider the message and effect on health-related industries, such as pharma and biotechnology industries in Delaware. After all, who is next?

Healthcare is more than a balance sheet. Our hospitals are forward thinking and continually investing in current and emerging issues. Did the legislators listen to the healthcare industry or work with hospital leadership to develop a path forward? If not, beware. Government intervention in our hospitals’ budgets is a slippery slope that will require emergency intervention, and resuscitation at a far greater cost to Delawareans than, I believe, the legislature anticipates.

Ruth Briggs King just retired from the Delaware General Assembly, where she served the 37th District, and the State, since 2009. She has extensive experience in finance, banking and organizational development and owns Workforce Solutions Today, LLC with her business partner. She recently joined the Advisory Board of A Better Delaware.

 

 

Are Health Care Benefits Intended for Veterans Being used to Benefit Illegal Immigrants?

By: Hon. William L. Witham, Jr., Advisory Board Member, A Better Delaware

Veteran benefits, including health care, are not just a nice perk for veterans. They are something earned through the service, and often sacrifice, of our armed forces, dedicated to defending our country.

Recently, there has been a lot of debate about access to appointments and health care provided to veterans, here in Delaware and around the country. There is a great deal of concern that the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is diverting resources from veterans to provide health care for illegal immigrants in the custody of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE)

There has been a long-standing arrangement between the VA and ICE to process claims for illegal immigrant medical care. It is an interagency agreement with the VA and ICE Heath Services Corps (IHSC) to provide health care claim processing and referral services for illegal immigrant patients. The cost of the care is to come from the ICE budget. Although it has been in place since 2002, members of Congress, prior senior level VA administrators, border control agents were recently surprised to learn of this arrangement. When they became aware, they held hearings, and proposed legislation to be sure no resources are diverted to prevent or delay health care for our veterans.

Darin Selnick, who served as Veterans Affairs Adviser on the Domestic Policy Council during the Trump administration and also as a senior adviser to the VA Secretary, said the arrangement was a surprise to him and others he knew that served during the administration. He believes it would have been stopped if it were more widely known among officials. He further points out, “In my position, we would have stopped this, because if the VA had the extra ability to do this, then they should have been doing it for the veterans and not for another agency.”

It has been difficult to know exactly what the costs are, how they are adjusted, and whether VA health resources are diverted from veterans. The administration claims that the VA does not provide any funding for health care to ICE detainees. It claims that only 10 employees are funded by ICE – the same number that was funded in 2002. But the increase in numbers is staggering. In fiscal year 2021, ICE budgeted more than $74 million for payment to the VA for referral and medical claims processing. And, in fiscal year 2022, the VA staff processed 161,538 immigrant health care claims. These numbers call into question the claim that there are only 10 people at the VA handling these matters. At the same time, the VA reports that, in 2023, there was a backlog of 378,000 claims by veterans, and that they took an average of over 125 days to process. The VA expects the backlog to grow in 2024. It strains credibility to suggest that there has not been an adverse impact on veterans and their access to timely health care as immigrant claims seem to have been prioritized.

Further, the VA allows illegal immigrants to access the Community Care Network Providers, a system that allows veterans to receive care, covered by the VA, at non-VA facilities. The use of these centers is intended to provide more timely medical care to veterans. Adding additional demand on those resources necessarily affects access to care for our veterans.

All these circumstances lead to ever increasing pressure on federal resources, particularly the VA, to provide assistance to the unlimited inflow of immigrants. We cannot and should not divert the limited resources we have to provide health care to our veterans. They should be our first priority.

Witham is a retired Kent County Resident Judge who has served over 40 years in Delaware’s justice system. He is also a former leader in the US Army Reserve and National Guard with 34 years of service.

 

Delaware’s Labor Drought: Challenges and Solutions

By: Jane Brady, Chair, A Better Delaware 

We are all aware of the ridiculous amounts of money that the federal government was offering states during the pandemic. Many of those states, including Delaware, used the money to increase unemployment benefits, far exceeding any amounts paid in the past, and to continue those payments far longer. After the pandemic was declared to be over, our workforce was significantly smaller than before the pandemic. There are several reasons for that. Many workers enjoyed working from home and did not want to return to the office. More remarkably, in some instances, the worker would have had to take a pay cut to return to work. And, of course, expanded workers’ compensation payments were a big reason for that.

As time has gone on people are still leaving the workforce. According to WalletHub, in February 2024, Delaware has the highest rate of job resignations in the country. Last year, we were number 6 among all the states for job resignation rates.

Each year, the US government calculates the labor participation rate, which is the number of people over 16 years of age who are employed or actively seeking employment, divided by the total number of people in that population who are available or eligible to work or actively seek work. Students, retirees, disabled individuals or people who are voluntarily not interested in working are not included in that calculation. In Delaware, approximately 60% of all eligible and available workers are not seeking work, according to the Federal Reserve Economic Date (FRED).

So, against these facts, what has the government done to try and create incentives for people to go back to work? Well, actually, the government has acted counter to that objective. First, Delaware has continued increased unemployment payments, making it more feasible to not go back to work.

Are we administering those payments accurately and with good integrity to be sure those claiming unemployment meet the requirements to receive it? Were we careful with the literally, more than a billion dollars that passed through the unemployment office’s system? Well, we don’t know.

Delaware’s State Auditor, Lydia York, recently issued a report criticizing the financial management, or rather, the lack thereof, in Delaware’s unemployment insurance office. York identified a lack of oversight, outdated systems, and limited training of the staff, so severe that independent auditors could not even determine where all the money in the system came from. Employers pay into the unemployment insurance fund for the benefit of those employees who leave their workplace and are determined to be eligible to receive unemployment compensation. A great deal of money passed through the unemployment insurance fund as a result of the Covid pandemic and federal monies. In fact, $1.4 billion, according to the Delaware’s unemployment insurance office, was paid to over 100,000 people in the first two years of the pandemic. Poor training, the influx of significantly more money, expanded eligibility and an increase in claimants all served to overwhelm the capacity of the computer management systems and staff alike. It is not known how many people are receiving payments who should not be, and how much money those payments represent. Steps need to be taken to improve the hardware and better manage the monies paid into the fund by Delaware’s businesses.

Abut at least as significantly, Delaware’s occupational licensing requirements, which is a form of government regulation, affects workforce participation. Delaware has among the strictest licensing requirements for certain occupations in the country. These types of regulations have been found to deprive millions of Americans of opportunities and career advancement, and as a result, drive up the cost of goods and services. A recent report by the Institute for Justice found that the effects of licensing regulations impact particularly low-income Americans, who already struggle to find work and open small businesses. The training or classes to comply are expensive and take time to complete.

These regulations also limit employment mobility, especially across state lines. Delaware’s current shortages of teachers, doctors, nurses and other professional service workers has been attributed to outdated licensure requirements which are too restrictive. We all want capable and competent professionals in those jobs, but our requirements keep entirely capable and competent workers from locating here or advancing in their careers. One of the most recent examples is Naaman Center, which has been working for nearly a year with Delaware’s Health and Social Services Department to secure the certificates and licensure the agency requires to provide substance abuse treatment. This is an organization that has other facilities in Pennsylvania and has been in the business of providing treatment for over 2 decades.

Delaware needs to make a commitment to improve opportunities for workers in order for businesses to attract and retain quality employees, and for businesses to locate here and thrive. We have written about the shrinking economy in Delaware, many have written about the fact that our kids leave the state for better employment opportunities and there is much documentation about the shortages of professionals in our schools and hospitals. It is time for leadership in Delaware’s government to recognize we need to improve our schools, reduce regulation and red tape, and provide the kind of work and business climate that attracts and retains the best and brightest for the benefit of our citizens.

 Jane Brady serves as Chair of A Better Delaware. She previously served as Attorney General of Delaware and as a Judge of the Delaware Superior Court.

 

 

 

Government Running Business Is a Bad Idea

By: Jane Brady, Chair, A Better Delaware

Delaware’s Government clearly does not run like a business. It never has. But some in our state’s government think they can run a business better than the business can.

HB 350, a bill pending in the Delaware General Assembly would give a review board, comprised of five members appointed by politicians, the authority for “review and approval of annual hospital budgets” according to the synopsis of the bill. In the interim, before the review board is appointed and ready to undertake responsibilities, the bill limits what the hospital can charge for services.

There are a number of problems with the concept. First, the sponsors assume that the cost of health care is governed by hospital costs. There are many factors other than the cost of hospital services that affect the cost of health care, including the costs of prescription drugs, shortages of doctors and nurses and lack of competition.

The sponsors also ignore several less intrusive ways to manage the issue and to better address their concerns.

This bill is not about the quality-of-care patients are receiving and does not expand access to that care. It is prompted by the high cost of health care for state employees and retirees. There has not been an increase in premiums for state health care recipients in about seven years. Regularly adjusting the premiums to costs makes sense in every other employer’s office. Our government should try it.

Studies have consistently shown that eliminating the Certificate of Need Laws would lower costs and improve access. Delaware is one of only a few states that still retain this harmful law. We should repeal it.

Delaware hospitals should comply with federal requirements and adopt practices that make the cost of procedures more transparent so patients can make informed decisions regarding where to seek treatment. Resistance to competition could result in a state takeover of health care, as this bill demonstrates.

Our hospitals are non-profit entities and are required to file reports with the state each year identifying what money they raise, how they spend it, how much of it they retain and for what purpose. Government officials can easily review those to be sure the hospital is performing the public services it promises. If they are showing a profit, or do not have designated, service-related purposes for reserves, then action can be taken.

But the way this bill would work is to substitute the judgment of political appointees over that of the experts and administrators of these facilities. Indeed, the primary sponsor of this bill said that she believes “hospitals should invest in doctors, nurses, medical equipment and the health of our citizens.” If they don’t do so in a way that meets her, and others’ approval, the politicians will decide how the money is spent. And there is no contention that will improve quality of care or access to care. Indeed, several professionals testified in the legislative hearings expressed concern that the bill would “create an environment where programs serving people with special needs, such as those with Down syndrome or cerebral palsy, would be sacrificed due to cost.”

This is socialized medicine by any other name. But this is not the first time that the government has intruded into the business of business. The federal government decided you should not be able to buy incandescent lightbulbs anymore, and they are gone. More recently, Delaware’s government has told car dealers what kinds of cars they must sell. There is no justification in the financial return or consumer demand for these state-imposed requirements. Not surprisingly, it is not going well. Manufacturers are cutting back on the number of electric vehicles they are making because the demand is simply not there.

These decisions made by our government to intrude into the corporate board room are not based on public safety concerns or citizen welfare. They are based on preferences or the costs for government. This is a dangerous precedent. We have a robust corporate community in Delaware because we have carefully crafted our laws and practices to make it desirable to incorporate here.

The State is intruding into the hospitals’ business because the State thinks it has to pay too much. What is to prevent the government from deciding to tell contractors (construction, IT, etc.) what they can charge and review their budgets to be sure the state is getting a good price, and the owners aren’t keeping too much of the profits for themselves?

There is a legal concept called the “business judgement rule.”  In essence, it allows a business to act in its best judgment. Those making the decisions are, generally, well trained and experienced in the business practices and nuances of their industry. Government has never had to meet a bottom line. It can simply raise taxes or spend in deficit. Businesses should not be run by individuals who are uninformed and lack the expertise to exercise good judgment in the business world. We are jeopardizing our standing as a place to do business if we enact this bill.

And, while we are discussing budget scrutiny, perhaps we should put together a committee to review the Governor’s budget and examine how the state of Delaware spent nearly $4 billion in surplus dollars (surplus means more than we needed to meet our budget) over the last three years. I expect there would be resistance.

HB 350 is a bad idea for all Delawareans. It puts our government in charge of private matters, creates a precedent that jeopardizes our economy, and continues a bad trend to inject priorities other than the success of a business into decision making.

Jane Bady serves as Chair of A Better Delaware. She previously served as Attorney General of Delaware and as a Judge of the Delaware Superior Court.