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In The News

The Significance of Workforce Development: How States are Helping Businesses and Individuals Succeed

From: Expansion Solutions Magazine. Communities, states and regions work with economic development agencies along with businesses as well as universities, tech schools, and companies to support their workforce needs with appropriate education and training, incentives and grants available to businesses and/or hired workers. 

It is crucial for companies, states and communities to identify high-demand occupations, the process used to identify the occupations, and if a state publicly displays required training or credentials. Business and economic development leaders identify high-demand occupations and the required training to enter the skilled occupations. High-demand professions are defined as those acknowledged in the state as being in need within the state economy or where employee shortages exist. 

In compliance with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), all states have a statewide workforce development board or council, and these groups of community leaders appointed by local elected officials and charged with planning and oversight responsibilities for workforce programs and services in their area. However, some states have gone beyond the requirements in federal policy to expand the board’s membership to include additional members within the education system, such as state superintendents of education and chancellors of postsecondary institutions. 

Additionally, some states have developed policies that expand the responsibilities or charges of the board to include explicit connections to education in both K-12 and postsecondary settings. Let’s look at some outstanding state programs outlined. Read more.

States Must Use Caution When Spending ARPA Funds to Avoid Waste

From: Citizens Against Government Waste

The American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) included $350 billion in the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, $195.3 billion of which was given to the states, with the remaining $154.7 billion divided among local governments, tribal governments, and territories.  Because states are not required to obligate their share of the funds until December 31, 2024, or spend them until December 31, 2026, several states have elected to take a patient approach to distribution.  The National Council of State Legislatures reported that 13 states have yet to allocate any funds sent to them by the Department of the Treasury, while the most of the others have allocated only a fraction of the funds given to them.

Thus far, local governments have used their portion of the grants on a wide array of projects ranging from the expansion of broadband access and infrastructure repair to the promotion of green energy and the development of athletic fields.  In Alabama, the state’s only use of APRA funds has been the allocation of $400 million for the construction of two prisons.  Hawaii’s legislature designated $1 million for a Sea Urchin Hatchery in addition to $300,000 for an engineering assessment of Aloha Stadium.  Use of grant money designed to provide relief from the COVID-19 pandemic for these and similar projects takes a page from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) infrastructure playbook, when she claimed that paid leave, child care, and caregiving are all infrastructure.  Just as everything fits under infrastructure, so too can anything be sold as COVID relief, sea urchins included.

As state and local governments prepare to appropriate their remaining ARPA funds in their upcoming 2022 legislative sessions, governors and legislators must allocate the money with caution to avoid funding wasteful projects unrelated to COVID relief or creating unsustainable programs that will be unaffordable when the federal well runs dry. Read more.

Kent County approves $5 million in grants for small businesses, hotels

From: Delaware Live 

Kent County Levy Court has approved a $5 million grant program for small businesses and hospitality companies affected by the pandemic.

The measure, which passed unanimously during a Nov. 9 meeting, is Kent County’s first use of the $35.5 million it received in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The grant program includes $3 million in grants for businesses with less than 100 employees to pay for employee wages and other business expenses and $2 million for hotels, event venues and other tourism hospitality industry companies.

Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, said it’s important to remember that many small businesses had to close during the pandemic by no choice of their own.

She doesn’t know exactly how many small businesses were forced to close permanently because not all of Kent County’s businesses are members of the chamber, but she is aware of 58 member businesses having closed because of COVID-related impacts.

“Small businesses are desperately trying to come back now,” Diogo said. “They’re desperately trying to get themselves back up and running, and they’re having a difficult time getting employees. For many of them, they have used all of their capital to keep themselves open through this time.”

Under the program, at least 633 small businesses would be able to qualify for aid, Diogo said.

County administrator Michael Petit de Mange said grants can be used for any type of business expense that would otherwise be paid for with the revenue that has been lost.

“It’s going to be spelled out in the grant application, but it could be paying bills, it could be covering payroll or business supplies or other expenses related to the business utility expenses,” he said.

Grant applications will be processed by Dover accounting firm Faw Casson to check for compliance and eligibility.

They will then be reviewed by the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce and Kent County Tourism Corporation, who will send their final recommendations to the Levy Court for approval.

Once the applications are determined to be accurate and complete, they will be referred to the Levy Court, which will vote on their approval. Payment will be issued directly by the county. Read more.

State to invest $2 million in farmers, local food supply chain

From: Delaware Live

Delaware will spend $2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to establish a seed fund aimed at stabilizing and strengthening small and mid-sized farmers and local food supply chain operations.

The First State Integrated Food System Program, announced Thursday by Gov. John Carney, will be paid for using funds the state received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Delaware received $925 million from the federal stimulus bill, which is designed to hasten the economic recovery from the pandemic.

In a press release announcing the investment, Gov. John Carney said the seed fund will provide a “coordinated approach” to improving local access to affordable and nutritious Delaware-produced foods while supporting Delaware farmers.

“We know the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted small-scale food businesses and Delaware families’ access to food,” Carney said. “That’s why the Council on Farm and Food Policy will work with partners to develop and administer a diverse portfolio of grants and loans to improve the availability and accessibility of local produce, animal protein, value-added products, and other foods, promoting overall economic growth here in Delaware.” Read more.

NEW STUDY: Pandemic Response Grew Government ‘Barriers to Opportunity’ for Entrepreneurs

From: Pacific Research Institute

Government actions to “help” small businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened pre-pandemic government-imposed burdens to entrepreneurship, finds the final paper in the Breaking Down Barriers to Opportunity series released today by the nonpartisan Pacific Research Institute, a California-based, free-market think tank.

“The federal government’s economic pandemic response was wasteful and ineffective, worsening the government-created obstacles to prosperity entrepreneurs faced before the pandemic – such as taxes, regulations and lack of access to credit,” said Dr. Wayne Winegarden, Pacific Research Institute senior fellow in business and economics.

“Promoting Economic Recovery Through Entrepreneurship Not Government” analyzes the impact of the federal government’s COVID-19 relief effort on small businesses.

Winegarden makes the case that the historic increase in the government’s burden on the private sector economy – including $5.9 trillion in newly-authorized federal spending – paves the way for higher future taxes that will diminish the after-tax returns and incentives to start or expand new businesses. Read more.

Commentary: Accountability, transparency reform needed to rebuild public trust

From: Bay to Bay News ,By Rep. Bryan Shupe

The debate over whether indicted State Auditor Kathleen McGuiness should resign or take a leave of absence from her post highlights a larger systematic failure on the issue of government accountability and transparency in Delaware.

Over the last 18 months, we have seen five Delaware elected officials accused of misconduct. While every citizen should find this disturbing, almost as troubling is that each case has been treated differently. As it stands, legislators pick and choose which colleagues will be held accountable and which ones will be subject to a lesser standard.

I do not believe justice is something that should be decided on an arbitrary sliding scale, based on the personal whims of legislators or the political affiliation of the accused. There should be clear protocols for handling all cases of official misconduct involving elected officials in an equitable fashion. Without a systematic approach written into law, legislators cannot expect to retain the public’s trust, which is the foundation of our republic. Read more.

Legislators eye ‘Ready in 6’ bills next year

From: Delaware Business Times

DOVER  — With the business in Delaware stabilizing in a new normal, legislators are reportedly drafting bills to expedite development in the First State.

Rep. Bill Bush (D-Dover) told Dover business leaders last week that he was working on bills that will move the needle on the state permitting process and ideally land regional development projects as a result. Bush is the chair of the Economic Development Committee and also sits on the board of the Delaware Propensity Partnership, the state’s public-private economic development agency.

“It’s been talked about for years, but it seems like stakeholders are really on board with this,” Bush told the Downtown Dover Partnership executive committee during its October meeting. “I’m looking forward to next year, and hopefully the governor will have it on his agenda for the State of the State [address], but we will see.” Read more.

How States Can Responsibly Expand Broadband

From: American Action Forum 

The bipartisan infrastructure legislation that has passed the Senate provides $65 billion for internet infrastructure, primarily intended for states and localities to expand access and help close the digital divide.

Effectively employing these funds will require that state and local policymakers understand the causes of the digital divide in their communities, focus on expanding connectivity to those most in need, remove barriers to deploying internet infrastructure, and embrace a range of technological solutions. Policymakers should resist top-down, government-run solutions such as municipal broadband.

The bipartisan infrastructure funding package that passed the Senate and awaits a House vote includes $65 billion for internet infrastructure. Much of this funding will be directed to state and local governments to undertake projects to close the digital divide. As state and local policymakers prepare for this potential influx of broadband funds, they should look to ensure sound policy will enable it to be utilized to its fullest potential impact and be mindful of pitfalls that could fail to achieve the goals of closing the digital divide. Read more.

 

 

Delaware Senate Leader Supports Creation of Inspector General’s Office

From WDEL News: State Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola supports the creation of an inspector general’s office in Delaware.

Sokola told WDEL he’s working with advocates from the Delaware Coalition for Open Government (DelCOG) on the issue.

“I think it would be a good first step,” said Sokola. “Many states have these, and they seem to have pretty good track record in most states.”DelCOG President Nick Wasileski said the Office of an Inspector General (IG) is needed to eliminate partisan politics and special interest influence. He pointed to the dismantling of the Rodney Square bus hub and the demolition of the General Motors plant on Boxwood Road, which has since become a massive Amazon fulfillment center.

“It seems like every few months, some issue comes up that really begs the question why isn’t somebody digging into this, looking into this, and for whatever reason it is not, and whether it’s the [state] agency failing to act, to look at a complaint about its own operation…or whether it’s some other issue that’s come up that people feel like the only real way to do it is to have an independent organization look at it, and that’s what an IG is, essentially, when structures right…they would be able to go in and have the authority to look at it, and nobody could really stop it from being examined, investigated,” said DelCOG Vice President Keith Steck.

The indictment of Auditor Kathy McGuiness on felony charges of witness intimidation, theft, and official misconduct has renewed the group’s charge, DelCOG said. Read more.

The Last Mile: Can Delaware Deliver?

From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director, A Better Delaware 

On Sept. 16, 2021, Delaware lawmakers unveiled a plan to address a much-needed infrastructure improvement project – implementing high-speed broadband across the entire state. This $110 million investment was made possible with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and if completed will make Delaware the first in the nation to make wired broadband available to every home and business in the state.

The need for statewide high-speed broadband was made glaringly obvious at the onset of the pandemic when many residents were forced to rely on internet service to work, learn, attend doctor’s appointments, worship, and communicate with friends and family.

Delaware is ranked first in the nation for overall internet speed but ranks 24th in rural access. Currently, 11,600 Delaware homes and businesses entirely lack broadband access. Prior to the pandemic, 16 percent of Delaware’s workers relied on internet use daily for teleworking, while after the onset of the pandemic, 45 percent relied on it. “Internet deserts” were quickly revealed, especially across western Sussex County.

Knowledge of these deserts is nothing new though, and is something the state has been working on since 2019 when it entered a $2 million contract with Bloosurf, a Maryland-based internet service provider which is able to serve areas not covered by the area’s leading providers, Comcast and Verizon, or not covered for a reasonable price. The upfront installation fees were paid by the state and contracts were offered for as low as $30 for low-income households with children.

A continuation of this type of assistance happened in October 2020 with the help of the CARES Act which funded Connect Delaware – a $20 million program which allowed Bloosurf, Comcast, and BridgeMAXX to expand service to 517 homes and increase internet speeds for 350 existing users to better serve students.

Connect Delaware also subsidized internet service for low-income students (typically with internet hotspots) who had suddenly come to rely on high-speed internet for their education, and a total of 25,789 were provided through AT&T, Comcast, Medicom, and Verizon. The Department of Technology and Information (DTI) managed the program and provided support throughout.

While the process seems to have run smoothly, it’s possible funds and resources could have been more thoughtfully allocated, but with the time constraints of the CARES Act, all funds had to be used by December 31, 2020.

Currently, the $110 million allocated should cover all expenses with some change to spare – according to a strategic plan developed in late 2020 and issued in May 2021, the project is estimated to cost $75 million. At this time, no official plan has been launched and the DTI website suggests that details regarding the plan will be released sometime in October.

Maryland is already a leader in broadband when it comes to overall connectivity, with service accessible to more than 95 percent of its residents with the goal of reaching 100 by 2026. Their goal is significantly more expensive, with an expected price tag of $300 million. Many other east coast states are similarly positioned with New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Virginia residing in the top 10 states for connectivity.

One of the main differences between these states and Delaware is that they all have either passed legislation or have legislation pending that addresses broadband issues. It’s important for Delaware to develop one as well to address the project comprehensively with specific goals, procedures, and authorities.

With the proper guidelines in place, getting to 100 percent connectivity is a reasonable goal. The strategic plan estimates that the number of Delawareans without access to high-speed broadband could be brought down by approximately 87 percent if providers were to extend their existing networks just half a mile from their current cutoff points. This approach is called “edge-out.” This approach lends itself to utilizing multiple means of connecting through cable, fiber, fixed wireless, mobile, wireline DSL, and satellite broadband. The plan also suggests using the funding to replace old and failing equipment to ensure that the investment is something that will benefit all Delaware residents for years to come.

The resiliency and success of broadband service and access in in our state depends on the utilization of  multiple technologies and a competitive marketplace which will ensure fair pricing and more choices for all Delawareans.