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What’s New

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.

Delaware’s Workforce Development Plan Needs More Work

From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director, A Better Delaware

Of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed by President Biden on March 11, Delaware received $925 million to invest in one-time projects. One of the three largest projects in Delaware is a $50 million dollar investment in workforce development with a focus on job training.

While investing in jobs training seems like a noble and smart one, it leaves many questions unanswered. The primary issue with Delaware’s workforce development plan is that there is no information about how the money will be spent. Governor Carney stated of the allocations that “we’re focused on investments that will build on the strengths of Delaware’s world-class workforce and support Delaware families and businesses who were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. These workforce development programs will help Delawareans develop the skills they need to succeed in a 21st century economy.”

The goals Carney provides of “building on strengths” and “developing skills” are ones that cannot be measured, and we don’t know what time frame it should be measured over, as neither program has a specified end date.

The jobs training program will be broken into two primary components – the expansion of the Pathways Program and Forward Delaware. The Pathways Program focuses exclusively on students and is receiving one-third of this allotment – an investment in Delaware’s future that does not help the approximately 26,000 unemployed adults who are struggling to pay their bills right now.

Pathways began in 2015 serving about 20,000 high school students and with this funding will grow to serving 32,000 middle through high school students. An additional $8.3 million will be added to the program through the state budget.

Forward Delaware was founded in August 2020 and is managed by the Delaware Prosperity Partnership. It provides 20-week certification courses (directed toward those who became unemployed due to the pandemic) in the fields of healthcare, construction/trades, hospitality/food service, logistics and transportation, and computers/IT. In its first year, about 3,000 Delawareans took advantage of its offerings but only 1,476 – less than 50 percent – completed a training course. The initial investment in the program was more than $15 million. The certifications that can be acquired through Forward Delaware will make workers eligible for higher-paying, more specialized professions, but it’s a large investment few individuals have used and the Prosperity Partnership openly admits it has not tracked hiring details, and simply reports that “the fact that Forward Delaware exists is a good thing.

A lack of alignment between workforce development and the training itself are one of the five major pitfalls of workforce development success – and the above statement proves it’s at least one of the reasons this initiative in Delaware is likely to fail.

A Workforce Innovation and Opportunity analysis has evaluated Delaware’s workforce development programs and noted one of its top weaknesses as providing skills and training for professions that may not lead to self-sufficiency.

According to the Education Commission of the States, Delaware does not have a policy or process in place to identify high-demand occupations. Without any data to support which industries need skilled workers, Forward Delaware may be missing out on training workers for areas employers need the most – and those that may produce the best outcomes for trainees.

Several other states have dedicated workforce training programs that put Delaware to shame. South Carolina’s Department of Employment and Workforce utilizes several different programs that give individuals the choice to find a specific program that works well for them. With so many different options, there are ample opportunities to get individuals back into the labor force once they have been properly trained. On the other side of the spectrum, there is Georgia QuickStart. This company has a single training program that can provide customized job training, which makes it easier to implement on a state-wide level. The program receives 44 percent of its funding from the state and has managed to create over one million jobs since its founding in 1967

In a more recent report, Delaware was ranked seventh out of eight states  in the mid-Atlantic region in the 2021 Regional Workforce Development Rankings – showing it’s one of the worst at providing a strong workforce development ecosystem. With a new failing job training program, it doesn’t seem like Delaware’s on track to move up the ladder.

Delaware must move from a patchwork of semi-connected programs and services to building out the components of an integrated ecosystem which includes statistical evidence to support investments its workforce system and analysis of workforce training effectiveness, and outcomes. Only then will Delaware improve its standing in business competitiveness and economic growth.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

States Bolster Program Evaluation Work With American Rescue Plan Funds

From: The Pew Charitable Trusts  The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides funding for states to address immediate challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic and to develop sustainable solutions to help their economies recover. To meet these goals, the law includes $195 billion in flexible funding for states to use for various services and capacity-building efforts. And in a push to improve the efficacy of state programs, the money can be used for “data analysis, targeted consumer outreach, improvements to data or technology infrastructure, and impact evaluations.”

Since ARPA’s enactment in March, Results First has encouraged states to focus on that last potential use of the federal money: investing in impact evaluations. These are rigorous assessments of programs’ effectiveness that can inform decisions about which interventions to support, revise, or eliminate; they are key components of evidence-based policymaking efforts. Read more.

Keeping Local Governments’ Hands out of the Broadband Cookie Jar

From: Citizens Against Government Waste

Despite the availability of $800 billion for infrastructure projects, including broadband, the bipartisan infrastructure package includes another $65 billion for broadband deployment.  The funding is being made available with few, if any, guardrails against local governments using the funding to overbuild over top existing broadband networks, and it is neither vendor nor technology neutral.

The need for access to broadband was never made clearer than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when tens of millions of Americans suddenly needed to go online to work, learn, and socialize.  As a result of the investment of more than $1.8 trillion by the private sector to create the technology necessary to build the world’s most resilient networks, a competitive marketplace, and mostly light touch regulations, the U.S. telecommunications network held up far better than its global counterparts.  In June 2020, a few months into the lockdowns and shutdowns, fixed and mobile broadband download speeds in the U.S. were 150 percent and 75 percent higher, respectively, than the comparable global median download speeds.

Americans can now get connected through multiple means, including cable, fiber, fixed wireless, mobile, wireline DSL, and satellite broadband.  Families and businesses in hard-to-reach areas of the country have found that newer technologies like TV white space and low-earth orbit satellites are making the internet more accessible.  Consumers continue to reap the benefits of these technologies.  U.S. Telecom reported in its “ 2021 Broadband Pricing Index” that the U.S. has made three times the investment in broadband deployment and adoption as the European Union, resulting in better service and higher speeds at a lower cost, even with the increased usage during the pandemic.

While the best way to allow this incredible progress to continue would be to keep the government out of the way, President Biden’s June 9, 2021 “competition” Executive Order (EO) and his American Jobs Plan both prioritize a single technology (fiber) and networks owned or operated by local governments, cooperatives, and nonprofits rather than private companies.  The resiliency and success of broadband service and access depends on multiple technologies and a competitive marketplace.  A single technology and limited providers will result in higher prices, fewer choices, and less innovation, among other adverse consequences. Read more here.