Delaware task force hopes work program can start in six months

DOVER — A task force focused on developing a new program to provide employment and training to Delaware residents while benefiting the state has published its findings.

The Work-a-Day Earn-a-Pay Task Force aims to begin in about six months with state residents getting an opportunity to work on renovating vacant homes, cleaning up waterways and building a natural gas pipeline, earning $10 an hour or more before taxes.

The program would cost a projected $2 million per fiscal year, with most of that expense going to wages.

“The projects would require low skill to no skill and would be focused on labor intensive tasks,” the report states.

“The duration of work for an individual on a given project may be one day or more, depending on the project’s completion date. The task force hopes the recommendations will aid in the implementation of the WDEP pilot program, and eventually the pilot can be established as a full-time WDEP public works program that operates year-round.”

Established from legislation passed on the last day of the legislative session, the panel consisted of several lawmakers, state workers and individuals from the private sector. Members held four meetings to consider the creation of a public works program modeled in part after Depression-era government agencies created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The task force’s conclusions suggest funding could be obtained from the Delaware Economic Development Office’s Strategic Fund, bank settlement funds previously obtained by the Delaware Department of Justice or from partnerships with private businesses.

Supporters hope to begin a two-month pilot program in May and then expand to a full, long-term initiative.

Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, the primary sponsor of the resolution creating the task force, believes many businesses would be eager to participate. The report notes companies that provide funding for the program could receive tax deductions.

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Robert Marshall

Sen. Marshall said he could see 1,000 people sign up to take part in the program.

“This could not only create the opportunity for employment for those that have been left out of the minor recovery of our 2008 meltdown of the economy, we could also take a big step forward in the reduction in petty crimes in places with Wilmington, Dover and small towns,” he insisted.

It would be open to any Delaware resident at least 17, although participants must be drug- and alcohol-free.

Participants could learn a trade such as carpentry or painting and would also receive some basic skills such as showing up on time, dressing correctly for a job and finding motivation, the report stated.

Potential projects cited in the report include the renovation of vacant homes, particularly in Wilmington. That would create equity that could be put back into the program, task force member Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel, said.

Rundown houses in other cities, such as Dover and Seaford, could also be rehabilitated through the program.

Other ideas include having participants clean up parks and waterways and dig ditches.

While Sen. Marshall said he is confident funding will emerge, Sen. Richardson expressed some concerns.

“We have to make sure the (with) programs we support, there’s a chance for success,” he said.

The state has hundreds of programs, he said, and to ensure this one is worthy, planners should focus on giving workers a chance to both handle beneficial construction and cleanup projects and develop skills they can use throughout their lives.

It would be run by a statewide nonprofit group or a separate nonprofit group in each county. Among the organizations that have volunteered to help is the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, while the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware and Habitat for Humanity have been mentioned as potential partners.

Participants could take part for as long and as often as they wanted.

“Some could work 20 hours a week, another may come in for a day and work eight hours,” Sen. Marshall said. “If you’re unemployed and ready, willing and able to work you’d have the opportunity to work a day and earn a pay.”

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