Task force looks at government jobs program

DOVER — A group of lawmakers and activists is seeking to create a program to help get people off the streets and keep them out of jail — by providing them with job opportunities.

The “Work-a-Day Earn-a-Pay” task force held its second meeting Wednesday with members discussing different ways the state could set up an initiative to boost the economy, public safety and participants’ quality of life.

The program plan is modeled in part after Depression-era government agencies created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to put people to work.

Sen. Robert Marshall

Sen. Robert Marshall

Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, the primary sponsor of the legislation that created the task force, said he thinks thousands of people would sign up to earn between $10.25 to $15 an hour. Much of the work would likely be labor that he says would also benefit the state, such as river cleanup or construction.

“The concept is based upon the fact we still have a great number of people who are unemployed, many of whom are looking for opportunities,” said committee member George Krupansk, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware. “If we could match that with the needs that exist in the community, it becomes a win-win.”

The group will make recommendations to Gov. Jack Markell and the General Assembly in December. Sen. Marshall is hoping a pilot program could begin in May.

“Instinctively, we as humans, as citizens of this community, know that by providing a message and an opportunity for those who are motivated to learn, motivated to work … are willing to work, need a paycheck, would show up every day and give them that dignity and confidence of life and working as a carpenter or a mason or a plumber, laborer, but earning a paycheck,” Sen. Marshall said.

“I think that could significantly impact on the reduction of criminal activity. Won’t eliminate it all, but it could go a very long way. And I don’t think we need a lot of public dollars to make it happen. I think there’s a level of interest from the private sector to participate.”

Between now and December, a lot of things have to be hashed out for the initiative to succeed. Among those are whether different programs would be instituted in each county and what types of opportunities there would be for women, particularly those with children.

Thousands of abandoned buildings across the state could be used as classrooms or training grounds, task force members said Wednesday. They also debated what types of training should be provided. Would participants be given a chance to receive some type of education? Would they at least be taught basic workplace requirements such as punctuality?

Grassroots outreach and connections with existing organizations would also be of great importance, speakers noted. Issues were discussed with no specific answer settled upon, although members promised to try to think of solutions before the group next meets.

Several members of the public provided their own experiences running organizations that seek to accomplish similar goals.

Jeanine Kleimo, chairwoman of the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, said the mission has contributed to lower recidivism rates in Kent County. Many of the men who come to the shelter are ex-criminals looking to get by. At the center, they have a chance to learn skills and stay at the center in return for work.

Bob Hall, executive director of the Delaware Ecumenical Council on Children and Families, said a public works program could also benefit many people who had planned to follow in their fathers’ footsteps and take up a position in a factory.

With the decline of manufacturing in Delaware, thanks in large part to the closure of the General Motors Wilmington assembly, Newark Chrysler plant and Delaware City Valero refinery, many people have had to scramble to find work — or not. Well-paying manufacturing and labor jobs are much scarcer in the Delaware than in times past, something the task force wants to change.

While manual labor jobs are seen as the most likely solution, several individuals noted other opportunities exist.

There is great demand for in-home care for the elderly, Joann Fields, of Dover, said, and Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel, said some people could use computers, perhaps by working in a call center. He suggested the task force also think about people starting their own businesses.

A common theme popped up in the hourlong meeting: by employing people, the state can keep them off the street and lower their chances they will turn to crime, the officials insisted.

The program would not only target ex-criminals but figures to naturally attract many individuals in that group who often have trouble finding work due to their criminal history.

The group will meet next Nov. 4 in Wilmington.

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