Shutdown over, Carney still wants loan plan for furloughed feds

DOVER — The federal government shutdown is over for the time being, but a new program providing low-interest loans to employees struggling financially will continue.

After a bill that would have authorized the state to guarantee loans for federal employees failed in the General Assembly on Wednesday, Gov. John Carney said Delaware will do so anyway.

Instead of guaranteeing the loans with taxpayer dollars the Delaware State Housing Authority will use revenue from its Homeownership Loan Program. Delawareans who work for the federal government can receive the lesser of $5,000 or one month’s net pay, with interest rates of 2.5 percent.

A total of $100,000 would be set aside by the state.

While M&T Bank will provide the loan, Delawareans are urged to work with West End Neighborhood House, which they can reach by calling 658-4171.

The nonprofit has 11 locations around the state and offers financial counselors to help federal workers struggling to make ends meet.

No credit check will be required, and the money will generally be available within 24 hours, according to West End Executive Director Paul Calistro.

Although President Trump announced Friday he would sign a spending plan to reopen the government until Feb. 15 while Democrats and Republicans try to find consensus on the president’s requested funding for a security wall along the southern border, Mr. Calistro said loans will still be available.

“Until people are back on their feet economically, we’re here to help,” he said.

The shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, hit day 35 Friday.

According to state officials, about 525 Delawareans employed by he federal government were furloughed or working without pay during the shutdown.

“Federal workers in Delaware and across the country are going without pay during this shutdown through no fault of their own,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “These workers have families who rely on their paychecks to pay their mortgages and other important bills. We ought to do what we can to help our neighbors as this shutdown continues.”

The Delaware House introduced and passed two bills aimed at helping federal workers Tuesday, with a measure that would set aside $80,000 for the state to guarantee loans with being approved unanimously.

However, the Senate rejected that same bill the next day. Although it received 15 votes, it had a three-fourths supermajority requirement because it would have effectively expended money to a corporation and so came one vote short of passage.

All six votes against came from Republicans, who argued it could eventually lead to the state guaranteeing loans for many other Delawareans in need. Members of the GOP objected to using taxpayer dollars and said the bills were being unnecessarily rushed.

The Senate took a brief recess to give Democrats another chance to try to sway at least one Republican, but the outcome of a second vote was no different. That left the bill all but dead.

Afterward, one sponsor blasted the GOP and called for private financial institutions to offer low-interest loans to federal employees anyway, as Dover Federal Credit Union is doing.

“My hope is they step up where the Senate Republicans failed, and I think part of the issue is whether or not we had an opportunity for an effective public-private partnership,” Sen. Bryan Townsend, a Newark Democrat, said.

“My understanding was part of the genesis of this specific framework was the private sector approaching the public sector and saying, ‘What can we do?’ This was the product of those discussions.

“For the public sector then to just bail in the way in which Senate Republicans just caused us to bail, it’s sad, it’s a disservice to these individuals, it’s a disservice to the idea of the public and private sector being able to work together and I certainly do hope then that the private sector steps up to fill that gap.”

A spokesman for Gov. Carney said the executive branch researched different options to help federal employees after the loan bill failed Wednesday and came up with the idea to guarantee loans through DSHA without needing legislation.

The state unveiled a list of resources for federal workers last week, available at https://firststate.blogs.delaware.gov/resources-federal-workers/.

Chuck Boyce, chairman of the New Castle County Republicans, in a statement said the loan bill defeated by the Senate “sets a precedent that those that work for the government are more deserving than those that have suffered hardships in the private sector” and would benefit “financial institutions who prey upon people in the midst of a crisis.”

Moving the primary

For the third General Assembly in a row, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would move the state’s primary to April, coinciding with the presidential primary even in off-year elections. The measure, approved 36-5, now goes to the Senate, where it has twice died.

The state’s presidential primary is the fourth Tuesday in April, while the primary election for all other offices currently falls on the second Tuesday after the first Monday in September.

Supporters of the measure said it would increase turnout and save about $1 million every four years.

“It’s simply the right thing to do,” said the main sponsor, Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, a Wilmington Democrat.

Having separate primaries can be confusing for residents, sometimes leading to them not voting, she said.

In 2016, about 164,000 Delawareans cast ballots for presidential candidates in April, while around 94,000 voted in the September primary.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only four states had later 2018 primaries than Delaware’s Sept. 6 election. Federal law requires the state to mail absentee ballots to Americans living in another country at least 45 days before an election, and because the general election is just two months after the state’s primary, Delaware officials have to scramble to send out ballots for the November election.

Opponents said during a brief floor discussion Thursday they believe the bill would protect incumbents, benefit candidates who can afford to pay for an advertising blitz and potentially lead a legislator who is defeated in April shirking their duties in Legislative Hall for the next two months.

“Inadvertently we are cutting short a dialogue that will better allow us to serve the citizens,” Rep. John Kowalko, a Newark Democrat, said.

The first-timer treatment

It’s a longstanding tradition in Legislative Hall that lawmakers mark the occasion of one of their colleagues having their first bill voted on by asking obvious, inane or embarrassing questions on the chamber floor.

With 15 new members, the General Assembly is sure to go through that ritual quite a few times in the months to come. Thursday, it was Rep. Ray Seigfried’s turn.

The Arden Democrat recently introduced a minor piece of legislation removing a requirement that applications for certain professional licenses be notarized. Among those licenses is one required for an adult entertainment establishment or adult-oriented retail establishment.

Predictably, representatives had some fun with the bill.

Several lawmakers asked Rep. Seigfried to offer definitions or examples, prompting him to fire back that the questioners seemed to already be familiar with the subject they were inquiring about.

After a few minutes of joking around, they took a vote and easily passed the bill.

“I would really love to see 10 to 15 years from now somebody listening to this and try to figure out what the heck’s going on,” House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat, cracked.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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