By Matthew Albright, The News Journal
Senate Republicans on Wednesday are expected to unveil a list of 11 measures to battle poverty – and leaders of the minority party hope they can convince some Democrats to work with them.
"We want to lift people up and get them out of poverty," said Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford. "Too many times we've just left them where they are and not made a strong commitment to finding what kind of programs really work, and we think this program will do it."
GOP leaders said they plan to present the proposal to lawmakers Wednesday. The News Journal was provided with the information before the official release.
The plan sets a goal of making Delaware the lowest-poverty state in America by 2024. Its policy planks mainly consist of tax credits, streamlining government poverty-fighting efforts, and removing what lawmakers say are bureaucratic barriers to job growth.
Some Republicans contrasted the plan with recent debates in a largely gridlocked Congress, in which the GOP pushed for more far-right ideas.
"We're not D.C. We operate better than that," said Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Dover. "I think part of the thinking around this was, let's start a conversation. Let's not go into things that are dead on arrival, that there's going to be no consideration from the Democratic majority or the governor's office."
Some of the items in the list already have Democratic supporters.
One would make the state's earned income tax credit, which goes to low-income working families, refundable – that means a family could get more from the tax credit than they owe in taxes. A bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Baumbach, a Democrat, is already on the table; Lavelle is the prime sponsor in the Senate.
The plan also calls for reforms to the licensing process for professions like beauticians and barbers that would make it easier for residents to get hired in those better-paying jobs. Gov. Jack Markell called for similar action in his State of the State address in January.
The senators say the plan does leave room for compromise, but emphasize that it still stays true to their conservative principles.
"What we're acknowledging here is that more money and more programs to go to poverty isn't solving the problem," said Sen. Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, the minority whip.
The proposal features four new tax credits, which would go to people who support programs that help find housing for those in poverty; those who donate to organizations that provide scholarships to low-income kids to attend private schools; companies that pay for unemployed Delawareans to get certifications that help them get a job; and companies that bring on impoverished residents as apprentices.
Republicans hold nine out of 21 seats in the Delaware Senate and are outnumbered 16-25 in the House.
Acknowledging that the Legislature has already passed significant tax breaks this year, Simpson said the plan is to set caps on how much the state would give out in each of those tax credits. State leaders could figure out which ones are making an impact before choosing to expand them further.
The program is modeled after programs in Connecticut, which has a Democratic governor, and South Carolina, led by Republicans.
The U.S. Census Bureau pegs Delaware's poverty rate at 12.5 percent, but some who use a different definition of poverty cite larger numbers. Many Delaware leaders have expressed particular concerns at the number of children in poverty – more than 50,000, higher than where Delaware was a few decades ago.
The Republicans' poverty plan comes amidst a fierce partisan fight over the possibility of raising the minimum wage. Democrats in the Senate narrowly passed a bill to hike the minimum wage to $10.25, from the current $8.25 by 2020 over unanimous objection from Republicans. There was a heated fight over the bill in a House committee, but its members ended up not taking any action.
Some Democrats have said the state needs to take some action to help low-income residents after hustling at the start of the session to hand out multi-million tax breaks to companies like DuPont.
Republicans argue minimum wage hikes hurt businesses and force them to lay off workers – in the Senate debate, Republicans said there were better ways to fight poverty, and the plan Wednesday appears to include some of their ideas for how to do so.
Contact Matthew Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org, (302) 324-2428 or on Twitter @TNJ_malbright.
GOP anti-poverty plan
Senate lawmakers on Wednesday expect to introduce 11 proposals that make up a new anti-poverty plan.
Federal block grants
While the General Assembly has little influence over what happens in Washington, Republicans want lawmakers to pass a resolution calling on Congress to allocate all money related to fighting poverty as a block grant, which would remove many of the restrictions on how that money could be used.
The state would only be able to spend the money on poverty-fighting efforts.
Make the Earned Income Tax Credit refundable
The Earned Income Tax Credit goes to working families who are at or near the poverty line. Senate Republicans want to make that credit refundable, meaning families could get more from the credit than they owe in taxes.
This is a bipartisan idea; there is already a bill on the table proposed by Rep. Paul Baumbach, a Democrat, that would do this. Sen. Greg Lavelle, the house minority whip, is the prime sponsor in teh Senate.
Occupational licensing reform
Republicans say the state needs to make it easier for residents to get the licenses they need for good paying jobs, like barbers, dietitians or plumbers. This is another issue that already has some bipartisan support: Gov. Jack Markell called for a review of the state's licensing process in his State of the State address in January.
'Pay for Success' financing
The plan calls for a new model of funding work in communities. Private or non-profit organizations would front money for "social impact bonds" that would pay for programs that have a measurable, objective goal, like reducing recidivism by five percent. If the organizations meet the goal, the government would pay the bonds back with interest, so the groups would make a profit.
Republicans say that system would spur more outside investment while tying government spending more closely to measurable progress.
The idea is modeled after systems in Connecticut, with has a Democratic governor, and South Carolina, which is led by Republicans.
Poverty housing tax credit
Senate Republicans want to create a new tax credit for organizations that help provide housing for those in poverty, as well as those who contribute to them. The program is based off the Neighborhood Assistance Act Tax Credit the state's housing authority already administers.
The credit would be capped at $500,000 at first but could be expanded later if the state finds it is effective.
Scholarship tax credits
A good education key to escaping poverty, and Republicans argue a good way to provide a top education is to give parents choices. They want to give tax credits to people and organizations that donate to nonprofits that pay for scholarships for students from low-income families to attend private school.
Programs like this have been proposed in Delaware before but have encountered stiff resistance from supporters of traditional pubic schools. Markell opposes paying for scholarships to private schools with taxpayer funds.
Workforce training review commission
State government supports many programs that provide workforce training to help residents qualify for good jobs and has added several new ones during Markell's administration.
Senate Republicans say the state doesn't have a good sense of how those programs fit together and how effective each program has proven. They want a commission to study the issue and make recommendations for how to streamline and improve the state's workforce training.
External training tax credit
The proposal would give tax credits to companies that pay for unemployed, low-income Delawareans to get training and certifications. The goal is to help people get credentials that lead to better jobs.
The credit would cover training costs up to $5,000 and would start off with a $1 million spending cap.
Apprenticeship tax credit
Republicans want to encourage companies to bring people on as apprentices, teaching them marketable job skills. Businesses that do that for people below the poverty line would receive a $4,000 tax credit, with an annual cap of $1 million.
SEED scholarships for non-college programs
The SEED scholarship covers tuition to Delaware Technical Community College and the University of Delaware's associates degree program for students who earn a 2.5 degree and stay out of legal trouble.
The Republicans' plan calls for that scholarship to be expanded to pay tuition for other programs that teach marketable skills, like Zip Code Wilmington, which teaches programming skills.
Create a 'cottage food industry'
The Republicans want to ease regulations to allow people to use their home kitchens to produce food and drinks to sell after obtaining a license, completing a food safety course and carrying the right insurance.
They argue that would allow families to make some extra money while also setting the stage for larger food businesses to develop; Minority Leader Gary Simpson points out that Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione started brewing in his basement.