White House forum showcases federal dollars working in Delaware

President Biden addressed the Delaware delegation at the beginning of the event in what White House personnel said was a surprise visit.

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Joe Biden addressing the room

President Joe Biden speaks to the Delaware participants of the "Communities in Action" forum inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Thursday, April 11. (Courtesy of Jordan Seemans, Delaware deputy state treasurer.)

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This story was supported by a statehouse coverage grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Delaware elected leaders, community activists and gubernatorial hopefuls gathered at the White House this week to hear how federal policies are working in the First State.

The “Communities in Action” program was originally an initiative of the Clinton White House. The Biden administration “resuscitated it,” said Tom Perez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Biden advisors hold half-day forums for state, local and community leaders to showcase how the president’s policies are impacting people’s lives.

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“It’s really important for us to hear directly from community leaders and its communities in action. And I think it’s well named, because it is talking about communities that are making progress, moving the ball forward.”

Perez said they’ve been holding the forums for about two years and have gotten to about 30 of the 50 states so far.

Biden popped in to speak to the group from his home state on Thursday, which administration staff said was a surprise move by the president. The group’s face time with Biden happened before WHYY News was allowed access to the event.

Jennifer Thompkins took part in the visit as CEO of the Wilmington chapter of the Urban League and said she learned more about the Biden administration’s work to help people stay in their homes.

Jennifer Thompkins posing for a photo
Jennifer Thompkins, CEO of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, said she spoke to forum participants about the need for affordable housing and homeownership in communities of color. (Sarah Mueller/WHYY)

Thompkins said that during the storytime portion of the forum, she talked about a woman who went from barely making her rent to becoming a homeowner.

“And it begins this trajectory of generational wealth,” she said. “I think the huge misconception sometimes about Black and brown communities is that they don’t want to own property, they don’t want a piece of that American dream. And they do. Everyone wants a piece of that American dream.”

White House officials took the state of Delaware to task for not supplying info needed to access millions in federal funding to support its red flag law.

Rob Wilcox, one of the deputy directors of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said the federal government put $750 million into state crisis intervention programs, money that states can pull down to implement things like red flag laws. Delaware’s red flag law, which allows the guns of people who are a danger to themselves or others to be taken away through a court process, went into effect in 2018.

Audience member asks a question
A Delaware forum participant asks a question of Rob Wilcox, one of the deputy directors of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention. (Sarah Mueller/WHYY)

Wilcox said Delaware, along with other states, have not completed all necessary steps to gain access to the funds.

Traci Murphy, executive director of the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence, said she’s not shocked by the news. She said she’s been in meetings with the Criminal Justice Council about it, adding that it will take a grant process and state agencies being willing to take on the extra work.

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Traci Murphy posing for a photo
Traci Murphy, executive director of Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence, sits inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building after the Communities in Action event. (Sarah Mueller/WHYY)

“We’ve been really leaning in on the Delaware government to move those funds into action for over a year,” she said. “That’s part of the work that we do at the coalition is really lean on the people who hold the power and the purse strings and say, ‘What are we doing with this? Are we doing enough?'”

Chris Kervick, executive director of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Murphy and Thompkins said they also spent time networking with other Delaware community groups after the event so they could create new partnerships and leverage limited resources.

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