Delaware legislators have launched a pilot program aimed at providing at-risk and disadvantaged Delawareans the opportunity to work and earn a decent living.
On Monday, the task force for Work-a-Day Earn-a-Pay, initiated by State Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, held its first meeting to discuss the pilot program.
“Those here today expressed a concern about reality in Wilmington and throughout the state about those who would like to work, are willing and ready to work, but have no opportunity for employment,” Marshall said.
The $2 million pilot program, funded by the State’s strategic fund, aims at employing at-risk and disadvantaged residents of Delaware to work on public works projects, and earn an hourly wage of $10.25 to $15 an hour.
“We can reach out here today and provide those opportunities and build confidence and self-esteem, clean up a lot of rivers, streams and neighborhoods through public works projects, have those individuals learn they can be self-sufficient, they can work, and we all benefit, all of Delaware will benefit,” Marshall said.
The program is a response to Delaware’s economic downturn and unemployment rate, and is modeled on the Depression-era Works Projects Administration, which put millions of Americans to work on public works projects, including the building of Delaware’s Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
George Krupanski, CEO of Boys & Girls Club, has been appointed chairman of the committee.
Other members include Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, Rep. Michael Mulrooney, D-Pennwood, Patricia Cannon of the Delaware Economic Development Office, Mark Kleinschmidt of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce and Rev. Donald Morton of Rhema Christian Center International.
Community leaders also attended Monday’s meeting, and expressed some concerns about financing the program, and its sustainability.
“Right now $2 million as startup capital is going to be very hard to retain year after year,” said Hope Bellamy of Hope’s Academy.
“How many people can sustain 160,000 hours of work? We’re talking about how many people can get in the program and how beneficial will it be?”
However, community leaders say the opportunity to advance in society is something that needs to be available to Delawareans.
Porsha Wiggins of Churches Take a Corner said she encourages women to earn their own money, support their family and stay off the streets. She said she believes Work-a-Day Earn-a-Pay will reduce crime because people won’t have to resort to illegal activities to get by.
“The crime is high, especially in the city of Wilmington, a lot of our babies are dying in the street,” Wiggins said.
“When there’s no work the kids can’t get fed. When there’s no jobs the people suffer, the kids suffer. It’s getting harder in the community to find work. A lot of women are leaving Delaware, going to other states, just to come home and they’re still broke. So they resort to doing the things they have to do in order to survive.”
There will be two more meetings in October and November. The task force must prepare and submit a report to the Governor and General Assembly by Dec. 4. Marshall said he hopes the program will be up and running by May.
“This is not looking to encumber the opportunity of employment with layers of red tape, but to say, ‘If you’re willing to work and show up and give us a day you’re going to earn a paycheck,’” Marshall said.