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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate passes five bills to help vulnerable Delawareans

June 29, 2022

DOVER – The State Senate on Tuesday sent five bills to Governor John Carney that will help some of Delaware’s most vulnerable residents earn a fair wage, obtain a college degree, keep a roof over their heads and receive the educational support they need and ensure they can obtain life-saving medications for free.

“A just society is one that is committed to lifting up neighbors and making sure they are treated fairly,” Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola said.

“That has been a guiding principle of my Caucus since we began the 151st General Assembly and I’m delighted we are able to close out the first half of this session by passing legislation that will make a real impact on the lives of people in difficult situations beyond their power or control,” he said. “Working to make their lives a little easier will help to make Delaware a better place for us all, not just in terms of dollars and cents but in who we are and what we represent.”

House Bill 122, sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan and Sen. Nicole Poore, would eliminate outdated rules that allow some Delaware workers with disabilities to be paid substantially less than the minimum wage.

The average worker employed by certain entities covered by Section 14(c) of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 is paid $3.34 per hour and works 16 hours per week, usually engaged in tasks such as packing, collating or basic assembly. That’s a little more than a third of Delaware’s current minimum wage of $9.25 an hour, which is slated to rise to $10.50 an hour in January under Senate Bill 15.

“Delaware currently uses an 83-year-old federal program that allows certain entities to pay employees with disabilities a sub-minimum wage. Employees are making an average of an $2/hour,” said Rep. Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South. “This is, plainly, not right. With this legislation, we aren’t just making promises, we are showing Delawareans with disabilities that there is value in their work and that they are deserving of the same economic protections as their peers.”

A report issued last fall by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recommended ending the 14(c) program, calling it “inconsistent with the civil rights protections to which people with disabilities are entitled.”

Known as the Jamie Wolfe Employment Act in tribute to the tireless advocate for disability rights who passed away in 2018, HB 122 would phase out the 14(c) sub-minimum wage provision in Delaware by July 1, 2023, in accordance with a plan to be developed by the independent commission charged with overseeing the First State’s landmark 2012 Employment First Act.

“Jamie was a pioneer, a hero and an inspiration who fought her entire life to be acknowledged as a human being with the same hopes, dreams and feelings as everyone else,” said Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle. “A person with disabilities who puts in a hard day’s work should be paid the same as anyone else. Their labor is no different. Their dignity is no different. And thanks to the support of my colleagues, soon their paycheck will be no different.”

House Bill 123, sponsored by Rep. Krista Griffith and Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, would waive tuition and fees – including room and board – at the state’s public institutions of higher learning for young people who age out of Delaware’s foster care system. 

“We know that young people who have been through the foster care system as teens and have aged out experience worse outcomes overall than their peers in terms of educational attainment, full-time employment, stable housing and financial independence,” said Rep. Griffith, D-Fairfax. “We owe these vulnerable young adults a path to prosperity and a better life. This legislation would require the University of Delaware, Delaware State University and Delaware Tech Community College to waive all tuition and fees, including room and board, giving students who were in the foster care system an opportunity to create for themselves a stable and successful future.”

About 15-20 incoming freshmen who spent at least one year in foster care as a teenager would likely be eligible for tuition waivers at the University of Delaware, Delaware State University or Delaware Tech Community College.

“Children accepted into college after spending a significant time in Delaware’s foster care system are already defying the odds,” said Sen. Lockman, D-Wilmington. “We should be rewarding that hard work by removing the barriers that are preventing some of our most vulnerable young people from achieving their goals and realizing their potential. That includes extending a clear path to a debt-free education.”

House Bill 240, sponsored by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Poore, would create the Korey Thompson Student Emergency Housing Assistance Fund to provide housing assistance to undergraduate students attending a college or university in Delaware who are experiencing homelessness.

“The last thing college students should have to worry about is where they can safely rest their heads at night. They should be focused on studying, and getting their school work done,” said Rep. Longhurst. “The bottom line is housing needs can affect students’ success in college. Korey Thompson is a rare success story that could have easily become a statistic. HB 240 is the first step to addressing the housing insecurity crisis among college students in our state, ensuring more success stories.”

Surveys have found that 10% of University Delaware students and 13% of Delaware Technical Community College have experienced homelessness at some point, while Delaware State University has provided assistance to thousands of housing insecure students in recent years.  Korey Thompson, for whom the bill is named, struggled with the issue while attending Wesley College. Today, he is a New Castle County Police Officer.

Under HB 240, the Delaware State Housing Authority would monitor all money deposited in the fund, including administering $90,000 of appropriated funds for fiscal 2022. DSHA also would develop the eligibility criteria, and an application process that would be exclusive to students attending school in the state.    

“College students are particularly vulnerable to homelessness, often because these young people struggle to manage the high costs of tuition, books, food, childcare and housing – expenses they may be facing for the first time in their life,” Poore said. “Not every student has a family they can turn to for help, but collectively we can help support these bright young people as they work to get back on their feet while they continue their education.”

House Bill 202, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams and Sen. Poore, would enact a recommendation of the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity by requiring childcare facilities to provide developmental and social-emotional screenings to children under the age of 5.

“Our youngest learners often face barriers to their success before they ever reach school age,” Sen. Poore said. “By deploying early detection tools through our childcare centers, we can begin treating developmental delays much sooner and have supports in place well before children even begin their first day of kindergarten. This legislation will also help level the playing field when it comes to racial disparities that currently exist when it comes to early intervention services.”

By the age of 2, Black children are five times less likely to receive early intervention services than white children. For children of all races, developmental screening rates remain disappointingly low. Nationally, less than 40% of children receiving Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program assistance receive a developmental screening before the age of 3.

“Yearly developmental screening is a best practice that’s critical to identify children ages birth to five who may be eligible for early intervention or special education services. When eligible Delaware children have access to these services, we change the trajectory of their lives by increasing their chances for success in school and in life,” said Rep. Williams, D-Newport. “Children who are eligible and receive intervention as early in life as possible are more likely to read on grade level, graduate from high school, and be gainfully employed as adults, and they are less likely to need special education services later in school.”

The Senate on Tuesday also sent Senate Bill 107 to the governor with an amendment filed in the House.

Sponsored by Sen. Marie Pinkney and Rep. David Bentz, SB 107 would require individual, group, state employee and public assistance insurance plans to provide coverage of medically necessary insulin pumps at no cost to a covered individual. The amendment approved by the House on June 24 exempts two types of health plans to ensure the legislation complies with federal law.

“Insulin is a daily necessity for every one of the nearly 100,000 men, women and children in Delaware living with diabetes and insulin pumps can be a life-changing and live-saving device,” said Sen. Pinkney, D-New Castle. “Unfortunately, the other realities facing diabetes patients are inflated prices and high insurance costs. That’s unacceptable and this legislation will remove some of the cost burden from decisions about how to best manage diabetes.”