House Democrats Unveil Fair Shot Agenda to Give Delawareans More Opportunities to Succeed

DOVER – Citing a need to provide working families with more opportunities to prosper and improve their quality of life, House Democrats unveiled a package of bills Wednesday designed to help Delawareans in the areas of their workplace, education and family life.

The Fair Shot Agenda consists of four bills that will help level the playing field for working families throughout the state, ensuring that more residents have an opportunity to be successful. The measures would create economic, workplace and higher education achievement policies that would have an immediate and direct impact on the lives of countless middle and working class Delawareans.

“Working families deserve every chance to have a job and work with dignity without having to choose between their career and their family. They should be able to complete their education so they can have better paying jobs,” Rep. Debra Heffernan said. “It’s clear that many working-class residents are still trying to fully recover from the economic downturn. We owe it to our neighbors to look out for them and take positive steps to help them on the path to success.”

House Bill 3, sponsored by Rep. Heffernan, would make Delaware the sixth state to offer some form of paid family leave to new parents. Under the bill, full-time state employees including teachers would be eligible for 12 weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave after one year of employment. New parents would be eligible for leave for up to one year after the birth of the child or adoption of a child under the age of six.

“No parent should have to make a financial decision to leave their child just a couple weeks after they have been brought into the family,” said Rep. Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South. “It’s hypocritical for us as a state to stress the importance of the family unit and then not back it up with this kind of basic and essential support system.”

Major Delaware employers such as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, DuPont, AstraZeneca, Barclays and Merck already offer paid family leave to their workers.

Low- and middle-income Delawareans would see financial relief under a bipartisan bill that would make the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit refundable. EITC is the nation’s most effective anti-poverty program for working families. The federal EITC was designed to offset federal income taxes, social security payroll taxes, and supplemental earnings while rewarding work. About 25 states, Delaware included, have state EITCs. In Delaware, the state EITC is non-refundable, reducing the tax liability but not providing a refund to residents. Non-refundable EITC does not offer any benefit to working families that have income too low to owe income taxes.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Baumbach, House Bill 113 would reform the EITC from nonrefundable to refundable and capable of exceeding the tax amount otherwise due. The credit would be phased in, increasing 1 percent per year from 6 percent of the corresponding federal earned income credit in 2018 until it reaches 15 percent of the federal EITC in 2027.

“Earned Income Tax Credit is probably one of the best public policy programs that can really lift people out of poverty,” said Rep. Baumbach, D-Newark. “EITC cuts taxes for low-income families, provides incentives to work, helps stabilize income and puts families on firmer ground. Making Delaware’s Earned Income Tax Credit available to all families who qualify for the federal program will have an immensely positive effect on Delaware families, and I look forward to pushing this effort forward.”

According to the 2015 Kids Count Delaware report, 73,000 Delawareans filed federal EITC claims in 2014, averaging a return of $2,222 per person. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that in 2013, the federal EITC lifted about 6.2 million people out of poverty, including about 3.2 million children. The credit reduced the severity of poverty for another 21.6 million people, including 7.8 million children.

Access to affordable childcare can limit a parent’s ability to return to the workforce. Reauthorized under the 2014 federal Child Care Development Block Grant, states providing childcare assistance subsidies to needy families were required to continue doing so if they became unemployed. Parents must be looking for new employment in order to remain eligible for the assistance for up to a maximum of 90 nonconsecutive days each year. The federal law does not mandate that states allow families to qualify for and begin receiving childcare assistance concurrently. Currently, 14 states have enacted policies to expand eligibility to families facing these challenges, in order to enroll their child in daycare while an unemployed parent is actively seeking new job opportunities.

HB 126, sponsored by Rep. Sean Lynn, would expand the eligibility criteria for childcare assistance in Delaware. The bill would allow unemployed parents and guardians to begin receiving child care assistance as they seek new employment opportunities for up to 90 non-consecutive days each year.

“Anyone who has had a child in recent years knows that one of the biggest costs of starting a family is childcare,” said Rep. Lynn, D-Dover. “It’s tremendously important for parents to be able to go back to work in order to provide for their children, but the cost of childcare can be prohibitive. By extending these benefits to include those Delawareans currently unemployed, we will help parents during this critical time to get back to work while ensuring that their children are cared for in a safe environment.”

Delaware’s Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) Scholarship has helped thousands of students earn a college degree. But the program does not allow students who are reenrolling in college to receive funds, leaving them without assistance to finish their degree.

A draft proposal, sponsored by Rep. David Bentz, would establish the Complete Your Degree Grant Program, which would provide resources to students who are reenrolling in a publicly funded associate degree program in Delaware. Under the bill, a student must meet the general eligibility requirements for a SEED scholarship; have not been enrolled in a college program for at least two years; have earned a minimum of 30 semester hour credits toward an associate degree; and have an adjusted gross income that does not exceed $36,000.

“We repeatedly tell people that getting an education will help open doors, that it will increase their earning potential,” said Rep. Bentz, D-Christiana. “But for those who for whatever reason are unable to complete their degree, there’s no mechanism to help them go back and finish what they started.

“For many people, they don’t have the luxury of choosing between schooling and work – they have bills to pay. Providing an avenue for Delawareans to finish their degree will help fulfill the promise we made to students with the original SEED scholarship program.”