Publisher’s View: Delaware’s leaders need to rethink federal benefits
The news that Gov. Carney and the state Department of Labor is reinstating the requirement that Delawareans on unemployment demonstrate that they’re looking for work is a good step to trying to get people back to work.
Delaware has 31,000 people receiving up to $400 per week from the state. Many of us are intrigued by decisions being made in almost half of the other states to opt out of the $300 in additional weekly federal benefits. Missouri Governor Mike Parson told CNBC, “While these benefits provided supplementary financial assistance during the height of COVID-19, they were intended to be temporary, and their continuation has instead worsened the workforce issues we are facing.”
This may be the time for Gov. Carney and Delaware Department of Labor Secretary Karryl Hubbard to make the case for why the state should keep the federal benefit at a time when more than half of the states have unemployment rates well below ours.
In a state that offers benefits that are lower than its neighbors, Delaware seems happy to let the federal government help solve that problem for them. But the federal enhancement is yet another body blow for small businesses especially in the hospitality industry which has the highest unemployment levels in the state and is struggling to get people to apply.
So what’s the answer? Here are some suggestions:
- Gov. Carney could take the lead and join other states in rejecting the additional federal benefits.
- Offer a tax incentive to small businesses to raise wages to compete with unemployment benefits.
- Require those on unemployment to apply for multiple positions each week and audit the claims to reduce the chance for fraud.
- Reopen schools fully and set up summer school and more robust after-school programs so that parents who are staying home to support remote education can get back to work.
- Support companies in so-called risky industries like health care, restaurants, and hospitality to show that they’re going above and beyond in protecting their workers.
- Encourage college students to apply for jobs. Perhaps the state could sweeten the pot by providing some sort of match for college expenses, much like employers contribute a percentage to retirement savings.
- Support business efforts to offer hiring bonuses to new hires after a specified number of weeks of work as governors in Arizona and Montana are doing.
- Require people on unemployment to get fully vaccinated or risk losing some of their benefits.
We’re pleased that the governor is lifting restrictions on restaurants and other businesses, but restaurant traffic still isn’t back to normal, and we’re still seeing businesses limit their hours or closing entirely, saying that while the spike has been great, it has also come with staffing challenges.
But it isn’t just the hospitality business. The skilled labor trades and tech are finding there aren’t enough qualified people to meet their needs. Some of that is demographic – boomers are retiring and leaving far fewer carpenters, electricians, HVAC technicians, and plumbers in the pipeline.
There is some hope in this area. Gov. Carney used CARES Act money last August to address this need. More than 2,300 people have enrolled in Forward Delaware programs that will help fill jobs in health care, building trades, food services, transportation, and tech.
Perhaps we could also provide additional direct funding to support participants in successful job-development programs like Zip Code Delaware, Year Up and others.
The list goes on. As the state mourns the recent passing of former Governor Pete du Pont, what better way to honor his legacy than to increase support for the Jobs for Delaware Graduates program that he created in 1978 and is now in 30 Delaware schools plus 34 states with more than 1,000 program affiliates.
There are lots of ways to approach this challenge without supplemental federal benefits.
Rob Martinelli is the president and CEO of Today Media, the parent company of Delaware Business Times.