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Unprecedented Virtual End to the 150th General Assembly

photo of Melissa Hopkins

Every two years, legislators work through the night on June 30th to complete legislation before the two-year General Assembly comes to an end. This is my 11th June 30th and I have never experienced a final session day quite like this. While legislative session started typically, with our list of legislative priorities and questions regarding state investment in nonprofits.  As the COVID-19 pandemic impacted all our organizations, it also impacted the ability for the General Assembly to proceed with business as usual. To this day, Legislative Hall remains closed to members of the public, but policymakers continued to do the critical work of government virtually.

On June 23th, the Senate passed SB 240, the General Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2021, followed the next day by the House of Representatives.  While some significant discussion was had in the House of Representatives around funding related to charter school transportation, the bill passed both chambers as proposed by the Joint Finance Committee without incident.

As many of you know our excitement came a little earlier this year. The Joint Finance Committee came together on June 22nd to discuss the details of the Grant-in-Aid bill.  Committee members voted to support the allocations by section and much of the discussion centered around the desire to keep volunteer fire companies and nonprofits funded at previous year levels for the 2021 Fiscal Year.  Of note are three items that were voted into Epilogue language of the Grant-in-Aid bill:

  • Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force: this group will study and make recommendations regarding use of force, workforce development, community policing and engagement, and finally transparency and accountability.
  • African American Task Force: will study and make recommendations on addressing inequities in socioeconomically marginalized African American communities in the Delaware.
  • Next Steps for Review of Methodology of Provider Rates: Before February 1, 2021, the Department of Health and Social Services will share finding of the study with stakeholder in addition to holding information sessions. Additionally, DHSS will work to reallocate funds to implement the recommendations of the study. This outlines the path forward for a childcare provider market rate student, as well as simultaneous cost of care study for Early Childcare, and the Disabilities Community.  The cost of care study will assess future funding requirement to implement quality of care benchmark.  DANA will be offering an opportunity to hear more from DHSS on this in the next few weeks.

When the Senate considered the initial Grant-in-Aid bill, SB 241, on June 23rd, there were concerns regarding the speedy turn around time between drafting, release of the bill and the call for a vote.  Unfortunately, that version of the Grant-in-Aid bill was defeated in the Senate.  As a sector we were grateful to see a new version of the bill, SB 260, was issued, considered and approved on June 25th.  This legislation passed the House of Representatives on June 29th without issue.

Given the challenges that our sector as faced as a result of COVID-19 implications, having Grant-in-Aid and the FY 2021 General Operating Budget all approved prior to the last night of session  is an excellent outcome to our sector’s request for continued investment. Governor Carney is expected to sign these critical funding allocation bills in the coming days.

In years past, the final days of legislative session bring about announcements regarding retirements, allowing policymakers to honor their peers and critical staff members. This year was no exception.  Most were surprised to learn of Representative Quinn Johnson’s intent to not seek re-election. Representative Johnson, of Middletown, has served 6 terms in the House of Representatives and currently serves as the co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee.  The Senate took time to say goodbye to long serving Wilmington Senator and Co-Chair of the Joint Finance Committee, Harris McDowell.  These two retirements leave major gaps to fill in terms of leadership of the Joint Finance Committee and will alter the landscape of the 151st General Assembly significantly.

Please note that because this was the second half of a General Assembly, legislation not passed at the close of session does NOT carry forward. We have an election to look forward to in November, therefore everything starts over again in January 2021.

While our state legislature concluded early on July 1st, our federal delegation is still hard at work. Earlier this week, Senator Chris Coons, with five of his Senate colleagues filed a bipartisan bill to increase the cap on charitable giving.  The Universal Giving Pandemic Response Act (S. 4032) could result in an increase in giving by providing the tax incentives that were stripped out of tax code in 2017.

Much of the concerns with our nonprofits has revolved around unemployment for self-insured organizations.  As a reminder, in the U.S. CARES Act relief included federal support for 50% of the cost of reimbursable unemployment.  The subsequent guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor then instructed states to collect 100% of the funds and then to reimburse the federally funded 50% later.  Legislation is making its way through the U.S. Senate to address these critical issues around reimbursable unemployment and nonprofit amid a pandemic.  Our partners at the National Council of Nonprofits have been diligently fighting for S.4001 – a bill to amend title IX of the Social Security Act to improve emergency unemployment relief for governmental entities and nonprofit organizations.  This includes a 100% reimbursement rate for nonprofits that reimburse the Unemployment Trust Fund for claims. For more information on this issue please read the National Council of Nonprofits Statement on Unemployment.

While unemployment is top of mind, I know that as a sector we are all awaiting word regarding another iteration of COVID-19 response legislation, referred to unofficially as CARES 2.0.  Our understanding is that Congress will work another Coronavirus Relief Package, but not until after the U.S. Senate returns on July 20th.  We will continue to track the process and report on opportunities for support for nonprofits.

While Delaware’s legislative session has ended for 2020, our work on the public policy needs in the sector does not stop.  Thank you to those that made phone calls, sent emails, attended virtual legislator coffee events, and virtual caucus events.  While this session was unusual, collectively we did a great job raising our voices regarding on our needs.  Our work is not done, and I look forward to continuing this effort into 2021 and beyond.  If you have questions or would like to discuss, please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].