The Sussex County Chapter of the AARP heard from Lt. Gov. Matt Denn this week on the subjects of the economy, education and health care.
Denn said the glimmer of good news in the local economy was that Sussex County has fared better than either New Castle or Kent in terms of unemployment, with unemployment numbers actually going down. He also touched on federal stimulus funding and what that has meant to the economy and to jobs.
“Delaware will get about $1.2 billion over the next two years,” he said, adding that some of that will go to federal projects, such as Dover Air Force Base and Amtrack. The University of Delaware has already seen about $15 million in competitive grant funds, and some of the funds will be passed down to local governments.
“When compared to the total state budget of about $3 million, it’s pretty significant,” Denn said.
He said that, rather than spend the money as fast as possible, the state is trying to be “careful and deliberate” on how the money gets spent, and they are looking to fund major economic infrastructure projects to keep the economy going in years to come.
“There’s no silver bullet,” he said of the economy. “And anyone who says there is, is just wrong.”
He pointed out that, for businesses to want to come to Delaware, improvement of the public education system is a must. “We are about seventh or eighth in country, per capita, on spending and no better than average [on performance]. And there is a huge variation between school districts.”
He noted that a law has recently been passed that will allow more public scrutiny on instructional related activities within the schools, and also one that provides financial incentives for school that do better. He said these, along with the replacement of the DSTP testing system and trying to get parents more involved, are keys to improving.
One thing that retired citizens can do, Denn said, is consider spending an hour a week mentoring a student. He said that is one question he gets often: how to use the plethora of talent in the retired community that is moving to Sussex to assist with the education and the economy. He noted that, while now-Sen. Tom Carper was governor, there were about 10,000 adults spending an hour a week in schools statewide – a number that has since diminished to about half that, he said.
“We are trying to revive some of those efforts,” Denn added.
“It surprised me how much an hour a week can make a difference,” he said. “And the teachers hear them talk about, ‘This is the day my mentor is coming,’ with excitement. An hour a week of uninterrupted, individualized attention is a rare thing for some of these kids.”
He added that ShopRite has a program upstate where employees get an hour of paid time off to mentor the students each week, and the AARP is yet another avenue of resources.
“It never occurred to me that we could use organizations like the AARP,” Denn admitted, “but I would encourage it, and I would be happy to facilitate something.” He added that there is an organization in Delaware committed to doing just that, called Connecting Generations.
Another issue directly affecting retired citizens would be the so-called “tail coverage” for doctors and dentists. He explained that, for a time after a doctor or dentist retires, they can still be sued. Such “tail coverage” would protect them after they stop practicing. Also, many retired doctors or dentists would like to volunteer their time after retirement and can’t because of provisions in insurance, he said. Legislation was recently passed saying that with respect to Veterans Administration hospitals, those provisions are not valid, and it has worked out nicely, Denn said.
“It has worked out well at the VA. They have one orthopedic surgeon than is strictly volunteer,” he noted, adding that it keeps people in Delaware off a waiting list and closer to their families. He said they are trying to see if it is feasible for other facilities, such as clinics, but they have had little support from insurance companies.
“The insurance companies say that will increase the fees for everyone, and I’m very skeptical of that,” said the state’s former insurance commissioner.
Just last year, Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-38th) was able to get legislation passed saying that retired dentists could provide care at clinics like Sussex Smiles, a Sussex County-based dental clinic for low-income adults ages 18 to 64. Because the final legislation included a provision requiring that there still needed to be a practicing dentist on-site, the center has since closed.
Because of his experience as insurance commissioner, Denn said he is watching health-care reform discussions very carefully.
“In general, health-care reform issues are long overdue,” he said. “We are watching very closely, regarding Medicaid, that there is no unanticipated impact on our state in terms of costs,” he added, saying that among line items for the state’s portion of Medicaid, it is in the top.