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DOC, Homeland Security defend budget requests in front of state lawmakers

Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers questioned the Departments of Correction and Homeland Security about their respective budget asks Wednesday.

Members of the Joint Finance Committee dug into DOC's request for additional funding in 2022.


State Rep. David Bentz (D-Christiana) asked about a $9 million dollar increase to the department’s healthcare budget, which comes after it shifted its healthcare contract to a new provider.


DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis defended the increase.


“We hadn’t put the behavioral contract out to bid in eight years, we hadn’t put the medical contract out to bid in seven years," DeMatteis said. "So they were getting a rate of inflation increase each year but when we put the new contract out to bid we were anticipating, as well as OMB, this level of an increase.”


Lawmakers also touched on House Bill 37, which would provide early release credits to inmates serving in prison during a public health emergency, essentially releasing most inmates with less than a year left on their sentence.


DeMatteis notes at current funding levels, the probation system would not be able to handle that big of a release of inmates.


She says DOC would need at least another $2 million to support such a release of prisoners, which is not yet in the budget. The bill is currently waiting on a vote in the House.


The Department of Safety and Homeland Security also met with the Joint Finance Committee Wednesday to go over its budget requests.


One of the big topics was President Joe Biden and the effect his visits will have on the department’s budget.


Secretary Nathanial McQueen says they’ve been using overtime to provide security coverage when Biden was in the state during the transition period, and now when he visits home.


State Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown) says the committee should look at allocating some funds towards that security.


“And so that’s my concern here is these things begging to mount up as we can see," she said. "You know we can look at each one individually and say, well it’s not that much but all of a sudden the cumulative effect can be detrimental and I don’t wanna see other services or other things we depend on for public safety to have to go to the wayside.”


Briggs King says she would support appropriating special funds toward that extra security if necessary.


Lawmakers also want to ensure body armour funding remains consistent year to year. State Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Cheswold) says he doesn’t want the department to have to return each year to request body armour funding.


Roman Battaglia a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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