During Joint Finance Committee hearings last month, Delaware State University President Dr. Harry Lee Williams said that his top priority for this fiscal year is pay raises for university employees.

The university and its union representatives will continue to push for higher wages, especially for the lowest-paid employees in the state. Williams has requested $2.2 million, a four percent raise increase for all DSU employees.

About 185 employees are making less than $35,000 a year, and according to Williams, some are even using public assistance.

“We even have some of our employees, and I’m ashamed to say this, who are receiving assistance though other agencies in terms of food stamps and things of that nature,” said Dr. Williams during the hearing last month.

Thousands of state employees on public assistance

DSU isn’t the only institution where employees rely on assistance: Of the 35,000 state employees, about 3,287 received some sort of public assistance last year, according to union officials.

While the exact number of DSU employees on assistance was unavailable, union officials said that its lowest paid employees include custodians, clerical workers and law enforcement officers.

Gov. Jack Markell proposed a one percent pay raise for all state employees in his Fiscal Year 2015 budget presentation in January, which would cost the state about $15.8 million.

Michael Begatto, executive director of the Council 81 union, which represents Delaware’s public employees, said that his organization is lobbying the state for a flat dollar increase rather than a percentage raise.

Begato said that the $15.8 million budgeted for raises, divided among the state’s roughly 35,000 employees, would equate to roughly $450-$500 a person. He estimated that the flat increase would give workers making less than $50,000 a year a raise greater than one percent.

“A $500 raise would go right back into the economy,” Begatto added. “They need to buy bread and milk and gasoline to get to and from work.”

Next steps

Now that the university has made its proposals, university officials and staff must wait until the final budget is approved July 1. Last year, Williams also asked for university salary increases but was not granted the request in the final Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

If the university receives any money, DSU officials will then decide how it will be divided among its 963 employees.

The salary increase requests come as the state prepares to spend an extra $25.6 million on Medicaid expenses as the Affordable Health Care law goes into effect. The Department of Education is also seeking an extra $19 million as the state deals with an influx of students entering the public education system.

The Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council will continue to forecast FY 2015 revenue projections as lawmakers finalize the budget by the June 30 deadline.