- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Attorney General Matt Denn is proposing to direct almost $37 million from a major bank settlement to Delaware’s most economically distressed and crime-stricken areas in an effort to address social issues related to the state’s growing violent crime problem.

Denn on Wednesday unveiled a wide-ranging plan that would spend about $16 million to expand substance abuse treatment programs, after-school and summer programs for children in poor neighborhoods, re-entry programs for criminals being released from prison, and community policing efforts. He also proposes spending almost $5 million on teachers and teaching assistants at the 16 public elementary schools with the highest percentage of low-income students. Each school would receive $300,000 over three years.

Denn’s other proposals include spending about $16 million on affordable housing and economic development, including $1.5 million on foreclosure prevention, $4 million for down payment assistance to people purchasing homes in designated downtown development districts and $10 million for a fund dedicated to the creation of affordable housing.

Denn said he believes the problems targeted by his proposed community improvement initiative are directly connected to efforts to combat crime.

“These problems are part of what underlays our violent crime problems,” he said.

The plan has the backing of Democratic Gov. Jack Markell, the state teachers union, law enforcement and local elected officials in Wilmington.

But members of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will have the final say on how to spend the money, which would come from Delaware’s share of a multistate bank settlement last year related to the implosion of the housing market and 2008 financial meltdown.

“I know there’s some people that have their own ideas on where the money should go,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth. “That’s something they can take up with the attorney general.”

Denn said he’s willing to discuss his proposal with lawmakers but also noted that the settlement money was not intended “to patch holes in the budget.”

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a hard sell or not. These legislators pay close attention to what’s going on. I think they perceive that there is a problem,” Denn said

Denn said he’s encouraged that finance committee members have agreed to consider the proposal early next month, separate from their regular budget work.

“That alone indicates to me that they understand the urgency,” he said.

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