As Summer Jobs Program Grows, Fenty Requests Funding Increase

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 26, 2009

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said the city needs $45 million to operate its annual summer youth jobs program, which is shaping up to have its largest number of participants since the 1980s as young people seek work to provide for their families.

The request to the D.C. Council will be more than double the $21 million originally budgeted to accommodate an expected 15,000 applicants. As of last week, more than 20,000 youths had registered online -- an indication that the number will surpass that of last year, when the city hired more than 21,000 young people. The registration deadline is Friday.

Last year's program was mired in mismanagement and cost overruns. Fenty's administration is trying to prevent a recurrence by reducing the number of contractors that will employ youths and by keeping better track of participants and their paychecks.

Fenty (D) and city officials used a Southeast neighborhood as a backdrop for a news conference last week. They said young people need to earn money for more than school clothes this year: They will be breadwinners.

"They're really providing income for their whole family because of the economic condition right now," Joseph P. Walsh Jr., acting director of the Department of Employment Services, said in an interview.

Fenty spoke on the front lawn of the East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership, a nonprofit entity where 23 summer jobs participants will work. Before the event, he wandered over to a small group of young men standing across the street.

"My man Fenty jumped out of the hybrid and came over here. Never too big to say what's happening," said Julio Perez, 25, referring to the mayor's Smart car. "I'm too old [for the program]. He told me about an apprenticeship program. . . . I don't want a job. I need to have a skill. I have too many mouths to feed."

Pointing to two youths standing beside him, he added: "They're young enough. Mayor Fenty came over here and leaned on them a little bit."

The young men said they would register by Friday because they cannot find other jobs.

District residents must be between 14 and 21 years old for the program, which begins June 18 and runs just over nine weeks.

Fenty said he will ask the council to tap the Community Benefit Fund, a revenue fund created when the city approved the construction of Nationals Park. By law, the fund is supposed to be used for recreation centers, libraries, small-business development, job training and readiness programs and other "community benefits."

The mayor said he wanted to take about $24 million from the fund for the jobs program. The fund has $23.4 million available, said David Umansky, a spokesman for the office of the chief financial officer.

Last year, some council members balked at the mayor's request to use the fund for earmarks for various organizations, eventually settling on some of his choices and more council choices.

The fund is "available for pressing community needs," Fenty said. "It's the administration's position that it fits."

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