D.C. Council Member Marion Barry Seeks to Shorten Summer Jobs Program

By Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The D.C. Council will take up a proposal today to limit the city's controversial Summer Jobs Program to six weeks, a move that could save taxpayers millions of dollars but would leave thousands of teenagers unemployed during the month of August.

The proposal comes amid growing concern from the council that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has let the program, which guarantees a summer paycheck to District residents 14 to 21 years old, spiral into an unaffordable social welfare program.

The council will debate a bill by member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) to shorten the jobs from about nine weeks to six weeks, setting the stage for a showdown with Fenty.

The program had lasted six weeks until last year, when Fenty extended its length and directed his staff to give a job to every young person who wanted one. But because of mismanagement, the city was unable to track who participated or whether they were working.

"We had a program that became a model for the country . . . but last year it became a disaster," said Barry, who started the nationally watched program three decades ago during his first year as mayor. "This council is determined not to let that happen."

Joseph P. Walsh, director of the Department of Employment Services, warned of serious consequences for individual youths and the city if Barry's bill is approved.

"District youth will lose two million hours of productive work experiences, and $300 to $500 in pay over the summer," Walsh wrote in a letter to Barry yesterday. "Your proposed action will leave thousands of District youth, who would otherwise be engaged in constructive activities and gaining valuable work experience, with idle time until school begins in late August."

Last summer, more than 21,000 job-seekers overwhelmed the system, and auditors discovered that the D.C. Department of Employment Services couldn't track where the students worked and for how many hours. Auditors learned the city had issued paychecks to thousands of young people who were ineligible or did not show up for work. They also identified 203 participants who were not city residents, costing taxpayers $276,154.

In all, the city spent $55 million on last year's program, about twice as much as had been budgeted.

Fenty has imposed several changes this year, including requiring participants to fill out electronic timecards daily.

There are already signs of trouble.

Last week, participants received e-mails that were meant for other participants and listed the wrong job assignments. A second set of e-mails blamed "computer error." Walsh said the problem has been corrected.

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