D.C.'s Troubled Youth Jobs Program Hits Snag in Firing of Placement Firm

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 2009

The District was trying to get dozens of youths back to work yesterday after its first major blunder with this year's summer jobs program, an annual undertaking that went $34 million over budget last year.

The Department of Employment Services this week contacted more than 100 participants in the Summer Youth Employment Program and told them not to report to work after the city abruptly terminated an agreement with the David Hoffman Agency. The job placement firm was finding work assignments for 400 to 500 youths and had already placed more than 100 of them.

City officials said they were concerned that the agency assigned dozens of participants to go to developers and construction companies to verify that they are complying with city law to employ District residents. Participants were told to inform companies that if they were not in compliance, they could hire youths through the summer jobs program to meet the requirement.

Mafara Hobson, spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), said the participants have been given new assignments that begin Monday, but some of them began working yesterday.

The situation drew criticism from council members closely watching the program, which last year was so mismanaged that some participants were paid even though they did not work. Several vendors charged the city exorbitant fees, although they did not serve as many youths as required by their contracts, according to internal reports and a report by the city auditor.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who founded the summer program as mayor years ago, said he feared a replay of last year's debacle.

The Committee on Housing and Workforce Development, which Barry heads, will hold a hearing Monday on the jobs program. "We've been asking that department to give us the sites, all the sites, and the number of students, young people assigned to each site," Barry said. "They don't have enough sites for these kids."

The employment services department did not have enough jobs for the 23,000 youths registered for the nine-week summer job program, which began last week, said David Hoffman, owner of the fired firm.

He said the firm was hired last Friday after meeting with Jerrianne Anthony, chief of staff for DOES.

"She wanted us . . . to create job opportunities for large numbers of kids that they couldn't find jobs for at the last minute," Hoffman said in an interview. Suddenly, the Hoffman Agency, which had previously agreed to employ and find jobs for 50 youths at no charge, was being hired to place hundreds of youths and would be paid $800 per participant, he said.

Hobson said such a payment was not discussed.

As of Monday, Hoffman said, his company had placed 131 participants. Although he said he has worked in employment placement services for a decade, his company is new and he received a business license in February.

Hobson disputed Hoffman's version, saying that it was Hoffman who approached Anthony about taking on more participants and that she never agreed to Hoffman's suggestion for compliance checks. Joseph P. Walsh Jr., employment services director, outlined the concerns in a harsh letter to Hoffman.

Meanwhile, youths were in limbo. Raven Johnson, 15, and Sade Lashman, 16, showed up Wednesday at the John A. Wilson Building to get answers from city officials.

Johnson and Lashman, who were placed by Hoffman's firm, were assigned to work at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. "We want to work. Some people would rather sit at home and get paid, but we're not like that," Johnson said.

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