D.C. Council rejects moving funds to extend under-budgeted summer jobs program

By nikita stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 4, 2010; B04

The D.C. Council soundly rejected a plan Tuesday by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to extend this year's overbudgeted summer jobs program for seven days by diverting $4.3 million from a federal anti-poverty program.

Council members voted 9 to 2 against the measure saying Fenty has routinely disregarded the council's budget authority, mismanaged the program and put members in the unenviable position of either approving one more paycheck for youths or cutting housing for 135 to 250 homeless families this year.

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who is running for reelection, called it "political theater" and said he expected the administration to characterize the council's vote as one against youths. But he said his colleagues had to stick with the budget. "He's coming here to try to get bailed out of fiscal irresponsibility," Mendelson said of the mayor.

Fenty and his administration could not be reached for comment.

Some council members focused on the mayor's budget record -- which they say has been distinguished by cost overruns -- and specifically the mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program. In 2008, the program ran more than $30 million over budget for a cost of $55 million.

In May, the council approved the mayor's summer jobs program at $22.7 million, but the cost for the six-week program is now estimated at $29.8 million. Fenty had already shifted stimulus money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to make up the difference but requested the $4.3 million in additional funds for the extension.

Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) voted in favor of Fenty's proposal. Council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) were not present.

Bowser said she did not see the distinction between taking TANF money from the budget of the Department of Human Services to give to employment of youths in the Department of Employment Services. "As far as I'm concerned, summer employment is human services," she said.

But council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Committee on Human Services, said the city's homeless program suffered significant cuts last year, jeopardizing shelter and permanent housing for homeless families.

Wells added that he needed to "clear up some misperceptions" presented by Joseph P. Walsh, director of the Department of Employment Services, during testimony at a hearing on summer jobs Monday. He said Walsh gave the impression the TANF funds had to be used immediately, making the case that the money should pay for extending the jobs program. However, Wells said: "That money was intended for homeless services. That money was budgeted for homeless services."

The council had heard testimony on Monday from some teenagers, and some participants of the program attended Tuesday. Noel Longmore, a 16-year-old working in the Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, was tearful after the vote. "I'm very upset about it. It was a nice experience. I had a job to go to," said Longmore, lamenting that her last day will be Friday. "It's kind of upsetting that we had to take money from that (poverty program). But some kids, like, help their moms pay their bills. . . . I was going to get my school clothes. My mom could spend money on stuff" other than some school supplies.

Earlier, council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) tried to shift the blame on Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, who he said knew about the cost overruns in May and failed to inform the council. He said if the mayor had not asked for the extension, "not one member would have been informed that we were over budget."

Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), who heads the committee that oversees the summer jobs program, said the council's vote signaled its weariness of the mayor's management of the budget. "You can't just continue to blow through budgets with no consequences," he said.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), Fenty's chief rival in the mayoral primary who has been campaigning on his fiscal prudence, voted against the measure. "This mayor is setting the wrong example for our youth, and his mismanagement is ultimately hurting the kids this program is designed to help," he said in a statement through his campaign.

The council also rejected the mayor's nomination of Republican Mital Gandhi to the Board of Elections and Ethics. The mayor nominated Gandhi to fill the seat on the board reserved for a member of a minority party. In June, the council declined to act on Gandhi's nomination after members questioned his experience.

When a second potential vacancy arose last month after the news that Chairman Errol Arthur would be resigning, Fenty nominated former Army secretary Togo D. West Jr. to replace Arthur. The council confirmed West last week.

In an e-mail after his nomination was defeated 7 to 4, Gandhi said the vote signaled council support for Gray.

In recent days, the D.C. Republican Committee and three GOP candidates running for council have stepped up pressure on the council to confirm Gandhi. Failing to do so, they argued, was disenfranchising the city's 29,000 registered Republicans.

Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company