"From day one, this program has not worked," said Darlene Stewart, 20, chairwoman of the D.C. Youth Congress.
She was one of about 75 youths who met yesterday at the D.C. Department of Labor with Matthew Shannon, the department's acting director, and Floyd Goff, acting assistant director for personnel. The young people went there to tell Shannon their complaints about the city's summer jobs program.
"If you [Shannon] went to the sites, you'd see people playing cards, shooting craps and talking," Stewart said, "not because they want to but because there's nothing to do."
The summer jobs program, aimed at making 30,000 jobs available to District youth with private employers and government agencies, has been plagued by confusion and criticism. Employers have complained of not getting the number of youths promised them, and the teen-agers say they are often not paid on time and are not given meaningful work.
"I was supposed to be a typist," said Antoinette Hurd, 16, "but I never typed because they didn't have enough typewriters."
"We sit there doing nothing," said Bernice Hohnson, 17, "just sitting in the hot sun."
Shannon said the program is not running smoothly in all respects, but said, "We've done the best we could to improve this year. It's almost impossible to increase numbers and maintain the quality." Last year's program involved about 15,000 youths.
"We have a better payroll system this year," Shannon said as some of the youths snickered. Laye paychiecks and inconsistent pay amounts have prompted many of their complaints.
"I've been working since June 28," said Twanna Nickens, 18, "and I got a $13.61 check" on July 24 for her work as a rental receptionist at the Lincoln-Westmoreland Apartments, 1730 Seventh St. Nw.
In response to this type of complaint, Shannon said the department has" a program for people who don't have checks."
Goff said later that his means a youth with payroll problems should notify his job monitor, who will relay the complaint to the department.Monitors visit the sites once or twice a week. Goff said.If a youth wants immediate attention, he can call Goff's officer directly, at 724-3982 through 3985.
Goff, who heads the summer program, said that some workers were issured pay advances that were deducted from later paychecks, The advances were made to youths who began work at the end of a pay period "so kids wouldn't have to work three weeks without pay," Shannon said.
Site supervisors were mailed notices informing them of the advances, and they were supposed to pass the information on to their workers, Shannon said.
But site supervisors said yesterday that they did not recieve the notices and knew nothing of the advances until the day the checks arrived and the youths asked them to explain the pay discrepancies.
And many youths, Like Nickens, said they received no pay advances and only a small check after several weeks of work.
"The did get advances," Shannon said.
"They did and work problems will be solvnd," Shannon said. A legal-size pad was passed around the crowded room so the youths could write down their concerns. Shannon and Goff promised to see that each complaint is taken care of.
Another criticism of the program has been that youths, notified late of their starting work date, would be deprived of money they could have made if they had begun the eightweek program on time.
Goff told the youths that the program has been extended an extra week to compensate for any lost time and will end Aug. 31 instead of Aug. 24. Anyone in a job whose work is scheduled to end on the earlier date may be reassigned for the final week.
In another development, Shannon said through a D.C. government spokeswoman that time cards for about 1,100 summer workers could not be found when the department's payroll officer was checked by higher level officials on July 21.