At least 15 youth employment programs in Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- which last year helped about 1,000 youths train for jobs, find jobs, or return to school -- will close by Sept. 30.

Even though Congress earlier this year authorized $576 million through Title 4 of CETA for these programs and programs like them across the country, the money has not been appropriated. While appropriation does not normally occur until the end of the fiscal year, program organizers say, the difference this year is that the Department of Labor has told them not to count on getting the money.

Uncertain of when, if ever, they will get the money they need to continue, organizers of these programs are closing their doors by the end of this fiscal year.

One of these projects, a Youth Community and Conservation Improvement Program (YCCIP) that has dubbed itself Sunshine Youth Service, has been operating out of a little wooden cottage on Forest Glen Road in Silver Spring for two and a half years. During the past year, it gave 60 people job training, jobs, and high school courses.

This week, job listings were pinned beneath photos of teen-agers painting and hammering, and below certificates of appreciation from Centers for the Handicapped and the Montgomery County government. The newspaper on the table was opened to the Help Wanted page.

One month ago, 22 youths worked out of this youth center: "sweat work for a minimum wage," supervisor Ralph Apperti called it. It was a job, though, and a chance for the high school dropouts -- most from lower-income families and several with criminal records -- to make it.

"We learned a lot," said Karen Florwick, a 16-year-old high school dropout from Rockville who will leave the Sunshine program next week. Since November she has been doing construction work for charitable organizations, groups that could not afford to hire professionals.

She has built toys and patios, sidewalks, walls and wheelchair ramps. Like all the youths in the program, she went to classes two mornings a week. Last month she received her Graduate Equivalency Diploma. In January, the 10th grade dropout plans to enter Montgomery College to study English and mathematics.

"They shouldn't close it down," said Frank Proctor, an 18-year-old YCCIP participant. "This program was worth the money they put into it. I know a lot of people who ought to be here right now."

Proctor left school when he was a high school junior. A native of New York City, he said he did some "street hustling" when he was younger. Closing programs like this, he said, will lead people like him back to the world they thought they had left behind. "Unemployment and crime is going to get higher," he said.

"Sabotage." That's what Odelia Hamer of the Silver Spring Division of Labor called the closing of these programs. Her job was to monitor the YCCIP projects, and other federally funded youth employment programs, in Montgomery County. "We have sufficient crews, we have shown that we can do it," she said.

Even if the money comes, she said, the time lag means the reputation of work groups will have faded and will have to be rebuilt. "It took seven or eight months to build it," she said. "That's frustrating. It's sabotaging all that's gone before.

"I think you"ll see more problems with kids, more delinquency," she said.

Hamer is losing her job because of the program cuts. She said she is planning to change her profession because she fears further cuts. "I am kind of skeptical of another county or government job," she said.

Unlike most other supervisors of youth employment programs, Lynda Given, a senior planner with the division of Labor Services in Montgomery County, said she was given clear instructions by the Department of Labor: "They told us that we should plan to have all participants out of programs by Sept. 30."

More optimistic than most youth employment supervisors, she thinks it likely that funds eventually will be appropriated. "But it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to plan youth programs," she said.

Youth employment programs in Montgomery County that will be cut include:

* Two YCCIP projects, which received $160,000 last year.

* Project Jobs, an after-school program aimed at helping poor youths find and retain full-time and summer jobs run under the Youth Employment Training Program, which received $46,000. About 90 youths are involved.

* A similar program for handicapped youths, run at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and Walter Johnson High School.

* E4, a program operated by the Montgomery County Mental Health Association for youths receiving residential treatment and supervision in places like Karma House, Boys and Girls Home, and children in foster care, offering them counseling, job assessment and placement, and encouraging dropouts to return to school. This program served 75 youths last year.

* Six youth service bureaus funded to help youth find jobs.

In Prince George's County, in-school programs are receiving the heaviest blows. Lee Bowen, director of youth employment services for the Board of Education, said school-operated but federally funded services will stop.

"Last year we served the disadvantaged and the handicapped in 23 secondary schools," he said. "Because they've folded a tent on youth money we're no longer able to serve these young people. We had a professional staff of 16 people and that's been decimated."

Now, he said, the school system will use one professional liaison and a clerk to do what it can.

"I think it's going to be a tremendous loss," said Edith Jamison, director of a YCCIP program run by United Communities Against Poverty in Landover. Fifteen youths took part in the program there during the last year.

"I have seen kids coming in at first with no responsibilitiy, and as time goes by some of them learned how to go about things," she said. "Their approach has changed. It has changed their lives."

Prince George's already has lost in-school programs that help students -- especially handicapped and economically disadvantaged students -- find jobs. About 500 students were served by these programs last year.

By the end of September, three YCCIP programs will close: one operated in Landover by United Communities Against Poverty, Inc., one run by the Bowie YMCA, and a third run by Early Learning Inc. in College Park.

But with just days remaining for most of these programs, the fight to save them continues. Jamison is trying to rearrange her YCCIP program to keep it alive. If it is directed toward preparing youths for jobs, rather than getting them back to school, Jamison hopes it can get funds from Title 7 of CETA, which is more concerned with industry than with education.

Apperti, too, is trying to rescue his program -- so far with no signs of success. Two weeks ago he met with Montgomery County physical maintenance officials hoping to get a commitment for jobs. "The answer was a flat 'no,' " Apperti said.

He and Sunshine program director Kacey Conley are now preparing a proposition paper for an equivalent program to submit to the county government. "Even if it was a loan to prime the pump, so to speak, I think it would give us enough to get it going, to be self-supporting," Apperti said.