The $130 million in spending cuts ordered this month by Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon could force severe cuts in the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program that put nearly 14,000 city teenagers to work last summer, and local business leaders say they may not be able to provide a bailout.

D.C. officials warn that cuts of 40 to 50 percent in the two city agencies that fund the program could cripple the popular enterprise that employs youths in training and enrichment programs and was one of former mayor Marion Barry's most touted legacies.

Those jobs "are going to get hit from a number of sectors," said Barbara Nicholson, head of the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities. The commission has funded the program indirectly with grants to local nonprofit groups that hire teenagers and could be hit with a funding cut of 51.5 percent.

"If the proposed cuts to all the agencies that fund this program are implemented, it's going to become devastating," Nicholson said.

The program is directly funded and run by the D.C. Department of Employment Services, for which the new mayor has suggested a 40.5 percent budget cut as part of an effort to offset a projected $300 million deficit. Last year the agency paid more than $12 million to various nonprofit agencies and school programs to create the work and study posts.

Richard Roughton, who hires 250 D.C. youths every summer to participate in various enrichment programs at American University, said any cuts would mean more kids in fewer programs.

But others, such as Ulysis Garner, executive director of D.C. ArtWorks, which offered art positions to 1,500 young people last summer, are more pessimistic. He said he is worried that department cuts of the dimension proposed threaten to gut the program and undercut one of the missions of his agency.

"It will devastate our program," he said.

"It's going to be such a shock to the kids," said Carol Foster, a volunteer director of the D.C. Youth Ensemble, who has worked with thousands of teenagers since she founded the program in 1981. "Most kids have too much idle time in the summer. Where are they going to go?"

Darrel Hardy, head of the Summer Youth Program, declined to comment, saying that the cuts are still just a proposal and that it is too early to gauge the impact.

But Nicholson and others said the budget pinch will mean that more efforts must be made to solicit the private sector for the program.

The District contributes significantly more money to summer jobs than most other cities in the country, according to U.S. Labor Department officials. Critics of the program have long said its weakness is that most of the jobs are in government and nonprofit agencies heavily subsidized by the government.

"People have taken for granted city support," Nicholson said. "It's healthy to be frightened sometimes."

Some local business leaders said they are skeptical that the private sector has the capacity to invest in these programs, considering the souring of the local economy and the rising unemployment rate.

"The economy being what it is, the corporate community is severely strained already," said Douglas Wheeler, of the Washington Performing Arts Society, which funds several educational programs around the city with private donations. "I don't have a lot of confidence that the private sector has the resources to take up the slack."

Harry Linowes, a senior partner at BDO Seidman and a longtime art patron, agreed.

"Our biggest {local} industry was our real estate industry and it's being devastated," Linowes said.

Deputy Mayor for Finance Robert Pohlman has defended the cuts as essential to the solvency of the city, and this week's announcement by D.C. municipal union leaders that they would reject deferred pay raises and furloughs to reduce the deficit has brought new pressure.

But Garner, of D.C. ArtWorks, said the jobs program is not expendable.

"We have to prioritize," he said. "We can incarcerate 35 people for the same amount as we spend to run a program for 1,500 young people in the summer."