The District failed again to meet annual federal targets for placing unemployed youths in jobs or employment readiness classes, putting the city at risk for financial sanctions for the second year in a row, according to a U.S. Labor Department letter to the city.
Partly because of the underspending, the city had only 88 youths in federally funded job training programs in the three months ended Sept. 30. That compares with about 7,000 young people, ages 18 to 24, who are both jobless and out of school and thus would benefit from such training.
Despite the criticisms, Deputy Mayor Courtney R. Snowden said Labor was “very unlikely” to impose sanctions because of what she portrayed as a major new effort by the city to repair its relations with the federal department.
The latest evidence of chronic dysfunction at the District’s workforce agencies drew condemnation at a D.C. Council public roundtable Wednesday called by council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-At Large).
The hearing focused on bureaucratic obstacles that have blocked the spending of tens of millions of dollars in recent years to provide job training that could have helped thousands of the unemployed to find work. The underspending came as city leaders lament that high unemployment in poor neighborhoods is fueling crime.
“The District has consistently had problems spending this money,” said Orange, who chairs the committee on business, consumer and regulatory affairs. “We need to get our act together, and we need to act posthaste.”
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said the city’s “willful neglect” had led to cancellation of classes to help dropouts get their high school equivalency, known as the GED. She said the city’s explanation of what went wrong was “maddening.”
Noting that unemployment was disproportionately high in African American neighborhoods, Silverman said, “We need to go from saying ‘black lives matter’ to proving that black lives matter.”
The city’s shortcomings in youth job training were a major focus of the quarterly letter from Labor to Snowden.
It said the city was supposed to place 64 percent of participants in education or employment in the program year that ended June 30, but it only managed to do so for 39 percent.
Because it missed the target for two straight years, the letter said, “the District is eligible for financial sanctions for a second consecutive year.”
Such penalties would be tiny but of symbolic importance. Snowden said she expected Labor to refrain from imposing them because she has stepped up city efforts to satisfy Labor’s concerns.
For instance, she recently formed a “turnaround team” focused on making reforms to persuade Labor to lift the District’s designation as being a “high-risk” partner. The city is the only jurisdiction in the nation to have that label for job training and employment programs.
The Labor letter said that youth program expenditures “continue to be very low” and that the city had spent only 38 percent of its funds for the program year that ended in mid-2014 and none of its funds for the following two years.
“This leaves an unexpended balance of $5.3 million across three years of funding to serve disconnected youth in the District,” the letter said.
City officials have said previously that the youth programs were underenrolled for multiple reasons, including a misguided effort in 2014 to tighten academic requirements for youths to be eligible for job training. Too few youths met the standard, they said.
In addition, after some programs were phased out in early 2015, the city was too slow to launch new ones.
Snowden, who is deputy mayor for greater economic opportunity, reaffirmed earlier pledges that the youth programs would be revived soon.
“It will be a lot easier to enroll young people in those programs and we will see those numbers increase,” she said. “We will get that money out the door.”