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Council members look to expand summer youth jobs program

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Published on: Monday, June 24, 2013

By Kayla Faria

Prince George’s County Council’s Committee on Health, Education and Human Services amended and moved a bill to reform the summer youth jobs program that employs 480 of the county’s youth last Wednesday afternoon in Upper Marlboro.

Sponsored by Councilman Mel Franklin, District 9, the bill is aimed at expanding the county’s 6-week Summer Youth Enrichment Program that links youth with “enriching and constructive summer work experiences,” according to the county government website. Operated by the Office of Human Resources Management, the youth jobs program received more than 4,000 applications for summer 2013.

“The vision really is to, you know, really to increase our numbers more and to really make sure (that) we’re reaching out to (the) private sector as a secondary market,” Human Resources Management Director Stephanie Maxwell said in an interview.

Modeled after legislation in the District, the bill encourages the program’s director to seek out partnerships with private sector businesses that would share wage costs. County youth are now primarily employed in government-sector jobs.

Franklin also initially drafted the bill to extend the program’s age eligibility requirement to 14 to 21.

Council members Mary Lehman, District 1, and Ingrid Turner, District 4, opposed the age extension that was eventually removed from the legislation piece.

“We’re not even hitting a good chunk of the 15 to 19” age range, Turner said. “Why are we expanding it?”

“It’s just too much competition,” Lehman added. “They have other opportunities.”

The bill initially proposed that the program director “use best efforts” to designate half of the available jobs to youth living in households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. It required applicants to provide their household’s most recent federal or state tax return.

Some said requiring the tax return would make the program more exclusionary.

“You don’t want to make it onerous for the families,” Lehman said.

But extra steps in the application process were not the only concerns with targeting youth from low-income households.

“I’m kind of starting — this may be bad — but I’m kind of starting to feel like every program has to be for TNI (Transforming Neighborhood Initiative) neighborhoods, every program has to be for children that are at the poverty level,” Turner said.

Currently, 33 percent of the employed youths in the program represent TNI neighborhoods, Maxwell said.   

“While I am for giving, you know, extra, kind of, you know, hand up and assistance to kids living in poverty,” Lehman continued, “I question that formula of 50 percent.”

“Maybe half is too high,” Franklin conceded.

Turner pointed to her constituents and constituents from other districts with higher income levels interested in the program. 

“We can’t continue to exclude some kids at the cost of other kids,” Turner said. “Kids in all neighborhoods need those type of experiences. Communities all pay taxes here to help their kids.”

Transportation, particularly in northern and southern Prince George’s County communities, was the driving force behind the decision to remove the 25-hour workweek limit that was initially outlined in the bill.  

“Public transportation in Prince George’s County is abysmal,” Lehman said. “It could take you half a day to get to a job.”

Teenagers who are driven to work each day would have to wait for parents that are likely working full time, Maxwell said.

The Bus system now allows the program’s youth to ride the bus free of charge.

The summer youth jobs program received $1,140,500 from the county executive and council in fiscal year 2013, according to a memorandum published by the county government’s Office of Audits and Investigations.

Lehman talked about the frustration of allocating “extra money” in 2012 to expand the program only to see it not expand. 

But the program has added 97 more youth jobs than it did in summer 2012, according to Maxwell’s estimates.

While some pointed to a lack of resources and staffing issues as challenges in growing the program, Franklin said the bill provides “flexibility” without creating a “huge additional burden.”

“It doesn’t grow the program itself unless we actually grow the funding,” he said.  

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