Barry: Expect Weekly Hearings on Summer Jobs

Barry: Expect Weekly Hearings on Summer Jobs was originally published on City Desk on May. 01, 2009, at 1:26 pm

This morning, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty provided yet another update on the status of his beloved summer jobs program. Almost 24,000 kids have signed up, “the highest level of enrollment in decades” with a “record number of job opportunities,” according to a news release.

Fenty has committed to accommodating all comers, even though last year’s program went more than $30 million over budget under a similar lack of constraints.

In recent days, the spiritual godfather of D.C. summer jobs has made it clear he doesn’t share Hizzoner’s expansive view of the program.

“I’m not going to participate in this craziness,” says Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, who started the Summer Youth Employment Program as mayor in 1979. It’s widely regarded as one of Barry’s political masterstrokes, engendering almost unanimous and endless goodwill from an entire generation of Washingtonians.

Barry, however, is not sold on Fenty’s plans, he tells LL.

For one thing, through his council committee, he has proposed cutting $20 million from Fenty’s proposed $42.9 million budget for the 2010 program. To do that, he recommends that the program be scaled back from 10 weeks to 6 weeks, that registrations close on April 1 rather than continue through the summer, and that participation be capped at 21,000.

And, as far as this year’s program goes, he wants to see a spending plan. Two weeks ago, Fenty announced he was seeking to double the $21 million he’d originally budgeted. To do that, he’s asking the council to tap a “community benefit fund” associated with the Nationals Park authorization, though no spending plan has yet to be submitted.

“You’re asking for trouble,” Barry tells LL—intimating a tough council fight to get the supplemental spending approved.

Fenty’s approach to the program, Barry says, “teaches these kids bad habits”—that anyone who applies is simply handed a job. Some of the placements are made in the private sector and federal government, but the vast majority of kids are employed by the District government.

Barry’s objections come at the same time that the Brookings Institute’s Greater Washington Research program has raised questions about summer jobs—a effort providing “uncertain, uneven, and sometimes really bad outcomes”—sucking up the vast majority of the local dollars spent on employment programs in the city.

No matter what happens with the funding, Barry says he vows to hold weekly oversight hearings into the operations of the program—all 10 weeks of the program, “even during the council recess.”

“I’m gonna put pressure on him,” Barry says of Fenty. “I’m gonna blow the whistle if it ain’t right.”

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