SIMMONS: D.C.-run jobs program just not working

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OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Summer jobs programs for youths. Are they a good idea? Maybe in your state. But the D.C. program should be under investigation.

Nobody wants to begrudge an honest kid an honest dollar. Its just that Democrats have made a sham out of what could be a good thing if left in the hands of the private sector. Liberals are even pimping the very people the jobs program was designed to help.

Case in point: D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fentys attempt to extend the citys six-week program by one week.

An estimated 20,000 youths, including adults as old as 21, are participating in the six-week-long D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Participants are scattered all over the city. Some work in desk jobs, others recreational programs. Some work in the public sector and some for private businesses. Some high school students even get to work in City Hall.

The program was budgeted to cost an estimated $22.7 million. But, as usual, the Fenty administration overshot its mark.

With the mayor and most of the citys 13 lawmakers engaged in election bids, the chairman of the committee that oversees SYEP, wily Democrat Michael A. Brown, son of the late Ron Brown, held a status hearing.

Well, lo and behold, by the time bean-counter extraordinaire Deborah Nichols, the citys auditor, laid the facts on the line Monday, the truth had set lawmakers free. The Fenty administration had again overshot the SYEP budget. In fact, cost overruns over two years are estimated at $56 million.

Moreover, not only is the administration poised to overspend this years SYEP budget by nearly $11.5 million, but the mayor reprogrammed federal stimulus dollars to bridge the gap and wanted to refund the youth program with welfare money.

You read that correctly. A liberal Democrat using welfare money to pay kids to work.

Thankfully, a majority of D.C. Council members told the mayor “no” on Tuesday - and the 9-2 vote wasnt even a close call.

For Mr. Fenty, this could be a strategy to get the youth vote in a close re-election race with D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who has been spending one Saturday every month listening to youths tell him what they want - and, like their parents, they want jobs.

But the wayward SYEP, an offshoot of the federal alphabet soup of jobs and job-training programs (CETA, JTPA and WIA) that began in the 1970s, is a mockery. Todays summer jobs programs are extensions of the liberal politics of old - when women, blacks and other minorities could legitimately claim that gender biases and race-based laws shut them out of potential careers.

Most of the federal programs are designed for people deemed disadvantaged - the poor, the disabled, the young and the veteran. Train them with marketable skills, give them a leg up on employment and, presto chango, the disadvantaged become advantaged.

Not in D.C., where youths learn early on how to game the system. Some youths get paid but dont work. Some work but dont get paid.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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