DC Summer Youth Employment Program In Trouble Again

Last year, the District’s Summer Youth Employment Program turned into a scandal. A cost overrun of about $40.5 million over the original budget. At least 3,000 people receiving paychecks who were ineligible to participate, had been fired or never shown up in the first place. And that’s only part of it.

As Mayor Fenty acknowledged, the program hadn’t been “managed or administered the way the residents of the District of Columbia expect.” (Classic understatement!) As he didn’t acknowledge, program staff were overwhelmed because he decided to eliminate both the registration deadline and the cap on enrollment.

For this summer’s program, the City Council appropriated $23 million and specified an enrollment of no more than 21,000 youth. The Mayor apparently didn’t take this seriously. On May 1, he triumphantly  announced that nearly 24,000 youth had registered. The budget apparently wouldn’t have covered even the mandated maximum because program costs are now estimated at $45 million.

So the Mayor wants permission to tap the National Stadium Community Fund. As the DC Fiscal Policy Institute says, the fund was intended to cover important unmet community needs, not over-extended programs.

The Mayor says that the SYEP qualifies because young people have to be breadwinners in these tough times. Long-time children’s advocate Susie Cambria has a sharp response to this.

A majority of the City Council voted instead to cut the program from ten weeks to six–the length it was before the Mayor extended it. However, more than a majority (nine votes) was required to make the change immediately effective.

So here we are at the beginning of summer with many more young people expecting to work than there’s money to pay for.

This is more than a symptom of the tensions between the Mayor and the City Council. And more than a question of how to manage a cost overrun in this tough budget year.

Experts doubt that the SYEP can ensure a successful experience for anything like the number enrolled. In a posting on the Mayor’s proposed budget, Martha Ross of the Brookings Institution estimated the maximum at fewer than 15,000.

Ross and several other experts have joined in an open letter to the City Council that puts the issue in a nutshell: “The goal of providing income and something to do during the summer months for as many youth as possible appears to have supplanted the goal of developing a meaningful, high-quality youth employment program.”

They recommend that the District operate this year’s program within budget and run a smaller, perhaps shorter program in 2010 so that the Department of Employment Services can focus on changes that will provide participants with meaningful preparation for the world of work.

They also recommend enhancements to the city’s year-round workforce development program, with a focus on “disconnected youth,” i.e., young people who are out of school and out of work. Funds for this would be available if, as Ross urges, the District  focused its youth employment efforts on quality, not quantity.

What’s so troubling about this is that it’s all old news–the issues, the recommendations, the commitments to improvements. And meanwhile young people, especially those from low-income families, are being shortchanged by a program we’re being asked to throw more money at.

10 Responses to DC Summer Youth Employment Program In Trouble Again

  1. Chris says:

    The DC SYEP is in crtical need of an overhaul. The first steps to take is to limit the age group from 14-18 years old. After the age of 18, you should have full time employment and/or college student seeking a viable internship. Next, why do we pay youth to attend summer school. If they did not attend school during the year, what will change. You need to get a management staff that talks to it’s staff. SYEP front-line staff do not recieve daily and/or weekly brifings of what is happening or what should happen. SYEP staff answer phones and sit at front desk without the correct information due to managers not talking to them.

  2. kathrynbaer says:

    Thanks so much for adding these interesting and constructive recommendations, Chris. They’ve given me and, I hope, others insights into what could be done to improve it–and bring its costs within budget.

  3. I thank you for your article. It is very informative and thought provoking.

  4. Danielle says:

    Hi,
    I am 20 years old and employed in summer youth this year. It helps a lot me a lot. I believe they should not only focus on 14-18 years old. I’m still considered a youth in many ways but its not that easy for me and others in my same age group. Is easy for someone to share opinions for change. I’m scared I won’t be helped because I’m older. It’s hard to be young and low income. 14-18 aren’t the only age that should be on focus, we that are 18+ live with families who are low income and can no longer provide. The younger groups have some type of parent or guardian who can do a lot more but still a fact that All of our parents are low income. I personally grew up in foster care and just aged out at 20 years and am in need of desperate help. I’m thankful for the programs that fous on my area of help but I wish them not to be eliminated. I attend a program year round that focuses on ages 16-24.I hope to be ready and to succeed with all the help and support from these type of programs by 23 years. Thanks

  5. kathrynbaer says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Danielle. Certainly you and other low-income youth should be helped. What we all want are programs that will address your needs—not just for short-term income, but for job training and other support. So I too hope that the program you’re in will help you be ready to succeed. Best wishes for a secure, satisfying future.

  6. Karla says:

    I have alway felt the summer job program, should only be 6 weeks not the entire summer. I understand that city officials are attempting to occupy the idle time may youth would have without the SYEP, but with that being said, the city can not continue to supply job opportunities without the funding to support this effort. The real problem is there should be a cap on the number of job alotted for the program. There are statistic somewhere in the city to determines the number of 14-21 years olds who are eligible for summer employment. This should also be an introduction to real employment, where else are you going to go and everyone is promised a job that appliesm, no where. There must be firm cut off dates as well. Better enforcement of who is eligible for the program. Currently DC is paying young people who live in the other jurisdictions under the SYEP. I agree with the earlier comment, we should not be paying student to go to summer school. In the surrounding area you have pay to go to summer school, in DC you get paid to go to summer school (Go figure). That jus stupid.

  7. Eric Hodges says:

    Hello I just read that SYEP program(which I am in) might not have enough money to continue the 10 week program their talking about cutting it back down to 6 weeks my question is are they going to cut it down to six weeks this year they also said that july 22 they’ll make their decision I think more than likey they’ll close it early this year thanks to some youths getting over paid last year.

  8. kathrynbaer says:

    Eric, I suggest you talk to someone at SYEP for the official word on how long this year’s program will run. But I can tell you this: The reason the Fenty administration and City Council are thinking about reducing the length of the program is that the government has a serious budget problem.

  9. asyep says:

    As I stated, I strongly urge the growth of the Summer Youth Employment program and the restructuring of its administration so that it will be best suited to provide the required oversight.

    I am lobbying for a structure that would remarkably allow all city youth (within the set age range) to participate in the Summer Youth Employment Program, at one time. This means making the funding for SYEP and the rebuilding of its administration a top priority.

    DOES (Department of Employment Services) is not doing a good job, whatsoever, with providing viable oversight for this program, but I still support the growth of the program and look forward to even more participants in 2010. I know it sounds somewhat contradicting, knowing the case.

    I would support relieving DOES from its nearly 22 years of responsibility for SYEP, if it transfers into the right hands, but as long as it’s with them, we now need to start making some major changes. We need to involve people like myself in the planning from day one before the program starts for the Summer.

    I feel this way simply, because the participants aren’t the problem, it’s the current administrations lack of ability to manage a large program, that I urge will expand.

    However, in the meantime they must expand the budget and allow more participants, so that we may show that the program is still beneficial to our city and our youth.

  10. […] the program has a history of administrative and financial troubles. These stem from a long-standing preference for maximizing enrollments, combined with a certain […]

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