Congress: Dithering on Summer Jobs

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With Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer job season, rapidly approaching, Congress is still dithering over allocating money for seasonal youth work, putting many critical jobs programs in limbo.

Earlier this spring, the House approved $600 million for summer jobs, but the Senate failed to act when Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) used a budget technicality to stop the money from being attached to a tax bill.

Undeterred, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a champion of the summer jobs funding, is trying again, this time to add $1.3 billion in spending. She is attempting to get the funding included in a House-Senate conference committee considering the tax “extenders” bill (which extends various tax provisions) along with some other items like Medicare payments to doctors and black farmers’ discrimination claims.

““I have met with so many young people whose lives were turned around by last year’s summer jobs program,” Murray told Youth Today.

She said summer jobs give young people “a constructive way to spend their summer, put money back into our economy, and prepare a new generation of workers for the future. It’s absolutely critical that we pass funding soon so we can get local jobs programs up and running immediately.”

Democratic leaders have agreed to find “offsets,” i.e. spending cuts, for the summer jobs money and the other programs they want to fund, but have not yet agreed on the amount of the funding, and that is delaying the jobs program as well. Congressional leaders hope to act on the overall tax bill – with the summer jobs included – before the Memorial Day recess, but have not yet scheduled a time to vote. That will depend on the outcome of the conference committee discussions.

The offsets may well determine the fate of the bill. A spokeswoman for Gregg said the senator has not yet seen the “final” conference report, “so it is premature to comment on that particular provision at this point. It would depend on the language itself, and whether or not the funding has been paid for.”

Ways and Means Committee spokesman Matthew Beck said the conference members are “working to see if we can come to an agreement. We’re still working on nailing down the paid-fors and we’re talking to Senate Finance (Committee members) every day. We’re still on track for wrapping up by the end of the month.”

The 2009 Recovery Act included $1.2 billion for nearly 320,000 young summer workers and that was labeled a complete success, according to the Labor Department. But that money is running out, and the youth who were successfully placed in jobs like landscaping in state parks, maintaining schools and doing administrative work in government agencies may be on the street again if Congress does not act.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has labeled summer jobs a “triple win. It gives young people real work experience, provides a measure of relief to those working families who are struggling during tough times and allows employers to give back to their communities," she said in a report evaluating the success of the youth jobs.

Some states are moving ahead with funding for summer jobs in lieu of federal money, but not all, according to Stateline.org, a website that tracks state governments. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick committee $4 million in state money to a youth jobs program, Stateline.org reported, but Wisconsin is facing the end of a “Work Certified” program for at-risk young people.

Studies by Northeastern University professor Andrew Sum, an expert on teens and jobs, show that working youth stay out of trouble, stay off drugs, and are less likely to become pregnant. In addition, Sum found that for every year that teens work, their income in the next decade of their life rises 14 percent to 16 percent.