Summer Jobs Funds Caught in Congressional Wrangling

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Update: The House passed the $1 billion for summer jobs on Friday, May 28, but the Senate will not consider the bill until it returns from its current work break on June 7.

Original story: About $1 billion for summer jobs for the nation’s youth is still hung up in Congress over disputes on unrelated measures  – even though the continued delays threaten work programs across the country.   

The summer jobs money is part of a $192 billion catch-all bill that includes safety-net benefits such as an extension of unemployment benefits and payments to doctors under Medicare. It’s the overall cost of the bill, not the summer jobs program, that’s the sticking point.  Republicans are balking at the fact that most of the bill is not paid for, adding to the deficit. That bothers some Democrats, too, but leaders are confident they could round up enough votes, eventually.

“We’ll have the votes,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Things are just as unsettled in the Senate.

Meanwhile, states and localities are still waiting for the money that traditionally pays for programs that start just after Memorial Day, now days away. Asked whether they could afford to wait much longer, Hoyer said he was concerned about the distribution of the funds as well, but thought they could be received in time to help some young people this summer.

“If we pass something this week, I think there will be time and that’s what I’m counting on,” he told Youth Today. Hoyer noted that most high school students don’t get out of school for the summer until the middle of June.

The $1 billion is a compromise between an earlier-approved House bill that contained $600 million and a Senate proposal for $1.2 billion. The bill states that the age for “youth” employed under the act can be up to age 24.

In an effort to make the overall $192 billion bill more palatable, House leaders were working last night to trim some costs, without touching the summer jobs program. An effort to cut back on the amount of money paid to Medicare doctors, also contained in the bill, was among the items being discussed.

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 some state and local jobs programs may not be able to operate this summer if the federal money is not forthcoming.

“Teens are the lowest in the hiring queue,” said Joe McLaughlin, senior research associate in the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. “In the 1990s, you had strong growth and teens benefitted, picking up one in 10 jobs with limited or no job experience. Now, you can rely on much more experienced workers.”

A spokesman for the Department of Labor said they would get the money out to the programs as quickly as possible. Last year, the spokesman said, it went out in less than the 30 days required by the statute.

“There’s a lot of experience out there from last summer, we’re expecting that when the money does come everyone is going to be moving quickly on this,” he said.