No Federal Funds in Sight for Summer Jobs

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With 2009 federal Recovery Act funding for summer jobs used up and no word yet on whether some states might be able to tap into other federal funding to pay for the programs as they did last year, local workforce investment boards are scrambling for alternatives this year. 

“In terms of local efforts, the communities are struggling, so I don’t know if there will be a lot of separate [summer jobs] programs,” said Mala Thakur, executive director of the National Youth Employment Coalition. “Probably some of the larger cities will continue to have separate programs, but I can’t speak to the smaller or medium-sized cities.”

And a U.S. Department of Labor official told Youth Today: “There is currently no dedicated DOL funding for summer employment.”

That is forcing local groups to get creative.

“No one is very optimistic about federal support at this point,” said Steve Trippe, executive director of the California nonprofit New Way to Work. “Folks are cobbling together programs with local investment and realignment of dollars,” Trippe said.  

In Minnesota where cutbacks are expected in the state’s year-round youth employment funds, youth programs coordinator for Workforce Development Inc., Marge Kuethe, said this year her group is developing an online career-readiness curriculum to connect youth to jobs and help them build a resume, prepare for an interview, etc.

In addition to cutting costs, the online tools for youth job-seekers Kuethe described “would be able to serve more youth through that independent information.”

But as for whether actual available jobs will exist for these job-seekers, Kuethe has small hopes.

The regional Workforce Investment Board in Connecticut, Capital Workforce Partners, is advocating at the state level for the $5 million in summer jobs funding it received over the past two years.  But at the same time, the board is preparing to make connections with unsubsidized youth programs in case the once-strong state support is absent in 2011.

“We are in full advocacy mode at the state level to try to – in one of the toughest budget years ever – hold onto any state investment that has been made in the past,” said spokeswoman Sandy Rodriguez.

“We’re just trying to prepare for everything on all accounts. Each year, it’s always up until the last minute to figure out what kind of program we’re going to roll out,” Rodriguez said. “To some extent, the youth and parents have expectations. We’ve built a strong program, so they’re expecting something, which makes it tougher to make sure we can roll out a quality program.”

While emphasizing the importance of summer jobs programs, the Labor Department official said he is not ruling out the possibility of another collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services for renewal of its Temporary Assistance to Needy Families TAN-F funding or even the chance there might be something specifically devoted to summer youth employment in a 2011 federal budget. The government is now operating under a continuing resolution that expires in March.  Congress could extend the continuing resolution again or consider separate budget bills.

Thakur, active at the federal level as the leader of a national network of youth employment nonprofits, said she has yet to hear about 2011 TAN-F funding for summer jobs, which was used by at least 12 states plus Washington, D.C. last summer.

She said that with a brand new Congress just beginning this month it is still tough to label summer employment’s outlook as dismal for certain. “Not too much is moving on this front, much to our dismay. And we’re all trying to think through with the new Congress about how and when they’re going to approach this.”