Proposed Federal Bill Would Create New Job Programs for Opportunity Youth

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WASHINGTON — Teenagers and young adults who are not in school or working could get a boost from proposed federal legislation that would create new job programs and expand community-based support.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, on Thursday introduced the Opening Doors for Youth Act of 2016, legislation that would create grant programs to support jobs for youth ages 14 to 24; year-round employment for those ages 16 to 24; and local community partnerships dedicated to improving rates of high school graduation and youth employment.

More than 5 million teenagers and young adults are disconnected from school and work, a cohort known as opportunity youth. Without support that can get them back on track, they face tough odds, including lack of employment, worse health outcomes and a greater likelihood of entering the criminal justice system.

“This disconnection leaves them without the solid foundation of education, early work experience, and the skills they need to get on the path toward a good job. The Opening Doors for Youth Act will put young people to work and support community efforts to keep youth connected to school and training,” said Scott, ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, in a news release.

The bill would authorize funding for three new programs under the Labor Department:

  • $1.5 billion for Summer Employment Opportunities for Youth;
  • $2 billion for Year-Round Employment for Opportunity Youth; and
  • $2 billion for the Connecting-for-Opportunities Competitive Grant Program.

The summer program would require providers to match youth with paying jobs for at least four weeks, and the year-round program would require providers to match youth with jobs for at least 180 days. Providers in both programs would have to offer additional services such as mentoring and coaching and measure their success at connecting youth to jobs.

The National League of Cities weighed in with support for the bill, saying that summer and after-school programs are key to workforce development. Cities direct local funding to those programs but too often “these resources are not enough to meet the demand and many seek the support of private investment to provide as many work opportunities to young people in their communities as possible,” the group wrote in a letter to Scott.

Other groups including America Forward, the Aspen Institute, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Heartland Alliance, the National Youth Employment Coalition, the National Skills Coalition, the National Summer Learning Association, Opportunity Nation, SPARK and Young Invincibles also have expressed support for the legislation.

SPARK, a national youth mentoring organization, applauded the legislation’s inclusion of community groups that work to connect youth with work and school.

“Programs like Spark bring opportunities to connect businesses with local communities. Strong partnerships with schools and districts help Spark bring additional resources to educators and principals,” the group said in a letter.