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County’s summer youth jobs program slashed

By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY — July 6, 2010 — Thanks to the U.S. Senate’s failed jobs bill last week, not only are people in danger of losing unemployment benefits, but at least 75 teens in Sullivan County will join the unemployed ranks.
And those are young people from low-income homes, with families that could really use the extra pay.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Laura Quigley, director of the county’s Center for Workforce Development (CWD), “because any opportunity that can put a person to work should be given.”
The CWD oversees the county’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which depends in part on federal TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funding.
But those funds got tied up in a Democrats-vs-Republicans battle in the Senate last week over where the money should come from to extend unemployment benefits.
The bill’s passage failed as a result.
“It’s all politics,” fumed Quigley. “That’s probably the most frustrating thing.”
Ironically, Sullivan County’s program was saved in another budget battle. The most recent New York State budget extender signed by Governor David Paterson managed to include $15 million for such work programs.
Thus, Quigley got $62,450 from the state, and she’s using some leftover federal funds to patch together a summer work program for the county’s teens.
“That will allow us to put about 45 kids in the program,” she said.
Still, that’s 75 less than what could have been provided, had the Senate passed the jobs bill. And the CWD’s waiting list is near 200 youth.
That means it’s likely around 150 teens from struggling families will have no options this summer.
“In this economy,” Quigley pointed out, “adults are going to be hired before young people.”
The impacts will be felt beyond those families as well, since Quigley estimated that around $100,000 in the “multiplier effect” was generated last year in the county, thanks to the 144 participants in 2009.
Still, she’s glad the governor and State Legislature found something they could agree on.
“We’re grateful we’re putting any kids to work,” she said.
While pared down from years past – when funding exceeded $500,000 and enrollment hit 165 – the Summer Youth Employment Program in 2010 will engage young people ages 14-21 in outdoor and office work.
Groups of teens will be put to work on landscaping projects in Roscoe and at Sullivan County Community College, and half a dozen non-profits and area businesses will take those that would rather gain experience indoors.
Supervised by crew leaders, they’ll work 26 hours a week and be paid $7.25 an hour (for those new to the program) or $7.50 an hour (for those who are returning from last year).
The work season will run from July 13 to August 20 and will include more than the tasks themselves.
“We have a curriculum that goes around it,” Quigley explained. “The crew leaders teach them appropriate work behavior.”
Concepts like teamwork, ethics, timeliness and communication will be stressed, and each young person will be required to keep a journal.
Quigley said it tends to be the first exposure many of these teens have had to the working world, especially since they’re only eligible if they come from families at or below 200 percent of the federal government’s poverty rate.
No county funds are involved, even in paying the seasonal crew leaders and county staff who operate the program, and Quigley knows money is tight.
“Last year, we had 35 [work] sites,” she explained. “This year, we have eight.”
She continues to seek other revenue sources to expand the program for this summer, but she admitted it faces a real danger of disappearing next year, projected to be an even harsher fiscal climate.
“Now, everything is a fight,” she lamented. “It makes no sense to cut funding that helps the people most affected by the recession.”

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