OLYMPIA - South Sound teenagers and young adults likely won't get as much help getting summer jobs as they got last year, after proposals to fund a federal summer youth employment program have stalled in Congress, local agencies say.
Last year, the federal Department of Labor’s summer youth employment program allowed Community Youth Services and Educational Service District 113 to pair 600 disadvantaged teenagers and young adults with local employers who needed temporary summer help. The program funding covered the young person’s paycheck.
This year, efforts to fund the program haven’t gained traction. Some of the proposals have been entwined in the stalled efforts to extend unemployment benefits.
“It just wasn’t going anywhere,” said Charles Shelan, executive director of Community Youth Services, which runs the program in Thurston County. Even if it passed soon, “summer would be over or just about over,” Shelan said.
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“We had a waiting list of over 300 people who were eligible for the program,” said Lee Bucsko, director of youth programs for ESD 113, which organizes the program in Grays Harbor, Mason, Lewis and Pacific counties. “We had employers out there who were really planning to hire the kids. It’s devastating to the communities and devastating to the employers.”
Both Community Youth Services and ESD 113 still have their year-round youth employment programs through the Workforce Investment Act, but those programs don’t allow as many young people to get hired.
Last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act revived the federal summer youth employment program after it disappeared for nearly a decade because of a lack of funds. The stimulus money provided about $1.15 million in local pay for young people: 190 employees in Thurston County and about 400 employees in Grays Harbor, Pacific, Mason and Lewis counties.
The employers included cities, school districts, factories, and locally owned restaurants and businesses.
“We had mom-and-pop stores. Those are the ones that are really hurting,” Bucsko said. “Now most of them are running with just mom and pop.”
Some officials say there is still time to start the program this summer if the funding comes through.
John Loyle, deputy director of the Pacific Mountain Development Workforce Council, said that the summer program teaches job skills and the value of work to young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I like to get kids hooked on a paycheck,” Loyle said. “It really turns their lives around. The money is a small price to pay.”
Employers also benefited from the summer youth employment program, some of whom hired the young people after the program was over.
“Last year, about 20 to 25 percent of the people were permanently employed by the employers,” Loyle said. “It was an exciting outcome.”
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