The state’s decision to shift funding away from a subsidized summer jobs program for youth has triggered an outcry from some local elected leaders and grassroots organizations.
Dayton Commissioner Chris Shaw said it is unacceptable and inexplicable that the state intends to stop funding a program that provides more than 2,000 young people in Montgomery County with valuable work experience, job training and soft skills.
“It’s important we push back on this terrible de-funding of a very important and good program in our community,” Shaw said at Wednesday’s city commission meeting, speaking about the county’s YouthWorks program.
Some local community activists have tried to raise awareness of the issue and recently held a rally to protest the planned funding changes.
State officials, however, have said the summer jobs program will be replaced with a year-round program that should result in better outcomes for low-income young people.
In May, this newspaper reported that the state of Ohio is shifting about $45 million in funding from its youth summer employment programs into a new Comprehensive Case Management and Employment Program.
The funding, which comes from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, will be redirected in state fiscal year 2017.
The new statewide program will be year round and will provide educational and training supports to ensure low-income young people can acquire jobs and are positioned for long-term success, said Shelly Hoffman, spokeswoman with the Office of Human Services Innovation with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Young people who are enrolled in the summer youth employment program will be eligible for the new services, she said.
The program will serve low-income Ohioans ages 16 to 24, and it is meant to help young people overcome barriers to work.
But critics say say effectively eliminating YouthWorks by starving it of funding is a big mistake and will have a detrimental impact on the region.
YouthWorks pays the wages of kids 14 to 18 during an eight-week period of the summer months. Montgomery County has operated the summer jobs program since 1999.
The new program will serve only a limited number of youth, said Michael Colbert, assistant Montgomery County administrator.
In Montgomery County, the program will benefit less than 300 youth and 150 adults, compared to the 2,300 young people who participate in the summer youth employment program, Colbert said. About 500 employers participate in the program.
The program “is a poverty reduction program that gives both a work experience and puts a check in the pocket of youth,” Colbert said. YouthWorks employs many teens who are 14 and 15, which officials say can be critical years for people to acquire job skills.
Commissioner Shaw, who is now 50, as a teen participated in a summer employment program through the county. His business, Shaw Cleaners, has employed multiple YouthWorks teens.
Shaw said the program develops crucial soft skills that young people need to succeed at the work place. He said the experience can be life-changing for vulnerable youth, and it helps employers who need a skilled workforce.
He said the state’s new program will provide some training but will not give teens jobs that set on a career path.
“This is devastating,” he said. “They are trying to put lipstick on a pig.”
Shaw has met with at least one Ohio lawmaker and plans to share his concerns with others. Montgomery County leaders expected this month to meet with state legislators to discuss the issue.
H.A. Jabar, the founder and director of the West Dayton Youth Task Force, recently organized a rally outside the county administration building in opposition to the state changes.
Jabar, who was a case manager and career coach for YouthWorks, said eliminating a proven program that employs more than 2,000 young people in the summer months will increase crime and reinforces the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
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