With the fiscal crisis already making low-income teens’ chances of finding a summer job bleak, a miscalculation by the city Department of Employment could tear an even bigger hole in the number of city-funded jobs in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
In its request for proposals, released in November, DOE allotted the Bronx 27 percent of the mere 5,645 jobs that the Bloomberg administration plans to fund this summer (down from a total of 26,000 slots last year); Brooklyn received 22 percent, Manhattan 16.8 percent, Queens 11.6 percent and Staten Island 7 percent. Another 15 percent of the jobs — 3 percent from each borough — will go toward citywide programs.
The math behind the formula, explained Department of Employment Associate Commissioner Jean Seltzer at a City Council hearing on January 31: Roughly 30 percent of Bronx residents live in poverty, and therefore deserve 30 percent of the jobs.
But that math immediately raised some eyebrows among Councilmembers. Little more than 1 percent of the 122,700 Bronx teenagers eligible for the city-funded jobs would get one, compared to 2 percent of the approximately 16,800 teens who qualify on Staten Island.
“I hope that you have a backup plan because this isn’t going to work,” said Councilmember Helen Foster of the Bronx. “The numbers in your proposal are not meshing.”
Councilmember Lewis Fidler, chair of the youth committee, urged DOE Commissioner Betty Wu to withdraw the request for proposals and start again.
An agency spokesperson would not say what DOE’s plans were for the request for proposals, stating only that officials are analyzing the Council committee’s comments.
However it distributes the job slots, the city still faces the challenge of operating the program with an 83 percent funding cut from last year. This summer’s program currently has a $5.6 million budget, with no support from the state. While the city and state routinely kick in money for the youth program during last minute budget negotiations, the current fiscal crisis in the city and in Albany makes officials skeptical that the program will get a boost this year.
In an attempt to meet this challenge, DOE has restructured the program by cutting the number of youth employment contractors to eight from 51. These providers will have the option of hiring subcontractors to handle the job placements.
“We cannot fund 51 organizations. We cannot fund 20 organizations responsibly. We believe in this manner we will have capacity,” said Seltzer.
Still, some youth advocates are determined to increase capacity by going to the source. On Tuesday, more than 800 teens will travel to Albany to meet with legislators as part of a lobbying effort organized by Campaign for Summer Jobs.
“While we are spending all this time fighting over the RFP,” said Patty Villasenor of United Neighborhood Houses, which co-founded the Campaign, “the real issue is the funding.”