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After pressure from the City Council and youth advocates, the city Department of Employment (DOE) last week withdrew a controversial request for proposals that could have left many low-income teens without a fair shot at publicly funded summer jobs.

“There were various pieces that needed to fall in place before the start of the program,” explained a spokesperson for the agency.

The withdrawal came two weeks after a City Council public hearing revealed serious flaws in how the city proposed running its jobs program. Among the concerns: the formula used to divide job slots among the five boroughs disproportionately hurt the neediest neighborhoods; and the plan slashed the number of groups funded to administer the program, cutting out many small organizations that rely on the contract each year, and overburdening the groups that do get funded. [“Bronx Teens Get Jobbed,” City Limits Weekly, February 10]. Councilmember Lewis Fidler, who chairs the committee, called the new program structure a “failure” and recommended it be “thrown out.”

Said Fidler last week, “I am gratified that the administration has heard the Council’s vote on this matter.”

In their own defense, city officials explained that the request for proposals they released in November attempted to compensate for severe budget cuts. This year, the program, which offers summer jobs to teens living in poverty, faces a budget cut of more than 80 percent, to about 6,000 jobs from 26,000 last summer. While funds often become available at the last minute, the city and state budget crises this year make a last-minute infusion unlikely.

So instead of contracting with 51 groups to place teens in jobs, the DOE proposed hiring eight primary agencies that could hire subcontractors as money became available. The primary agencies would also take over administrative duties from the DOE, streamlining job placement and payroll services that were often bungled by the city agency.

Instead, for now, the city will once again extend its contracts to the 51 agencies, and the Department of Employment will draft a new proposal for next year.

Until then, getting more money for the program will take priority. “Now we can get on with the difficult job of making sure that this program has adequate funding to run at an acceptable level this summer,” said Fidler, vowing to lobby state representatives and the mayor.

The United Neighborhood Houses of New York took the issue to Albany on February 11, organizing a rally of more than 600 teens that included meetings with more than 150 state legislators.

“We know we are competing against other very worthy causes for limited dollars,” said Patty Villasenor of UNH, “but we are hopeful.”

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