Marion Barry presses for more funds for D.C. summer jobs program

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,Marion Barry

Their more well-to-do peers may spend the summer at a sleep-away camp, but thousands of District children face another reality: work, in the form of the Summer Youth Employment Program.

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, who started the summer jobs program when he was mayor, stridently criticized Mayor Vincent Gray on Monday for reducing funding for the program.

"I'm just dismayed about it," Barry said during a D.C. Council hearing Monday. "I'm not going to be quiet about it anymore."

The mayor has proposed and the council has approved about $11.7 million for the program this year. That's way below the $34 million former Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration spent on the program in 2010 -- but many believe that reduction is a good thing.

After all, that year the District went $11 million over budget to get to $34 million.

"When the program got really big, it definitely suffered a loss of accountability," said Ed Lazere, executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, a local think tank. "It seemed like the goal was quantity over quality."

Many believe that by scaling back the program the Gray administration has helped avoid the scandals of years past.

"You can only go by what you hear, and we don't hear a lot," said Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, who recently announced his candidacy for mayor.

Compared to years when summer workers, wearing shirts that identified them as program participants, were getting mugged on payday -- or worse, when summer employees were tied to assaults and shootings -- "we haven't heard of a lot of that negativity," Evans said.

Although the Gray administration may have avoided the cost overruns and controversies of years past by reigning in the program, Barry contended during Monday's council hearing that children were the victims of a consolidated program.

"The mayor doesn't care about us enough to fully fund the program," Barry said. "I'm going to do all I can to get him to see the light about this."

The program is still about three weeks from getting under way this year, and the Gray administration said it is ready.

Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, who is also running for mayor, said he supports the program but thinks it should be extended into the school year.

"If it were up to me," Wells said, "I would be expanding it to include after-school jobs."

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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