Schmoke opposes bid to drop jobs program

March 15, 1995|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- A "very worried" Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke came to Capitol Hill yesterday to protest a Republican-led effort to wipe out the decades-old federal summer jobs program for disadvantaged youths.

Baltimore, he said, does not need an additional 3,766 restless young people idle and on the streets in the hottest months of the year. That is the number of jobs already promised to young people, 14 to 21 years old, recruited in the city this year.

The mayor shared a podium in the Capitol with Democratic opponents of the Republican legislation to cut $17.3 billion from the federal government's operating costs, mainly by cutting or eliminating social programs, such as the jobs plan. Other participants included Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich and House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

The package of cuts is scheduled for debate on the House floor today.

Republicans said Democrats were using scare tactics in an effort to protect urban political interests.

"We believe if Congress is not willing to demonstrate this modest commitment to fiscal responsibility, it almost certainly lacks the resolve to balance the budget," said GOP Rep. James Talent of Missouri.

A Republican summary of reasons for eliminating the summer youth job program contends: "Teen-agers will still have jobs this summer, but they'll look for them, apply for them, and get paid by private businesses, not the taxpayer."

Mr. Schmoke said that not only would there be a possible increase in urban crime that might result from too many young people left to wander around with too little to do and no money to spend, but there were other considerations.

"Another problem with stopping [the jobs program] now would be the breaking of faith with the young people we promised jobs to," he said. "That would have a real negative impact; it would make them bitter."

Throughout Maryland, 9,786 youth jobs would disappear if the Republican legislation is enacted into law. With the jobs would go $12 million in federal funds. Baltimore's financial loss this year would be $4.1 million. Other youth services grants for the city are also targeted, worth another $4.7 million.

Nationally, 615,000 summer jobs would disappear, and with them the $800 million in federal funds.

Mr. Schmoke pointed out that 43 percent of the $17.1 billion that House Republicans hope to cut from the current budget would come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD programs, he said, "mainly affect those who live in cities. This would be a real body blow to people who are poorest in society."

The summer jobs program was developed in the wake of the urban riots in Baltimore and other U.S. cities in the late 1960s. Since then, in Baltimore, well over 100,000 young people have participated.

The aim, at the beginning, was to simply keep disadvantaged youths busy and distracted through the summer months. But eventually it grew into a more career-oriented enterprise, according to Linda A. Harris, director of Baltimore's Office of Employment Development.

The youths work in hospitals, city offices and parks, and they tutor younger children. Efforts are also made to encourage them to continue their education and to develop the discipline necessary to find and keep a job.

But according to Karen Sitnick, who administers all the youth services in the city, the original purpose of the program -- keeping young people out of trouble -- re-emerged two years ago.

"After the riots in L.A., the Clinton Administration passed an urban aid bill and we got a big increase in our summer youth employment funding," she said. "It gave Baltimore enough money to put 9,000 kids to work."

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