Program will link inner-city residents with suburban jobs City gets $1.6 million to place and transport workers to employers

September 27, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Frank Langfitt contributed to this article.

Four hundred welfare recipients and low-income residents in East Baltimore could be on their way to decent-paying, entry-level jobs in Howard and Anne Arundel counties under a federal program announced yesterday.

Baltimore is one of five cities nationwide to be selected for the four-year, $17 million initiative, called "Bridges to Work," linking inner-city residents and suburban employers. It is scheduled to begin by February.

The city is receiving $1.6 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide counseling, placement and transportation for residents of the Eastside empowerment zone around the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Empower Baltimore, the corporation overseeing the empowerment zone, a $100 million federal effort aimed at revitalizing decayed areas of Baltimore, is providing another $500,000.

Most of the money will be used to buy 13 vans, which will provide near door-to-door service for participants, and to pay for staffers to schedule transportation and provide screening and counseling for applicants, officials said.

"It is one of the largest job-development opportunities that East Baltimore has for the near future," said Scot Spencer, director of physical development for the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, which will administer the program.

The coalition will work with the BWI Business Partnership, a transportation management and economic development trade association whose members employ 110,000 people around the airport, and Anne Arundel and Howard county economic development offices to identify employers in warehouse distribution and light manufacturing who need workers, Spencer said. The jobs will pay from $6 to $12 an hour, and benefits, he said.

Although the jobs will be outside the city, Bridges to Work will help revitalize East Baltimore by giving residents the means to move from renting to home ownership, Spencer said.

"At $10 an hour, someone can buy a house in East Baltimore," he said.

The program will begin with about two dozen participants in November, Spencer said.

It is open to residents 18 and older whose annual incomes do not exceed about $30,000 for a family of four, or twice the federal poverty level, and who are "job-ready."

Participants would pay a small fee for transportation, he said.

Neil M. Shpritz, executive director of the BWI Business Partnership, said companies around the airport see the project as a way to fill jobs, particularly those on second and third shifts, in a tight labor market.

"To put it bluntly, it's in the self-interest of the employers as well as the self-interest of the workers," Shpritz said.

Lack of transportation keeps many outlying businesses from hiring inner-city residents, while the high cost of suburban housing limits the labor pool for less-skilled jobs. A "reverse commuting" initiative was part of the city's application in 1994 to be designated as a federal empowerment zone.

Originally, officials hoped to begin the project a year ago for 500 residents. But it was delayed, and ultimately trimmed by 100 people, while federal officials identified a source of funds.

Other cities receiving money under Bridges to Work are Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee and St. Louis.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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