Local teens push for more summer jobs

(Courtesy Photo) City Councilor Felix Arroyo and a small group of teen activists outside U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s office after being denied entry on April 19.

Jamaica Plain teens are getting politically active in hopes of not having a jobless summer.

Funding for city youth summer jobs programs has been radically slashed in recent years—and is under threat of further cuts.

The City’s youth summer jobs program is funded with cash from the city, state and federal governments as well as private donations. Participants work in a variety of subsidized jobs within community, faith-based, and government agencies.

Teens and adults involved with the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) and other organizations joined forces with at-large City Councilor Felix Arroyo to drum up political support for better funding on April 19 with a City Council hearing and rally in downtown Boston.

“The environment that we are growing up in is not safe. We have gangs and violence everywhere,” said Astrid Peña, a teen organizer with HSTF. “We need to keep the youths out of the streets, give them opportunity to make money and gain skills” that will serve them in the future, she said.

Federal funding for youth summer jobs was cut in 2011 from $3 million to nothing, where it remains this year.

“That’s a complete abandonment,” Arroyo said. “We’re trying to see if the City can do more” than maintain level funding, as it is at present, he said.

The group also attempted to visit Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s office. Brown voted against a 2010 federal budget amendment that would restore some funding, but proposed another bill that would also re-fund the program. Both bills ultimately failed.

Brown’s staff denied the group entrance into the JFK Federal Building on New Sudbury Street, Arroyo said.

“Republicans took over Congress and spending priorities shifted,” Arroyo, a Democrat, told the Gazette. “Brown’s people preferred we didn’t even enter the building.”

According to Brown’s office guidelines, groups of protesters are never allowed into the building, though staffers met with Arroyo outside. To be allowed inside, individuals would need to call ahead and make an appointment, which Arroyo did not do, a Brown spokesperson said.

“Senator Brown supports federal funding for summer job programs as long as they are paid for in a fiscally responsible way,” Brown spokesperson John Donnelly told the Gazette this week.

“People might not realize how federal spending can affect something so local like youth summer jobs,” Arroyo said.

That $3 million from the federal government funded nearly 1,200 youth summer jobs in the city. The City of Boston is expected to have 8,800 jobs for this summer, down from 10,000 two years ago.

“Normally, you see 10,000, and you want to do more,” Arroyo said. “That’s the struggle we’re in.”

State funding is also at risk for cuts. The recently released House budget—still a work in progress—calls for eliminating funding for 1,200 youth jobs. Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed 2013 budget, meanwhile, proposes to provide $8.6 million for summer jobs, an increase from $8 million in the 2012 budget.

The extra $600,000 could fund up to 600 youth summer jobs.

According to Heather Perez, a member of Arroyo’s staff, “Everyone points to budget constraints and the tough economy…It’s putting a really tight squeeze on…summer jobs.”

“There are not enough jobs for youths. It’s making a very clear statement about the future of Boston and the value of these youths,” said HSTF organizer Carla Poulos.

“Youth jobs have always been a priority for me. There’s a lot a young person can learn from a summer job,” Arroyo said. “And most young people, once they get that paycheck, they kick it to their family, to help with bills.”

According to Arroyo, 150 young people joined him for a hearing and rally downtown before a smaller group attempted to visit Brown’s office.

Peña said teens don’t need much in the way of jobs—just “a job that makes them proud, a little bit of where they can see themselves in the future,” she said.

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