This summer may find significantly more enterprising young New Haven residents out of work than usual.
While the New Haven Public Schools and the Regional Workforce Development Board, or RWDB, have been able to provide over 800 publicly funded youth jobs in past summers, coordinators said they only expect to obtain enough funding for 500 or 600 this year because of cuts in federal and state budgets.
The program, which has been around since the 1960s, receives about 2,000 applications each year. Just under half are placed in the public sector and another 300 are pre-screened and put to work for local businesses. The RWDB distributes and reviews the applications, while the city of New Haven finds openings in classrooms, summer camps, community agencies and city departments for them to work in.
Applicants must be at least 14 years old.
Although the program has received less government money each year, Frank Milone, a coordinator at the RWDB, said this year’s cuts make them completely dependent upon private funding that was once regarding as merely supplemental.
“Over the last five years, the federal and state funding for the program has gone from 1.4 million in 1998 to nothing this year,” he said.
Milone said many city organizations are working together to replace the lost government funding. The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor’s Office, and even Yale have all made efforts to keep the program afloat.
RWDB Executive Director Bill Villano said one of the more significant private groups is Empower New Haven, which has increased its already sizeable contribution to the program this year. The nonprofit organization was established to administer New Haven’s Empowerment Zone funds obtained by winning a very competitive grant several years ago. The money is earmarked for fostering employment and business development in the city, especially in its 10 poorest areas. Villano said Empower New Haven’s contributions are the only reason budget cuts have not severely affected the program in the past.
The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, or GNCC, has also tried to be helpful in recruiting more employment opportunities and funding for this summer’s program. Communications director Lynn Fredrickson said the problem made it onto the agenda at the chamber’s annual meeting Tuesday featuring Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s “Hardball” news program. The event had over 600 people in attendance representing local businesses, and members were asked to support New Haven’s youth by either hiring them directly or donating $1,000 to support another worker.
The chamber is also publicizing the program and its need for support in its monthly newsletter.
“The program is a wonderful asset, and it is the opportunity to really make a difference in a kid’s life,” Fredrickson said. “We’re never happy when a program gets cut, but this is particularly important because these kids represent our future.”
Organizers have started lobbying for legislation supporting the program. Fredrickson said that, on a state level, the program is a part of the legislative packet the GNCC put together for Louise DiCocco, its full time lobbyist in Hartford. Also, the work force boards from around the country are working to get a summer employment program reinstated as a part of a federal initiative, Villano said. But there is not currently a lot of flexible government money.
For this year, organizers are optimistic that, despite budget reductions, they will obtain enough support from local businesses to maintain the program and perhaps even increase the number of jobs available to youth.
“I’m confident that we will be able to sponsor a program comparable to last year,” Milone said. “New Haven feels this program is important and people really rally around it.”