The Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program has run into management problems each of the last three years. This year is no exception. The program has incurred massive cost overruns. Thousands of young people were enrolled beyond the funds that had been allocated in the District’s budget. On top of that, the Mayor sought approval from the Council to extend the program from 6 to 7 1/2 weekd. To bridge the gap and pay for the extension, the Mayor took $8.4 million in TANF Contingency Emergency Funds that had been set aside for homeless services and other human services priorities.
Yesterday, Councilmember Michael Brown held a hearing on the program's operation and the Mayor's request. You may read my testimony here . The hearing was packed with young people who had been brought by their programs to testify about the benefits of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). They were terrific and convincing, but none more so than the two young people who changed their minds. Upon learning that the SYEP was being funded at the expense of people who are homeless, they urged that the homeless money be restored.
This morning, the Council voted to not extend the program. It remains unclear whether the cost overruns have consumedthe TANF money or whether some might be returned to the Department of Human Services.
The Mayor’s actions were an end-run of the budget process. The District just completed the drafting of its budget. On April 1, the Mayor sent his proposal to the Council and there was a two month period of intense and public review. Scores of hearings were held, advocates met with Council members and staff, careful reviews were conducted and the budget was marked up by committees and then eventually by the Council as a whole. That budget was signed by the Mayor and sent to Congress for its review. Less than a month after the vote, the Mayor skirts that process and takes money from one program to fund another.
TANF Emergency Contingency Funds are needed for other priorities. They are part of the federal economic stimulus legislation. The District is entitled to draw up to $46 million from the federal government to off-set increased costs due to the recession. During the recent budget deliberations, the executive declared an intent to use $8.1 million in 2010 to cover the shortfall in homeless services, $5.5 million in 2010 to pay for a new IMA case management system and the balance of the money in 2011 in TANF cash assistance, job training and other TANF related initiatives.
The money that the executive committed to put aside for homeless services is critical. In fiscal year 2010, the District directed $12 million in TANF money that had previously been used for homeless services to other purposes. The $8.1 million in stimulus funding was supposed to provide a partial restoration of the cut and mitigate the impact on services to some of the District’s most vulnerable residents.
A reduction in homeless services during a deep recession is particularly troubling. Cuts to programs come at a time of increased need. Extraordinarily high rates of unemployment are making many more families vulnerable and charitable services have been hit but cuts. In July, nearly 450 families were on the waiting list for emergency shelter.
It is unfair to pit these two important needs against each other. The choice should not be youth job training or homeless services. But because of the way this played out, that is the choice the Council must make. Maybe they ought to change the rules and take the money to fund both from somewhere else in the budget.