Washington Report: Updates from Capitol Hill

Washington Report: Updates from Capitol Hill

House Passes Bill to Fund 200,000 Summer Youth Jobs

With the passage of the $5.7 billion supplemental appropriations bill (HR 4899) on Wednesday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are hopeful that black youths will be able to take advantage of the $600 million in Labor Department grants to states to fund summer youth job programs.

Congressional Black Caucus members have for months stressed the urgency of funding such programs for teenagers and young adults aged 16 to 19  whose unemployment rate at around 25% in February. The rate for young African Americans is almost double, and black lawmakers fear that without something productive to do during the summer, many will find themselves in trouble.

“African American youth unemployment rates are now estimated to be as high as 42%,” said CBC chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California). “So we need targeted assistance to help put our young people to work and to teach them an array of valuable job skills that they can use throughout life.”

Developing summer youth programs was one of the issues President Barack Obama and the CBC agreed was doable when they met earlier this month. In a statement released by the White House on Thursday, Obama applauded the effort and encouraged the Senate to follow suit.

“As we continue the work of rebuilding our economy and encouraging job creation, investing in summer youth employment is an important way to teach our young people the value of hard work and prepare them for careers in the future,” Obama said.

Last year, the government spent $1.2 billion to fund work opportunities for more than 300,000 young people, 10,000 of whom were offered work beyond the summer, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said during a conference call with reporters. According to White House figures, more than 40% of the 2009 summer youth program participants were black.

Lee said that the bill, which will create 200,000 jobs, is merely a “down payment” and that Congress is considering various bills and seeking ways to create and fund additional measures. The measure also appropriates $5.1 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund and $20 million to continue covering the cost of waiving fees for some SBA loan programs.

The summer youth program will be paid for with unused funds from other programs, which she hopes will be an incentive for the Senate to act swiftly when it considers the bill.