House budget adds money to youth jobs, violence prevention efforts

Gintautas Dumcius, State House News Service
Apr. 30, 2012

During budget deliberations that stretched to midnight last Wednesday, House lawmakers added $1.7 million for youth jobs and $4 million for youth violence prevention programs.

“It put us in better shape than we were last year coming out of the House,” Lew Finfer, director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, told the News Service.

The Ways and Means proposal originally funded the YouthWorks jobs program at $6.9 million, down from the $9 million the state spent on the line item in fiscal year 2012. Out of the $9 million, $2 million came from a federal grant.

Advocates say 1,200 youth jobs would be lost without funding restorations. Finfer said they’re thankful for lawmakers’ support for $8.6 million in the final House budget, but he added that 200 youth jobs are still in danger of being lost.

House leaders said Thursday that spending added to the House budget this week was paid for largely through estimates of anticipated revenues and savings that were revised after the budget was released.

Finfer said advocates will also press for a supplemental budget in order to get funds flowing before July 1, when the state budget goes into effect, so programs know how many youth to hire.

“We feel this is a fundamental part of our life,” said Daiquan Bradford, an 18-year-old youth organizer who works with the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation’s “Youth Force,” a youth leadership initiative. “We’re building skills that will be with us for the rest of our lives.”

Bradford on Wednesday joined 49 teens from Boston, Chelsea, Somerville, Lynn and Lowell to lobby outside the House chamber to restore or increase funding for youth jobs.

Originally billed as a rally, the event turned into a lecture on how to lobby lawmakers. Rep. Carlos Henriquez, a Dorchester Democrat and a former youth worker, told the teens to reach out to legislators and buttonhole them as they come out the chamber.

As an example, Henriquez pointed to the pods of professional lobbyists milling outside the House chamber. “They’re doing the same thing you’re doing,” he said. “They’ve done their homework.”

“I don’t want you to get shy,” Henriquez added.

Advocates were focused on three amendments: one from Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Jamaica Plain) upping funding to $12 million; a Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield) amendment also calling for $12 million, and an amendment from Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester) asking for $8.6 million.

Advocates were also pushing for funding of the Charles Shannon Community Safety Initiative, which is frequently referred to as the Shannon Grant.

The Ways and Means budget set aside $2 million for the program, down from the $8 million in last year’s budget. On Wednesday, House lawmakers brought the number up to $5.5 million.

A Department of Public Health youth violence prevention program received $1.5 million, a $500,000 increase from fiscal 2011 and the initial Ways and Means proposal.

As the teens gathered outside the chamber, Finfer noted the fast pace of the budget debate. Finfer said last year youth jobs advocates had more time to reach out to House lawmakers, though they planned to also target Senate members on Wednesday in anticipation of the upper chamber’s budget release. “It throws you off a little,” he told the News Service.

Earlier on Wednesday, Finfer said the House had adopted an amendment restoring $770,000 to the “School to Career Connecting Activities” youth jobs program, bringing funding back to the same $2.75 million level the program received in fiscal 2011. The program provides grants to private employers and hospitals to recruit and support youth in jobs.

After the pointers from Henriquez and other lawmakers, the teens surged toward the rope line outside the House chamber, and started to chant, “What do we want?” “Youth jobs!”

Organizers had predicted 150 people would attend the rally but the crowd was much smaller.

Rep. Sanchez updated the teens on budget deliberations, saying the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Dorchester has received a $125,000 line item.

“We’re probably going to be here until midnight,” he added.