Councilman Ricky Burgess has spent the last few months hammering away at his fellow legislators with regard to the Pittsburgh Summer Youth Employment Program.
He has said repeatedly that budgets are an indicator of priorities and that he wants to see Pittsburgh’s children receive the same kind of thoughtful consideration as outgoing city employees are receiving under Peduto’s severance incentive plan.
“We have just taken $7 million from the fund balance and given it to a group of people, and I voted for that,” said Burgess. “I said from the very beginning … I think that poor children in our city need to be a priority.”
On Wednesday, City Council took steps to show that those children are indeed a priority, preliminarily approving a budget amendment that would transfer $500,000 from the 2014 Severance fund to the Summer Youth Employment fund. In the past, the program has only been able to provide jobs for about a third of the nearly 1,000 teens and young adults who have applied.
The move comes on the heels of Mayor Bill Peduto’s Executive Order to create a Task Force on Summer Youth Employment Opportunities.
Peduto’s policy manager, Matt Barron, said the administration has been talking with businesses, foundations and educational institutions that want to support the expansion of the program.
“I think we can focus more on things like STEM jobs, focus more on things like vocational training, that actually become long-term pathways to a career,” Barron said.
The mayor’s task force will include Chief Administration Officer Debbie Lestitian, Chief Education and Neighborhood Reinvestment Officer Curtiss Porter and two members of council, as well as representatives of organized labor, Pittsburgh Public Schools and the business and philanthropic communities.
At Wednesday’s meeting, it was clear that many members of City Council have ideas about how to improve the Summer Youth Employment Program.
“My concerns with this program have been from day one, there’s not retention,” said Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, “So one year, we’re helping the kid, the next year, we’re letting the kid down.”
Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak echoed Kail-Smith’s comments and said the task force should consider expanding the time frame for youth employment.
“Is it really a summer youth employment program?” Rudiak said. “We can be looking at … year-round employment prospects. What are some after school programs?”
Members of the task force will be named in the next two weeks, and recommendations and an action plan are due to the mayor and City Council by the end of April.
City Council will take a final vote on the budget amendment on Tuesday.