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Mass. House Votes To Restore Funding To Summer Jobs Program For At-Risk Youth

Mark Crawley / Flickr

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has voted to restore funding to a program designed to assist at-risk youth in finding summer employment that is facing cutbacks.

The supplemental budget passed by the House of Representatives Tuesday restored funding to YouthWorks, a program administered by the Commonwealth Corporation on behalf of the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. If approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, it would bring the budget for the program, which assists at-risk youths aged 14-21 find jobs and internships at $8 per hour, on par with the amount provided in 2012, $10 million.

State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield, one of the 31 participating cities in the YouthWorks program, said that for fiscal year 2014, the House had voted to fund YouthWorks at $5 million, and the Senate at $9 million. The proposal is currently in conference committee.

"We really will have two years of funding in place if all of this goes through conference committee," said Farley-Bouvier.

Heather Shogry-Williams, Youth Director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said the increase in funding will allow the employment board and its partners to include more than double the amount of young people in the program currently enrolled this summer in Pittsfield.

“The legislature passed a few months ago $1.2 million to support the program, and with the supplemental at $10 million this will allow us to serve an additional 39 youth. So we're looking in total to be able to serve 59 income-eligible youth ages 14-21," said Shogry-Williams.

Shogry-Williams said that community businesses over the past nine years have embraced the YouthWorks program and have been enthusiastic in bringing young people aboard during the summer.

"We had just about 40 employers right out of the gate step up and say, 'yes, we will take on youth for this program,'" said Shogry-Williams.

Youth employment across Massachusetts, however, is at a historic low. A study released by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University said that only 27 percent of people aged 16 to 19 were employed in 2012, a 54 percent decrease from 1999. Employment is at its lowest point since World War II.

Representative Farley-Bouvier said that she supports funding the YouthWorks program because it not only helps at-risk youth support themselves and learn valuable basic job skills, but also will help the Berkshire County economy in the long-term by producing young workers in an area with an aging population.

"Kids need to know that they have got a future here in the Berkshires, and I think that they can get really good jobs in the Berkshires but it starts with that first job," said Farley-Bouvier.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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