Mayor Bowser has requested additional funding for the FY2015 budget to create jobs for District residents. The supplemental budget request, announced at a September 15 press conference, would introduce an extended Career Connections program and expand the L.E.A.P. (Learn Earn Advance Prosper) Academy Program.
As part of Career Connections, a total of $4.5 million will be allocated to help young adults ages 20 to 24. This segment of the population experiences a staggering 12.4 percent unemployment rate. Many within this age group are on a downward spiral of long-term unemployment and are gradually at a higher risk of engaging in criminal activity because of it.
“Career Connections will focus on young people up to the age of 24 and will provide on-the-job training and internships between the months of October and June,” Bowser said. “We will give up to 400 people the training, skills and wrap-around services that they need to find success in their job and career.”
The Bowser Administration introduced the L.E.A.P. Academy to the District in March of this year to connect these youth with jobs, concentrating on vacancies in District government.
“My philosophy is when government workers are closer to the people that they serve, they know the neighborhoods better and they’re more familiar with the issues,” Bowser said.
The Department of Public Works, with a budget of $805,000, will train and hire 25 individuals to work at jobs related to waste collection. The department will also train and hire people to maintain the District’s fleet of vehicles.
Twenty-nine individuals will be trained and hired as customer service representatives in Department of Parks and Recreation facilities with a budget of $1.5 million, in order to maximize the experience for people visiting these recreational centers.
“What we know is that we have some beautiful parks and recreation facilities all around the city and frequently our residents don’t engage enough in every aspect that they can, because we don’t have the right entrance staff at the parks and recreation facilities,” Bowser said, “So we want to change that.”
Currently the percentage of District government employees that are residents of the area is 43 percent. While it is at the highest it has ever been, the mayor hopes to increase that number to at least half of the work force.
“We have to keep that going and this is why programs like L.E.A.P. are important— because we are tapping into D.C. residents, giving them training and putting them in line for vacancies that exist or will exist,” Mayor Bowser said, referring to the retirement bubble that the MPD is facing and that government will soon experience too. “We want to have D.C. residents that are prepared to take those opportunities.”
Two days prior, Mayor Bowser visited D.C. Jail to announce several new programs to help people incarcerated there get back to work. One would allow employed persons being held before trial for a misdemeanor to continue going to work while awaiting their court date. Whether they are found innocent or guilty, people being held for pretrial often lose their jobs when they are unable to show up for work.
“The budget impact will be positive,” said Tom Faust, director of the District’s Department of Corrections. “We have the ankle bracelets, we have the materials. More people out at work during the day means less people being supported by jail services while they are gone.”
Job training and placement are also being offered in small pilot programs. Kwacie Johnson spoke with pride about his role as an ad-hoc tutor in computer skills for his peers. Johnson has been working for an electrical company for the past three months as part of a work release program and is eager to fully restart his life.
“These programs and forthcoming legislation will give our returning citizens the tools they need to get back on their feet as they transition back into society,” Bowser said.
Eric Falquero contributed to this article