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Make no mistake: The summer jobs program is gonna work this year.
Just look at the program’s Web Site: “Welcome to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s Summer Youth Employment Program for 2009,” reads the banner headline.
Politicians are know for attaching their names to everything in sight, but not usually to programs which nine months ago had imploded in a cloud of overspending and fraud. Others might have scaled back expectations, but not Fenty. At a press conference at Ballou Senior High School this afternoon, he announced it’s full steam ahead on summer jobs.
The details for SYEP 2009, such as they exist so far, are impressive. The registration process is online-only.Three times as many slots have been offered by private employers. All sorts of database checks are in place to prevent mass fraud. A top private contractor will be handling payroll. And 3,000 kids have already signed up.
Joseph P. Walsh, director of the Department of Employment Services, was hired to make this thing work above all else—-he replaced Summer Spencer, who was forced out after last year’s debacle—-and Fenty pumped up the “sweat equity” Walsh has poured into the program in his three months in office.
Perhaps most impressive is the fact that private employers have increased their commitment after last year—-from less than 400 positions to more than 1,000 this time—-after some business types expressed sotto voce disillusionment with what happened last summer. Walsh says he’s been on a speaking tour of local business groups—-he namechecked the Federal City Council, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the D.C. Hospital Association, and Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington—-to ease concerns. “A lot of them wanted to hear what was new this year, what we’re going to do differently, to sort of restore that confidence,” Walsh says.
After the presser, Fenty joined a group of Ballou students in a computer lab as they went on laptops to sign up for jobs. The computers worked fine, but the building didn’t: As reporters filed into the room with Hizzoner, a tile fell from the ceiling onto a table, breaking apart.
Hope that isn’t an omen.