ST. PETERSBURG –– A summer job program heralded by federal and local leaders as an answer to youth violence and crime in Childs Park will start a month later than expected because of government bureaucracy, city officials say.
The bulk of a $190,000 federal grant was tied up in red tape until Friday, pushing the first day of the summer job program back to July 13, nearly six weeks after public schools closed. That has left teenagers and young adults in one of the city's lowest-income neighborhoods with little to do amid a national recession and a growing crime wave.
What's more, the funding jam has left organizers little time to find willing employers, so there might not be as many jobs to go around once the program starts.
"The most important thing right now is getting these young people this meaningful experience," said Theresa Jones, the city's community affairs manager. "These are kids that their families really need this extra funding."
Parents and children are eager for the program to begin.
After hundreds of parents and teens called City Hall to inquire about the program, the city established a dedicated phone line with a recording that updates callers about the stalled program.
More than 1,000 young people were expected to apply, but the program has enough money for only about 114 jobs.
The jobs are reserved for 16- to 24-year-olds from households that earn less than 50 percent of the area's median income, or $29,600 for a family of four.
The program covers 50 percent of an employee's wage.
Xochiqletzal Banks, 23, submitted her application last week. She has a job at a local fried chicken restaurant, but her boss hasn't given her any hours in days.
"It's hard to find a job by yourself," Banks said. "It's great that someone is willing to help you."
The city stopped funding its summer employment program in 2007.
In April, City Hall announced that it would revive the program with an earmark requested by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.
But the city's grant application, submitted to the federal Department of Labor in May, was not approved until Friday.
Critics said the delay is inexcusable.
State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, created a summer job program with private donations in 2008 after the city didn't fund its longtime program.
He said he has begun collecting donations again to ensure that any government hiccups won't keep teenagers from starting work as soon as the 2010 school year ends.
"It's a black eye on us that these kids have gone this long waiting on dollars to get to work," he said.
But City Council member Wengay Newton, who represents Childs Park, said the city is to blame. He said he will ask Mayor Rick Baker to set aside $200,000 to fund the program in the future.
"This is just an investment on the front end," Newton said. "If they don't have something to do, they are going to get into trouble."
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.