Like every major American city, the City of Baltimore has significant challenges. We continue to combat the issue of aging and vacant homes, a crumbling water infrastructure, and high rates of violent crime. Yet, there are a number of things that our city does well – and it is vital that we continue to build upon our strengths at the same time that we confront and resolve our difficulties.
The YouthWorks Program, under the leadership of one of our city’s most effective agency heads, Jason Perkins Cohen, is a foremost example of what we’re doing well. Just this past year, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development put 8,654 young people (ages 14-21) to work. The problem is that we had approximately 11,370 young people submit paperwork on time and over 17,000 fill out applications overall.
I have a deep respect for the 11,000+ young people who were already thinking about summer employment in the month of March. That level of responsibility is exactly what we need to be encouraging in the workforce. However, it’s a disappointing reality that 2,716 of these young people who met every deadline and did what they were supposed to do were unable to secure employment. We as leaders have to do more to address this issue.
Not only are programs like YouthWorks an opportunity to gain experience in the workplace setting, it also provides a safe environment during the deadliest months of the year: July and August. These are 2,700 young people that are now dealing with idle time while they could be under supervision doing something productive and earning an economic opportunity.
I applaud the State of Maryland for appropriating over $3 million towards this initiative. And when Baltimore reconciled with the tragic death of Freddy Gray, the Governor appropriated more than 4 million dollars towards YouthWorks – and philanthropic organizations stepped up to ensure that every child who wanted an opportunity would receive one that summer. That same year, the Administrator of the Maryland Transportation Administration (MTA) gave every young person a bus pass to ensure that transportation was not a barrier to going to work that summer. Unfortunately that was only a one-year fix, and the money was reduced back to the $3 million appropriation the following year and the free bus passes were also discontinued.
For this reason I have sponsored Senate Bill 229 which requests the State of Maryland to appropriate 6 million dollars to youth works for fiscal years 2021, 2022, 2023. This bill would also require the City of Baltimore to match the state’s appropriation by 75 percent. It also specifies that the State of Maryland provide ten thousand bus passes for the program. This bill was unanimously sponsored and passed by the Baltimore City Senate Delegation: myself and Senators Carter, Ferguson, Hayes, Nathan-Pulliam, and Washington.
No longer can we do a one-year fix, and simultaneously expect things to change in the long-term. In investing into our youth, we have an opportunity to be proactive and make an investment that will pay dividends in the future. At a time when Baltimore is at one of its lowest points, it is critical that we have bold leadership that recognizes the inherent problem in spending more than 25 percent of our city’s budget on public safety but not being able to guarantee that every young person that fills out an application on time will have a job during the summer.
Our young people are a great and relentless generation, but they are also counting on those before them to lead and provide opportunity to ensure that they have a higher chance at achieving the American dream. Help us advocate for our youth by pushing for the passage of Senate Bill 229 this legislative session.
Cory McCray is a member of the Maryland State Senate, representing the 45th District, which encompasses Northeast and East Baltimore City.
This article originally appeared in The Afro.