Two different youth work programs are before the Montgomery County Council for possible funding in next year's budget.
Several members voiced support at a council meeting May 14 for reinstating the Conservation Corps, a county program that educates and trains high school dropouts. The program has been inactive for 18 months due to budget cuts, said Uma Ahluwalia, director of Health and Human Services.
“I have followed Conservation Corps for many, many years,” said Council member Phil Andrews (D-Dist 3) “There’s nothing else like it in the country.”
At a government cost of $20,000 per participant, corps members receive GED training and gain work experience by performing labor.
Andrews said the program serves the “most vulnerable youth” in the county, with many of corps members being part of the court system, formerly incarcerated, in foster care or a recipient of some kind of public assistance.
At-Large Councilmember Nancy Floreen and Andrews moved to allocate $500,000 in the health and human services department budget for the corps.
Councilmember Craig Rice (D-Dist 2) justfied the per-person expense of the program.
“It costs us at least $30,000 to incarcerate someone,” he said. “I know the costs associated with Conservation Corps are high; I think that the social costs are even higher.”
Rice said the county currently pays private contractors for work that he said corps members could do, like power washing a bus facility on Clopper Road in Germantown.
Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At Large) said if the corps were reinstated, it would not be as simple as hiring corps members instead of private contractors.
“Kids need to be trained,” he said. “To say we have this universe of unskilled people and we have jobs that need to be provided by semi-skilled people—those two things just aren’t in sync.”
Both Councilmembers Marc Elrich (D-At Large) and Hans Riemer (D-At Large) supported funding for the corps and for STEP, or student/youth employment program, an initiative proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
STEP would cost taxpayers $315,296 and serve 60 students ages 16 to 19 for the first year. The program will provide training, a minimum wage stipend and landscaping or support jobs within the recreation department for local high school students.
“One of the things we hear from young people all the time is that ‘we have nothing to do over the summer. We have no jobs. We have no prospects for jobs because all of the jobs that were once available to young people are now going to adults that need second jobs,” said Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-Dist 5), who moved to put the line item back into the recreation department’s budget after a committee voted to push the program to the reconciliation list.
Councilmember Nancy Navarro (D-Dist 4) seconded Ervin’s motion, calling the program a “down payment on a very important component, which is preparing youth and providing opportunities.”
The full council will take a straw vote Thursday, April 17, on the county’s budget and final action will take place the following Thursday, April 24.