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Mayor finds $1.7M for teen job program
BOSTON, Massachusetts (The Boston Herald) -- Playing the role of the U.S. Cavalry, Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday galloped to the rescue of about 1,950 teenagers about to lose their summer jobs to a state budget veto by Gov. Paul Cellucci.
Coming up with $1.7 million in city funds, Menino guaranteed that the teenagers would continue to work through most of August and provide recreation and day-care services to thousands of children and parents.
The 11th-hour action by Menino climaxed a heated political standoff with Cellucci - who cut $3 million in state funds for summer jobs - over the need for government job subsidies during a time of low unemployment and a strong economy.
"Not a painless process"
Cheered on by 150 teenage workers at the South Boston Neighborhood House, Menino said, ``The state has turned its back on us. But my administration has worked together to come up with enough money to fully fund the program for the rest of the summer.''
Menino's action elicited an I-told-you-so reaction from Cellucci.
``No one has ever been at risk for not having a job,'' said John Birtwell, Cellucci's spokesman. ``Either the mayor could choose to fund the program or the kids could simply pick up the want ads and see the hundreds of jobs available.''
Birtwell added: ``We've been saying all summer that the mayor has millions of dollars available to spend on this program if he wanted to. Now evidently he wanted to.''
But Menino's chief financial officer, Edward Collins, said that culling $1.7 million out of the city's $1.7 billion budget was ``not a painless process.''
The money will come from a small increase in the tax rate and spending reductions in other programs not yet identified, he said.
``It's not true (that the city has millions available),'' Collins said. ``This is one-time money coming from deferring other programs.''
The City Council's budget chairperson, Maura Hennigan, questioned Cellucci's political motives in vetoing the summer jobs funding.
``Politically, it doesn't make any sense unless you really think you're going to Washington - then you just don't care,'' Hennigan said. ``Why would you do that to kids?''
"A big relief"
Menino made his announcement yesterday at a settlement house serving South Boston since 1901. The Neighborhood House, with 71 summer youth workers, provides summer daycare and recreation programs for about 300 children.
``Jubilation,'' said executive director Bryan Van Dorpe, describing the reaction of the teen workers. ``It's a big relief to to kids who were nervous their jobs would be pulled. It's been stressful since last Thursday when this first came up. We were prepared for the worst, and hoped for the best.''
Van Dorpe said that the city's bailout enables an extra 25 children to continue to participate in a summer camp program.
Sixteen-year-old Kevin Cahill, a councilor in the Tots program, said he felt great about Menino's rescue.
``I really like this job - I didn't want to lose it,'' said Cahill, who also works part time at a meat market. ``I need the money.''
Asked why he thought Cellucci vetoed the program, Cahill said, ``I think he wanted the money for other things, like Fenway, or the MBTA or the Big Dig.''
Cahill added: ``This won't do him (Cellucci) any good next time he runs for office.''
Van Dorpe said that Cellucci either does not understand the benefits of the program, or he let his own budget priorities crowd out good judgment.
``Private sector jobs don't do what these jobs do,'' Van Dorpe said. ``We teach them a wide range of job skills so that they're better prepared for their next job.
``This was bad P.R. for the governor. Kids can't vote but their parents do. Kevin's father was here today. He votes.''
City foots the bill
Hennigan said she was surprised legislators did not override Cellucci's veto and criticized Cellucci's timing.
``The governor wants these kids to work in the private sector, but it would have been different if they had made the cuts before the summer,'' she said. ``A lot of employers won't take on workers for just a few weeks.''
Hennigan said that the city could afford the unexpected $1.7 million charge - but only once. She said the money could not come out of the city's $6.6 million share of unrestricted Lottery aid because it's already committed to raises for city workers.
``It will come from a one-time revenue source, or from putting off a budget item for a year,'' Hennigan said. ``It's not that huge it can't be absorbed from someplace else.
Menino administration officials said yesterday that the Summer Jobs program employs 11,000 youths overall, including 1,600 ``gray-shirts'' who clean parks and vacant lots.
Officials said private businesses participating in the program hired 4,700 youths, while another 4,100 jobs were funded by $5 million from the city. The remaining 2,200 jobs were supported by a combination of city and state funding.
Cellucci administration officials have pointed out that the state budget allocates $500 million in aid to Boston, including $200 million for use without restrictions.
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