Testimony of Ilana Boivie at the Hearing on Strategies to Improve Employment Outcomes for District Youth, DC Council Committee on Workforce

Chairperson Silverman and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Ilana Boivie, and I am the senior policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI promotes budget and policy choices to expand economic opportunity for DC residents and to reduce income inequality in the District of Columbia, through independent research and policy recommendations.

DCFPI is pleased that the Council is committed to expanding the city’s jobs programs in order to help our youth find quality employment, through The Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Expansion Act of 2017 and The Safe Way Home Act of 2017. However, we also believe that the programs could be improved in certain ways.

Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (MBSYEP) Expansion

 Bill 22-0054, The Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Expansion Act of 2017, makes several changes to MBSYEP, including permanently expanding the program to include 22-24 year olds, allowing participants to earn wages greater than the minimum stipulated in the statute, and allowing participants to work beyond the traditional six-week period.

Of the 22-24 year olds who participated in 2016, a little over half (57 percent) of them were not in school, and nearly 70 percent stated that they were seeking employment (either full- or part-time) at the end of the program.[1] With such a large number of older youth seeking permanent employment, DOES should do all that it can to provide these youth with access to longer-term options.

  • For one, the department should ensure that self-identified out-of-school youth are connected with the Youth ReEngagement Center.
  • In addition, DOES should explore opportunities to further collaborate with DCPS, DC public charter schools, and OSSE to ensure that there are intentional connections for youth exiting MBSYEP to enter occupational training or year-round employment programs.
  • Third, DOES should consistently track outcomes of older MBSYEP participants after program completion—including information on how many gain employment and in what timeframe, what wages they earn, and how long they keep their jobs. For those who are unsuccessful in gaining employment, an analysis can be conducted to try to determine the reasons for this, and areas for MBSYEP improvement in this area.

In addition, given that so many older youth want long-term employment, it is somewhat unclear why the bill allows an extension of the program beyond the six-week timeframe. It seems that rather than extending the program by a small number of additional weeks, resources may be better spent on services to help youth find permanent employment, either at the MBSYEP employer or elsewhere. If the intention is to provide an extension for “supervisory” and other program-support roles that may require longer participation, the bill language should explicitly state which MBSYEP roles are exempt from the six-week limit. Removing the limit across all MBSYEP participants, as the bill does now, could lead to cost overruns and program overreach into year-round programming.

The bill would allow employers to provide a wage above the minimum set in statute, but it is unclear whether this is necessary to engage youth. The bill language is unclear which entity would pay these additional wages—the participating employer, or DOES. This should be made explicit, and if DOES is responsible for the additional wages, clear criteria should be put in place to determine when additional wages may be provided. Also, as a cost control measure, DOES should consistently track the number and total wages of youth paid more than the standard wage for their age group and role.

In addition, a number of other improvements could be made to the MBSYEP program, many of which were discussed in a recent series of reports from the DC auditor. These include: 

  1. Improving Services for Host Sites: The District should develop a standard curriculum to ensure that all hosts have a clear understanding of their expectations and can communicate program rules to participants.
  2. Improving Services for Participants: We encourage DOES to continue to focus on embedding additional skills, such as resume writing, financial literacy, and healthy lifestyles, into the overall program design and delivery. As additional skills are embedded into the program, DOES staff should carefully evaluate any extra barriers or accessibility concerns they might be imposing, especially on youth with disabilities.
  3. Developing a Youth One-Stop: The development of a youth-specific Virtual One Stop could be highly effective in connecting youth not only to postsecondary educational options, but also employment and training opportunities. This development is referenced in the District’s WIOA State Plan, and should be a priority. We encourage DOES to engage with the DC Youth Re-engagement Center to leverage best practices, lessons learned, and opportunities to minimize duplication across their respective One Stop efforts.

Expanding On the Job Training for Young Adults

The District’s On the Job Training program (OJT) is a new pilot program that provides subsidized employment to jobseekers who may find it more difficult to find a job on their own, for a variety of reasons. To date, the program has served 45 participants and 18 employers. The program has had some early signs of success, including that the vast majority of participants have completed a six-month stint with their employer.[2]

B22-0111, The Safe Way Home Act of 2017, would expand the OJT program to serve 1,000 youth aged 18-24, from Wards 4-8. DCFPI is pleased that the DC Council understands the need to bring programs for disconnected youth to a meaningful scale. We also believe that “earn while you learn” models such as OJT—programs that train workers on the job so that they can earn a wage at the same time—can enable more participants to be successful, if targeted correctly.

However, several aspects of this particular program are yet uncertain. First, expanding from a pilot of just 45 participants to 1,000 seems like an extremely large undertaking, and it is unclear whether DOES has the capacity to expand the program so rapidly.

In addition, we think that more information should be assessed on the OJT pilot before undertaking a major expansion. For example, DOES should track the number of participants who are hired permanently after the program’s completion, as well as those who are not hired, and why. An analysis could further include an assessment of the experience of both employees and employers participating in the program.

Finally, it is unclear whether the target population of the Safe Way Home legislation would be universally best-served in an adult program. Given the trauma experienced by many youth exposed to violent environments, we’d encourage connection to a menu of developmentally appropriate programs offered across the District’s workforce system.

Looking more broadly, DCFPI believes that new programs the District has developed—such as OJT, as well as the LEAP Academy and Career Connections—should be adopted as part of a strategy to build a comprehensive workforce system, rather than in a piecemeal fashion. In this way, we can better ensure that we are targeting participants most in need, as well as making the most effective use of both federal and local funding moving forward.

For example, while OJT and other programs purport to serve those who might be more difficult to employ, it is unclear whether these programs are comprehensively targeting and serving the DC resident populations most in need of assistance. Also, the current OJT program targets WIOA-eligible adults, but local money is used to fund the program. If the participants are WIOA-eligible, perhaps federal WIOA money could be tapped to fund the program, which would enable the city to put local funds to an alternative use.

Finally, we believe it is critically important for the District to convert the goals set into the WIOA state plan into an actionable plan, so that decisions about what kinds of programs to develop and expand, such as OJT, can be made soon.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today; I am happy to answer any questions.

[1] DOES. “2016 MSYEP by the Numbers.”

[2] DOES Performance Oversight Responses 2017. #2, p. 17.