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Youth jobs program gets approval in House committee

Youth jobs program gets approval in House committee

Dustin Hurst
February 18, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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February 18, 2010

A youth jobs program endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter that provided work for 840 young people during the summer of 2009 has received approval to continue operations in 2010, should the program receive funding.  The Idaho Department of Labor asked the House Commerce and Humans Resources Committee to tweak the law so it could legally receive donations from public and private entities to continue the program.

The program, in its second year of operation last summer, received stimulus dollars that allowed the state, in cooperation with several federal agencies, to put young adults to work.  The Idaho Job Corps (IJC), as its called, focused on at-risk or disadvantaged young people who faced certain "employment barriers" which prevented them from otherwise obtaining work.  Most participants worked for minimum wage performing manual labor, though some worked at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls and others worked with non-profit child care provides to gain real-life work experience.  The Idaho Department of Labor reports that more than 250 different work sites benefited from the labor of the workers.

For 2010, the department is unsure if it will receive funding from the federal government to continue the program.  Under the proposal, the department would be allowed to receive donations from all levels of government, as well as private businesses and non-profit entities.

Dwight Johnson, representing the department at the hearing, told IdahoReporter.com that the program this summer will be funded with "ongoing resources" from within the department itself.  He said  if the proposal passes both bodies of the Legislature, the department will begin seeking funds from outside sources immediately.  Last summer, IJC worked with the city of Meridian and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to provide labor for the program and, according to Johnson, the department is in talks with Meridian to continue on as a program sponsor.  Johnson said he also expects the U.S. Forest Service to play an active role in this year's program.  Typically, the sponsoring entity, such as a city or federal department, pays the wages and/or provides equipment for workers.

Rep. Marv Hagedorn's, R-Meridian, son, John, participated in the program as a crew leader in 2009.  In committee Wednesday, the elder Hagedorn sang praises of IJC.  He said that he worked with IJC when it was pilot project in 2008 and said that the workers had an "amazing turning point" happen for each of them during their work.  He said that he is enthusiastic about IJC's ability to provide Idaho with more skilled labor that would otherwise not be available.  Though he doesn't sit on the committee, Hagedorn offered to sponsor the bill on the House floor.

The only question about the program came from Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart, D-Boise, who asked Johnson to explain the "emergency clause" contained in the bill.  Johnson said that in order for the program to collect funds for summer 2010, the legislation must be enacted as quickly as possible.

The bill received unanimous passage by the committee and now heads to the full House for a vote.  Hagedorn will be the floor sponsor of the legislation.   Otter characterizes the program as a way for Idaho’s youth have “mentorships of the best teacher’s available, Idaho’s workers.”  In a short video accompanying the department’s presentation to the committee, Otter praised the work of the IJC.

“I don’t know where we can spend our money better,” said Otter.

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