Testimony of Rachel White, Senior Youth Policy Analyst, before the Committee on Executive Administration and Labor

February 27, 2023
Person Testifying: Rachel White
Title: Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: DC Council Committee on Executive Administration and Labor
Type of Hearing: Oversight Hearing
Topic of Testimony: Performance Oversight Hearing for Department of Employment Services

February 27, 2023

Good morning Committee Chair Bonds and members of the Committee on Executive Administration and Labor. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today by providing testimony regarding the performance of the Department of Employment Services (DOES) and its role in expending Workforce Investment Opportunity Act (WIOA)  to provide employment solutions tailored to the needs of young people.

My name is Rachel White and I am DC Action’s Senior Youth Policy Analyst. At DC Action, we use research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change.

Through our Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition, we advocate with youth and youth-serving organizations in the District of Columbia for policies, funding, and programs that expand access to comprehensive support and services that disconnected youth and youth experiencing homelessness need to successfully transition into stable and productive adulthood. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

For every day a young person waits for housing, they are 2% more likely to re-experience homelessness later in life. This is a cumulative statistic. Two days of waiting is equal to 4% more likely to re-experience homelessness as an adult. One way to prevent youth who are homeless from entering the adult homelessness system is by providing youth in the District a pathway to economic freedom in the form of workforce development opportunities created to meet their unique needs.

The Department of Employment Services serves as the District’s fiscal agent and distributes WIOA funds  based on relevant policies set by the DC WIC for youth programming. The major issue is there is a lack of transparency on how DOES is allocating WIOA due to the  lack of oversight of DOES by WIC as evidenced by a report from the federal Department of Labor. The Department of Labor indicated that WIC is not conducting required oversight of DOES and that DOES procures youth services without consulting WIC.

During FY22, WIC received 4.6 million in WIOA funding for youth programming and we are unable to determine how and if this funding was actually spent. Looking through DOES performance oversight responses, we can only identify how roughly 2 million of the dollars have been spent. Without the appropriate oversight, it is highly likely we are missing the mark and perpetuating the gap that exists with connecting youth to workforce development programming.

We have attempted to meet with DOES multiple times to address this issue during this past fiscal year to no avail. We recognize there have been some staff changes within the department and we are looking forward to connecting with the youth programs team in the near future.

While we understand that the Department of Employment Services provides a variety of workforce development programs, none of the existing offerings are appropriate for a segment of the population that could stand to benefit the most from a supportive job earning a living wage, youth experiencing homelessness.

Prior to the pandemic, maintaining employment for youth experiencing homelessness was already a challenge. Based on Youth Count data, 75% of parenting youth and 69% of non-parenting youth had no form of cash income. Employment got harder for all youth during the pandemic. Thousands more youth received unemployment insurance during the pandemic (from April 2020 through January 2021) than in the same period a year prior (an average of 100 youth under age 22 and 277 youth ages 22-24 each month from April 2019 through January 2020, vs. 2210 youth under ages 22 and 4055 youth ages 22-24 from April 2020 through January 2021). Youth experiencing homelessness likely faced additional hurdles to employment.

As we center our discussion around creating equitable outcomes, it is also important to note that employment for transgender youth is even harder. One-fourth of DC residents who are transgender and applied for or held a job in the prior year reported being fired, denied a promotion, or not being hired for a job they applied for because of their gender identity or expression during the prior year.  Another quarter reported other forms of mistreatment based on their gender identity or expression during that year, such as being forced to use a restroom that did not match their gender identity, being told to present in the wrong gender in order to keep their job, or having a boss or coworker share private information about their transgender status with others without their permission. While this treatment is unacceptable for any DC resident, it poses particular challenges for youth already experiencing the trauma of homelessness.

Employment refocuses individuals’ time and efforts on prosocial activities, making them less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Having a job also enables individuals to contribute income to their families, which can generate more personal support, stronger positive relationships, enhanced self-esteem, and improved mental health. For these reasons, employment is often seen as a gateway to becoming and remaining a law-abiding and contributing member of a community.

In a 2022 survey conducted by the Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition, youth reported the barriers and challenges they face with accessing and remaining engaged with current workforce development programs in the District and how these programs are not meeting their needs. These included:

  • Challenges with transportation to and from the program or work site
  • Programs lacked childcare availability (for young parents)
  • Programs did not have adequate attire and laundry facilities
  • Programs did not provide adequate pay or stipend to meet basic needs
  • Difficulty balancing program/work commitments with school
  • Experienced discrimination or harassment
  • Inadequate mental health support to deal with the trauma of homelessness
  • Lack of mentors or job coaches
  • Program did not result in a job with a livable wage

Investing in the creation of a targeted workforce development program that meets the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness, informed by youth and homeless service providers, would enable young people to gain financial independence and stability. We already have a program model in mind, based on the previously funded YouthBuild program at Sasha Bruce YouthWork, a youth homeless service provider in the District. With transparency and the appropriate oversight we would have a better idea if WIOA funding can be used to support this effort. This program includes GED instruction, skills development in areas informed by youth, and job placement that results in a livable wage. Youth will be connected to mental health counselors and case management services to provide help with childcare if need be, navigate the homeless services system, apartment searches, and mental health challenges. Youth will be provided with either stipends or an hourly wage the entire time they are participating in the program. Flexibility will be built in so young people can finish their GED or continue to get training if a job placement is not readily available.

We desperately need the cooperation and collaboration between WIC and DOES as we work to improve the workforce outcomes of youth experiencing homelessness. make this happen.

Thank you for your time and consideration. My full written testimony was sent to the committee prior to the hearing.  I would be happy to answer any questions.

Rachel White, JD

Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action