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Baltimore's YouthWorks program paid some people for work they didn't do, audit finds

At least 11 people received money from Baltimore’s YouthWorks employment program for work they didn’t do last summer, according to a city audit released Wednesday.

City Auditor Audrey Askew told Baltimore’s Board of Estimates that these improper payments “result in the city’s loss of revenues, decreased integrity and unreliability of information provided by the YouthWorks program.”

YouthWorks employs Baltimore residents ages 14 to 21 for five weeks during the summer. Last year, the city used “pay cards” instead of standard paychecks to compensate the young people, many of whom don’t have their own bank accounts.

About 7,500 youth were employed by nonprofits, city agencies and private-sector groups through the program last summer. The audit focused on 162 cases in which the participants’ pay cards were never activated. These people were instead sent roughly $42,500 worth of checks.

YouthWorks confirmed that 11 of those people received improper payments, according to the audit. One person sent $384 back to the city. The parent of a participant who wasn’t in the group of 11 sent back $214.

But roughly $3,750 was not recouped by YouthWorks. Askew said that money could have been spent to fund summer jobs for other teenagers, who instead missed out on earning money.

“Lack of oversight allowed improper payments to be undetected in cases where the participant did not actually work,” the audit states.

Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, said he takes the audit results seriously — and already implemented some of the recommendations.

He also noted the challenges his small staff faces keeping up with the long list of administrative duties associated with YouthWorks. Plus, he said, the number of improper payments identified in the audit is relatively small compared to the large population of youth who are compensated correctly.

Still, he said, “we would like to get that number to zero.”

This summer, Perkins-Cohen said, the office only ordered pay cards for the young people who showed up for work on the program’s first day, but that plan came with its own issues. YouthWorks often taps into a long waiting list after some people drop out due to summer school, health problems and other commitments.

“Now those young people have gone to work and we don’t have a card for them,” he said.

He said his office would find a way to ensure the people who jumped in after the start of summer are paid for their work. And in the future, Perkins-Cohen said, he looks forward to discussions about “how we balance the need for making sure cards aren’t misused, but also making sure we can get young people to work.”

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said the audit provided a chance to be “introspective” about the important program.

“Whatever oversight needs to be put in place,” she said, “we have a responsibility to do that.”

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