Mayor says she won't fund job-training program, sparking debate

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has declined to fund a proposed East Baltimore job-training program backed by an influential community group, sparking a war of words over whether City Hall is doing enough to help the unemployed.

The interfaith coalition Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development says its leaders have a proposal to provide 50 members of the Oliver neighborhood with jobs and want $594,000 in funding over three years from the Rawlings-Blake administration. The program would target ex-offenders and others chronically unemployed.

The mayor rejected the proposal, telling the organization in a letter Monday that the city "is not in a position to provide funding for the program at this time."

About 200 people packed Memorial Baptist Church in Oliver Tuesday evening to protest the decision, at times booing a photograph of Rawlings-Blake.

"We raised $1.2 million ourselves," said Melvin Wilson, leader of the BUILD Citywide Jobs Team, who said the group's request to the mayor would only amount to $200,000 per year. "She said no."

On Tuesday, Rawlings-Blake called BUILD a "trusted partner" but said she can't simply cut checks to every well-meaning organization that asks for money and can only provide small reimbursements to job-training organizations approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

She encouraged BUILD to apply for grants from charitable organizations.

"They have a proposal that just doesn't work," Rawlings-Blake said. "I have continuously supported efforts to connect previously incarcerated people with jobs. I don't take this lightly. I understand there are barriers to employment."

BUILD proposed that the 50 workers — deemed some of the hardest to employ — would be trained on construction job sites in East Baltimore while making $10.69 an hour. After a one-year training program, the workers would begin apprenticeships with the International Painters Union.

Community leaders noted that the city government has a $2.5 billion operating budget and has funded millions of dollars for development subsidies.

"We are angry with this mayor. We are tired of what this mayor is not doing," said the Rev. Marshall Prentice, pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Oliver. "If she doesn't like our plan, then what's her plan? We've got to get Baltimore working, and we want a meeting about it."

Rawlings-Blake called a news conference Tuesday to highlight some of her administration's efforts to employ local residents. She's signed an executive order called "Employ Baltimore" to assist companies in applications for city work if they have hired city residents.

She said BUILD is welcome to work with the Mayor's Office of Employment Development to reach a resolution of the dispute.

"I don't think it would be the most effective and efficient use of more than $500,000," she said of the BUILD plan. "I get frustrated because their response is, 'We're angry and we're not going to take it anymore.' Anger doesn't make progress. Sitting down at the table and doing the hard work, that's how you make progress."

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