Use It or Lose It

The county must spend most of its current $35.2 million community development grant by October 31

Those obstacles are myriad, Glasgow says, from not turning in reimbursement notices quickly to encountering stumbling blocks as an agency tries to get projects through the maze of county permits and approvals. Glasgow believes it also is necessary for the county to get tougher about who gets money. Some nonprofit development corporations simply may not have the ability to do the development projects they've proposed. "At some stage the county has to step up to the plate and defund some of these programs. That is a hard decision, and our failure to make those hard decisions in the past has gotten us to where we are today," Glasgow explains. "We need a more studied approach to allocation and a better monitoring of activities to make sure services are provided on a timely basis."

If the money isn't spent by October 31, the county may find that its CDBG allotment is reduced annually until the amount of unspent dollars reaches acceptable levels, says a HUD spokesman. "Hypothetically, the future year amount could be reduced up to the unexpended amount," the HUD spokesman explains. As of June 5, the county had $27 million in unexpended funds.

The five million dollars that will be used for the summer jobs program comes from a spate of projects the county funded that were not completed, including improvements to the Wynwood Neighborhood Service Center ($70,000 in 1996), the Little River Branch Library ($36,000 in 1999), and Opa-locka street improvements ($400,506 in 2000). Some citizens who attended the April 24 county commission meeting, where the five-million-dollar package was approved, endorsed employing area youth but didn't like the idea of using money that might have gone to economic development or other community improvements to do it. "They are taking economic-development dollars to fund a summer jobs program when there is too much of a need for economic development in the black community," gripes Leroy Jones, executive director of the Liberty City nonprofit Neighbors and Neighbors. "That money was supposed to help businesses that could have then hired someone to work year round instead of just for two months."

With vacuum, buffer, and broom, Alphonso Branch is helping Miami-Dade County spend $35.2 million
Steve Satterwhite
With vacuum, buffer, and broom, Alphonso Branch is helping Miami-Dade County spend $35.2 million

Others complain that the jobs program has a thrown-together-at-the-last-minute feel. In Overtown many youths didn't know about it, grumbles Irby McKnight, chairman of the Overtown Advisory Board. He got a call from an aide in county Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler's office the night before the county was to be at the Culmer-Overtown Neighborhood Center on NW Third Avenue to do recruitment. "I didn't know anything about it, so I wondered if anyone else knew," McKnight says. "I've seen no signs, and I walk the streets everyday. And then when I asked people, nobody seemed to know anything about it." On his own initiative, McKnight printed up flyers and went door-to-door telling parents about the program. The following day, about twenty teens applied. When the City of Miami came to the Culmer Center to recruit, McKnight and three other community activists again went door-to-door in Overtown. During that session, the City of Miami took applications from another 71 Overtown teenagers.

McKnight also says nonprofits in Overtown that might have employed some of the teenagers weren't asked to participate in the program. At the Overtown Advisory Board meeting on June 23, Barbara Lloyd from the Jefferson Reaves, Sr., Health Center said the clinic would like to participate in the program. Later Dorothy Fields from the Black Archives and the Lyric Theater, also said that both facilities could use some of the young people. "Those are the kinds of experiences dreams are made of," McKnight says. Told that both were interested, Alfano says he will give the Black Archives and the Reaves clinic a call. "This is a work in progress," he says.

Despite McKnight's criticisms, as of June 27, the consortium had certified 2530 teens as eligible to work. McKnight is pleased so many Overtown youths found work, a phenomenon that he attributes to his own efforts. And he is glad Commissioner Carey-Shuler's office took the time to call. "I usually call them up [the county] and say, how dare they do that, use our demographics to get the funds and then not hire any of our children," McKnight says. "I say anything I can think of to rattle their souls. This time they were not going for that anymore, and I'm happy they remembered that; I'm proud they remembered, because it really made a difference."

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