(Image: The Urban League)
A jobs program created to help African Americans in Seattle with criminal backgrounds and other “barriers to employment” find work that became a hot button issue during the election may have emerged as the biggest winner of the race for District 3.
Over the course of last year’s election season, funding for Career Bridge — a workforce re-entry program managed by the Urban League that connects men of color with barriers to employment (like criminal records or homelessness) to jobs and social services — was championed by the final two contenders for the District 3 seat: socialist incumbent Kshama Sawant and Urban League CEO Pamela Banks. During a September press conference on gun violence in Seattle, Banks said Sawant wasn’t prioritizing the issue and promoted her public safety program which included doubling the funding for Career Bridge. Sawant later praised the program at a District 3 candidates debate and, a few months later during the city council’s haggling over the 2016 budget, lawmakers voted to increase its funding.
Mayor Ed Murray’s original 2016 budget proposal didn’t include any additional money for the program, so council member Sawant — fresh from re-election — publicly went to bat for doubling the city’s allocation from the original $400,000 to $800,000. Some behind-the-scenes haggling went down between Sawant, former budget committee chair and council member Nick Licata, and Tim Burgess, who wanted $200,000 instead, telling CHS that the Urban League wasn’t in a position to effectively spend $400,000 in 2016 alone. Banks said Sawant’s office had not contacted the Urban League about her proposed $400,000 amendment. Licata negotiated a compromise, opting for Burgess’s $200,000 as well as an additional $200,000 for the City Human Services Department to allocate for general jobs programs — money which the Urban League can apply for. All-in-all, it was a win for Career Bridge.
Banks partially attributes the council’s support for the program to the attention Career Bridge got on the campaign trail. “It was a campaign issue so it was pretty darn easy [to get more funding],” Banks told CHS. “They supported it more because of the campaign.”
But while more funding for Career Bridge wasn’t exactly a hard sell for last year’s council, the program has faced cautious skepticism from city lawmakers over the course of its budding three-year lifetime.
The program was conceived under the wing of former Mayor Mike McGinn, who, after a spike in gun violence in 2012 and meetings with organizations, advocates such as the Black Prisoners Caucus and Village of Hope, and leaders in the African American community, allocated $210,000 in the 2013 city budget for a week-long pilot of Career Bridge with fifty participants to be jointly managed by City’s Office of Economic Development and the Human Services Department. An audit of the program was also ordered along with the initial funding, which continued its review through 2014. In the spring of 2014 management of the program was transferred to the Urban League, and a hike in funding to $400,000. Then McGinn lost his reelection bid to Ed Murray in the end of 2014, ushering a key anchor for the program out of City Hall.
“After McGinn lost, I had to reach out [to the Murray administration] and say don’t kill this,” said Banks. “There was some hesitancy [on the old city council]. That’s the reason the audit was done.”
But the audit report came back in the summer of 2015 with a glowing review of the pilot, with 81% of the initial batch of participants from 2013 and 2014 finding employment after graduation of the brief course. More specific and recent numbers follow the same trend. Continue reading