Mayor Charlie Hales is reversing a controversial decision to cut a city grant to fund summer teen internships.
Hales will restore a $194,000 grant for nonprofit Worksystems Inc. to fund 97 summer internships in city bureaus for low-income teenagers—a grant created by former Mayor Sam Adams.
The mayor's office and Multnomah County have also recruited TriMet, the Oregon Department of Human Services and the Port of Portland to add 129 internships through Worksystems, for a total of 226 internships valued at more than $250,000.
Another Hales cut—a $200,000 contract with Worksystems for a 10th-grade job-training program—won't be restored, the mayor's office says. The program will be discontinued.
"The goal is to do good, but to do it well," Hales said Thursday in a prepared statement. "We cannot fund great and ongoing programs with one-time funds… everyone rolled up their sleeves to find a sustainable way to help underserved youth."
In one of his first acts after taking office, Hales declared in January that he wouldn't fund the Worksystems programs from his office budget. But the move—designed as a first gesture toward filling a $25 million city budget shortfall—backfired.
Two city commissioners, Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman, called for the mayor to fund the programs. A coalition of African-American groups, including the Albina Ministerial Alliance, were also outraged.
The mayor's office has been quietly scrambling for more than a month to find partners in financing Worksystems internships. Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, a longtime proponent of Worksystems, helped the mayor's office find new funding.
"We didn't get everything we tried to do," says Hales' spokesman Dana Haynes. "We tried to save $400,000, and we didn't."
Haynes says the Worksystems decision isn't the mayor's office backtracking from its commitment to slashing costs, and it won't necessarily be a model for future decisions.
"Did we magically cure the budget? No," Haynes says. "We would be $25 million dollars short if we caved every time."
The $394,000 was part of one-time money set aside by Adams' office in last year's budget. Hales has not asked for any Worksystems funding in this year's budget. His staff says the city is looking at other means to fund the internships.
"The city doesn't only function as a bank," says Hales' policy director Josh Alpert. "We have other tools we can use."
TriMet can afford the internships partly because it cut its own, most expensive internship program this year.
TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says the transit agency will fund 30 Worksystems internships with money it saved by eliminating its own "First Steps" internship program. That program cost $114,457, while the Worksystems internships will cost TriMet $60,000.
"Young people will be placed throughout the agency," Fetsch says, "giving them exposure to future careers in transportation."