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Dispute intensifies over SF job training funding amid glaring disparity in black unemployment

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Raekwon Gibson, 19, fills out an application to begin work at the Department at Public Works with help through the Youth Community Developers in Hunter’s Point on Monday. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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The president of the Board of Supervisors and a nonprofit leader are slamming The City’s workforce department for overlooking several nonprofits serving black communities when allocating critical job training funding.

The recent spotlighting of San Francisco as leading the nation with the worst disparity for black unemployment, despite an overall low unemployment rate, is only intensifying the debate over the taxpayer funding that helps residents land jobs in various industries like construction, hospitality and health care.

While the dispute has for weeks occurred largely behind-the-scenes, it became very public late Thursday afternoon at City Hall.

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That was when Board of Supervisors President London Breed lambasted Todd Rufo, head of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, during a cursory hearing on his budget proposal before the board’s Budget and Finance Committee. She blasted Rufo for the disparity in San Francisco’s black unemployment and for the recent funding decisions of the department’s request for proposals for job training.

Breed even threatened to hold hostage the department’s budget if he didn’t address her complaint by adding funding to several groups serving black communities that aren’t in line to receive funding. She specifically mentioned two nonprofits by name.

Last month, Shamann Walton — executive director of Young Community Developers, a nonprofit that works with young adults in the Bayview and Hunters Point neighborhoods — leveled similar criticism over the funding decisions during an interview with the San Francisco Examiner.

That sharp criticism could continue Wednesday during the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee hearing Breed previously called in March on the department’s workforce job training. Breed called for the hearing following a report by the Brookings Institution, which found that San Francisco has the highest employment disparity between blacks and whites in the country, with 84 percent of white San Franciscans employed compared to 53 percent of black San Franciscans.

Breed specifically honed in on OEWD’s funding allocations under a recent request for proposals to determine which nonprofits would receive funding. The department received 127 proposals from 69 agencies, requesting a total of $35.2 million, more than the $14 million available for next fiscal year.

“The budget allocations don’t reflect the need,” Breed said. “I was really confused by some of the decisions.”

She continued, “When we talk about the increase in the unemployment rate amongst the African-American community and then when I look at the numbers and the significant decline in funding for African-American serving organizations, I am just confused by that.”

She specifically referred to nonprofits San Francisco Conservation Core, which was recommended to receive some funding, and Collective Impact, which includes the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center in the Western Addition. Collective Impact, which was not recommended to receive funding, declined to comment.

Gloria Chan, the OEWD spokesperson, told the Examiner on Monday that she could not discuss the details of the request for proposals because the process was not yet finalized. “We cannot comment when we are going through the RFP,” Chan said. She also said that exact amounts had yet to be set.

The criticism of workforce spending in San Francisco is, in fact, nothing new, and something that several city officials have attempted to improve for more than a decade to bring more accountability for the outcomes given the amount of spending.

Breed suggested that some of the funding decisions were based more on appearances than reality. She noted some groups had greater resources and “could write proposals well and submit in writing something that looks nice and sounds nice but is not always community serving.”

She added, “That’s what I’m most concerned about, just making sure that your department has a better understanding of the community that it is here to serve.”

Rufo left the possibility of funding changes open while he also acknowledged the shortcomings.

“The African-American unemployment rate in this city is unacceptable. I completely agree with you,” Rufo said. “We’re focused on delivering services where the need is greatest. Are we doing enough? Well, clearly the African-American unemployment tells us we are not.”

Breed, who talked to Rufo about the issue personally prior to last week’s hearing, said that “this is weighing heavy on me and it’s frustrating and the time where we have the ability to actually do something about it is during the budget process.” Mayor Ed Lee must submit a proposed city budget, which would include the workforce funding allocations, to the board for review and adoption by June 1.

Walton, who serves as president of the Board of Education and is a District 10 candidate for the Board of Supervisors, said while his group is in line to receive OEWD funding for some services, it would no longer receive OEWD funding for services it specifically tailors toward transitional age youth (TAY).

“Our specific funding for the TAY population we did not receive the resources for. I thought it was going to Hunters Point Family,” Walton said. “That didn’t happen. It is problematic that no Bayview organization got the resources.”

Hunters Point Family, a nonprofit that provides jobs for youth in the Hunters Point area, was not recommended to receive funding and didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Walton said the young residents in the area could suffer.

“We’re dealing with the most isolated, the most disenfranchised, the folks that have the most issues that have to be addressed. There is a lot of work to be done,” Walton said. “The people we work with are the most isolated, the most separated from the opportunities for success. So we have to continue to provide those opportunities in these areas. That’s what it comes down to, access.”

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