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Gillibrand touts youth jobs at Jax Heights visit

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U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) visited Make the Road New York in Jackson Heights Tuesday to tout the Urban Jobs Act, a bill the senator introduced in May aimed at employing at-risk youth, as neighborhood legislators joined her in supporting the act.

Gillibrand said more than one-third of the nation’s young minorities are unemployed, a figure that is triple the national average of unemployment, and her bill would help at-risk youth in Queens.

“These numbers are not acceptable and we must change them,” Gillibrand said.

The bill, introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-Fort Greene) in February and into the Senate by Gillibrand in May, would provide federal funding to nonprofits that help urban young people find jobs.

The bill defines “at risk” as those 18-25 years old who are not enrolled in secondary or post-secondary school or who have been through the criminal justice system. Eligible nonprofits would provide a variety of services such as case management, educational programming, employment and job readiness services and other support services for basic needs.

“It is not a Democratic idea. It is not a Republican idea. It is just common sense,” Gillibrand said.

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), state Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) and City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) also threw their support behind the bill at a news conference at immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York’s Jackson Heights office at 92-10 Roosevelt Ave.

“It takes a comprehensive approach to targeting at-risk youth,” Peralta said, noting that Hispanics have low graduation and high dropout rates.

Ferreras said elected officials are most often asked how they can help young people. She said this bill would assist programs like the federally funded one that helped her get a job at 14. Ferreras said the program helped make her the councilwoman she is today.

“There is no difference between me and the people in this room,” Ferreras said.

Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, said the legislation would be an “injection of hope” into millions of neighborhoods.

“It recognizes the role that communities play in the lives of our young people,” Archila said.

The text of the bill states that the act would appropriate $20 million in grants in fiscal year 2012, $30 million in fiscal year 2013, adding on an additional $10 million each year until the bill provides $60 million in grants for fiscal year 2016.

“I’m hopeful that we will get bipartisan support on it,” Gillibrand said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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