Youthful protest over job funding disrupts budget debate

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BOSTON – Protesters backing an amendment to increase funding for youth jobs programs were escorted out of the gallery in the House of Representatives during the budget debate Tuesday after they began chanting at lawmakers and displayed a banner reading, “What you fund can build or ruin lives.”

The group, representing the Youth Jobs Coalition, then gathered at the entrance of the chamber, yelling, “Whose budget? Our budget!” and “What do we want? Youth jobs!”

Some demonstrators wore orange jumpsuits with the slogan “Inspiration not incarceration” stenciled on the back.

The group called on lawmakers to support an amendment filed by Rep. John Scibak (D-South Hadley) that would add $4.4 million to the appropriation for the YouthWorks program, which pays the wages of low-income teens working summer jobs in nonprofits and local governments.

The House Ways and Means Committee’s budget proposal allocates $9 million for YouthWorks, and protesters say that isn’t enough to keep pace with minimum wage increases.

“Usually, the money is supposed to give 5,000 youth a job around Massachusetts,” said one of the protesters, Ashley Delva of Dorchester. “If we receive $9 million, that will not cover 5,000 jobs and a lot of youth will be jobless. That can lead them into different paths, down the prison pipeline, and we don’t want that to happen.”

The House recessed while the protesters were outside. Lawmakers planned to gather in the House members’ lounge at 4:45 p.m. to discuss amendments dealing with labor and economic development, the category that includes Scibak’s proposal.

Written by Katie Lannan