By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton JournalEDMONTON - About 3,000 summer jobs, including the popular Green Shack program in city parks, are on the chopping block as the province closes its Summer Temporary Employment Program.Community leagues were shocked to discover this week that the $7.1-million program is on hold and expect the funding will be cut in the March 7 provincial budget, said Allan Bolstad of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues.“We’ve got 180 Green Shack programs that run activities for kids sprinkled all over the city and the vast majority use STEP funding,” Bolstad said. “How is that going to be funded? That’s up in the air.”The province’s Human Services Department suspended the application process for STEP funding recently with a notice on its website: “There is no decision on funding for the Summer Temporary Employment Program at this time.” Department spokesman Ryan Cromb said there will be no further comment until the budget.With no warning of the funding cut for this year, community leagues and the City of Edmonton is scrambling to figure out if the popular programs can be kept going for the thousands of kids who spend summer days at the supervised playgrounds, Bolstad said.“This will be a challenge for a lot of parents who relied on the summer programs” as well as for students trying to earn money to pay their tuition, he added.Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta said $7.4 million is a small amount to the government but it plays “a significant role” in keeping community programs running, and it is crucial support non-profit organizations, which received 60 per cent of the funding to hire summer students.“The government clearly has so many other options to address their budget issues instead to taking away programs that support kids and provide jobs skills,” Moore-Kilgannon said.“When the government talks about cuts, this is the first step of many that will impact people.”The move is especially hard to swallow given Human Services Minister Dave Hancock is set to announce his new social policy framework on March 1, the day the STEP applications would normally be due, he said.That announcement will come with plenty of publicity while the fund cut was “quietly done behind people’s backs’” Moore Kilgannon said.Some community leagues have been told to apply for more funding from the federally funded Canada Summer Jobs program, he added.More than 2,400 organizations across the province use STEP funding to hire summer students. STEP was started partly with the goal of giving students an opportunity to get work experience.
By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journalspratt@edmontonjournal.comThis article was published in the Edmonton Journal on February 27, 2013. Read more on the Edmonton Journal website.