Rahm: City to invest in youth jobs program that lost state funds

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on Sunday that the city will pick up the tab for a West Side youth jobs program that teaches kids how to fix bicycles after it lost financing from the state, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

“I would like the state of Illinois to see the kids here as an example to invest in rather than as a way to pull the money and pull the rug from underneath them,” Emanuel said as he stood among a group of young bicycle mechanics at Bikes N’ Roses, 2008 N. Lawler Ave., a nonprofit bike shop in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood.

As part of the ongoing budget battle in the state that has put a stranglehold on social service funding, Gov. Bruce Rauner froze $276,000 that had been earmarked for Bikes N’ Roses.

The city will help cover the cost by making a $60,000 investment to restore 20 yearlong youth jobs at Bike N’ Roses. The program also will receive $94,000 to fund 50 summer jobs through the city’s One Summer Chicago youth employment program.

The bike shop closed its Belmont Cragin location earlier this year because of the state funding cuts. The funding from the city offers it a new lifeline. Bikes N’ Roses has another location in the Albany Park neighborhood.

“The governor and General Assembly have not passed a budget in 10 months and as a result this program was put on hold because of lack of funding,” Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) said Sunday.

In an emailed response to a request for comment, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly wrote: “Due to years of fiscal mismanagement by the Democratic majority, the administration was forced to freeze this grant because the state did not have the money to pay for it. Governor Rauner continues to try to work with the General Assembly to enact job-creating structural reforms and pass a truly balanced budget.”

Lizeth Romero, 17, a senior at Prosser Career Academy, said Bikes N’ Roses offered her a job when no one else would.

“I started as a 16-year-old teenager who didn’t know how to ride a bike, and now I’ve become an active youth leader, a skilled bike mechanic and a mentor,” said Romero, who wants to become a pediatrician. She added that she also learned how to ride a bike.

Emanuel applauded his wife, Amy Rule, who attended the news conference Sunday. “My wife is here, who is also going to take a leadership role in recruiting private sector [businesses] to step up for summer jobs,” he said.

Villegas said a group of youth employees from the bike shop plan to ride bicycles to Springfield in May to call on Rauner reinstate youth job funding.