The city of New Orleans has lagged in getting youth in public workforce programs paid this summer after parents provided wrong and incomplete personal information for their kids and local employers didn’t send timesheets, city officials told a City Council committee Tuesday (Aug. 29).

The payment issues have prompted some councilmembers to push for a state audit of the city’s accounts payable and vendor payment systems.

City officials blamed the payment delays mostly on paperwork issues, such as data entry errors and incorrect banking information, at the council’s Economic Development and Special Development Projects Committee meeting

“There are absolutely no winners here,” Director of the Office of Workforce Development Sunae Villavaso said. “Anytime we fail our youth, in any capacity, is a disservice to them.”

Officials said that out of the 974 youth participants in the mayor’s summer youth employment program, 98% have been fully paid. That leaves 24 youth workers who have not been paid for work from earlier this summer, officials said, with payment now scheduled for Sept. 6. 

But the payment issues this summer have prompted frustration from teens and their parents, as news outlets have reported. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has previously attributed the payment delays to a “glitch” in the city’s payroll software.

New Orleans Recreation Development Commission CEO Larry Barabino told a different council committee Monday (Aug. 28) that 52 teens who were supposed to receive stipends through a NORD career camp in June have yet to be paid. Barabino also blamed the payment delays on data entry issues and incomplete applications. More than 350 other teens who participated in another NORD program, which ran from late June to mid-July, are expected to be paid by Sept. 6, he said. 

City Councilmember Helena Moreno said that the unfulfilled payment issues are indicative of broader payment delays for the city’s vendors and contractors, which have affected city services and minority businesses. Moreno and Councilmember JP Morrell also plan to introduce a resolution urging the state’s legislative auditor to look into the city’s payment problems. The councilmembers also want to compel the city to pay any financial penalties it may be required to fork over under the law for the delayed payments to young people.

“The situation has escalated to the point that businesses no longer want to do business with the city of New Orleans because steady pay has become so hard,” Moreno said at the committee meeting.

“If we as a city are not paying to fix our traffic lights, which are critical for public safety, then [our contractor’s] employees are not getting paid. Which means that that employee’s rent or mortgage also doesn’t get paid.” said Councilmember Lesli Harris.

Employers partnered with the city’s youth jobs program and other city residents also voiced their concerns about the delay in payments.

Jiarra Rayford, a local real estate agent, speaks at a New Orleans City Council committee meeting on Aug. 29, 2023. Credit: Khalil Gillon / Verite

Jiarra Rayford, the owner and broker of Rayford Realty NOLA, has been a partner with the city’s jobs program for three years, she said. Rayford was frustrated about the lack of communication between job sites and the city’s jobs program staff.

“I’m not sure where the miscommunication lies,” Rayford said.

Brideisha Harness-Parker, founder of the New Orleans Youth Coalition, also employs youth workers through the city’s JOB1 program, she said. “JOB1’s system is flawed and all need to be held accountable. It should not be a problem to pay our kids by any means,” Harness-Parker said. “Our kids have been lied to, faced with unacceptable barriers and [there’s] no accountability from JOB1 leaders.”

Moreno has indicated the council intends to discuss the proposed legislation at its next regular meeting on Sept. 7.

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Khalil Gillon is a New Orleans native from Algiers. He attended Thomas Jefferson High School and is a graduate of Louisiana State University in political journalism. Passionate about politics, Gillon ran...