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Second discriminatory claim filed against summer program

Posted at 10:30 PM, Jul 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-10 01:32:10-04

A summer program matching young people with jobs in Omaha faces a second complaint from a south Omaha activist claiming it is discriminatory towards Hispanics.

Ben Salazar, a community activist of nearly 50 years filed a discriminatory complaint against the Empowerment Network's Step Up Omaha! program and the City of Omaha with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in May for the second time.

In 2013, Salazar filed a complaint with HUD arguing the program, which is in part funded by the City, focused too much on providing help to teens and young adults from North Omaha and excluded other applicants, particularly Hispanics from South Omaha.

The program, which helps provide teens and young adults ages 14-21 with summer jobs, internships, and work experience, was founded in 2008 in North Omaha and expanded to South Omaha in 2012.

HUD completed its investigation on Salazar's claims in 2015 and announced no discrimination occurred,  but did suggest corrective actions to help increase Hispanic participation. 

Step Up Omaha! President Willie Barney and Mayor Jean Stothert said the complaint has no merit. 

In a statement to 3 News Now, Stothert said: "Step Up Summer Jobs is in its tenth year and has proven to be a very successful program. This summer, 600 young people from all over the City are in the program with over 100 businesses participating. The program is well worth the city's investment."

Barney said the program has gone above and beyond to include Hispanic youth by partnering with organizations in South Omaha, providing bilingual promotional material, and even making individual calls to applicants. He added there's a big disparity between the number of Hispanic individuals who apply, and those that register. 

"If you look at the successes of the program, we continue to expand the experiences, businesses, careers, entrepreneurship opportunities, and goals for youth and the goal is to continue to expand it more by adding more partners, more businesses, more participants and expand even more in 2019," said Barney. "We plan to continue working to increase participation city-wide."

Salazar said he believes his claims hold merit and will continue to push for more Hispanic participation in the program. He also said he has organizations ready to support him and others to create another program like Step Up Omaha! in South Omaha to cater to Hispanic youth.