Days to Go until the NYC Budget is Due, Will the Summer Youth Employment Program be Saved?

One question this week, aside from many others, is whether the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) will be saved. There are only days to go before an adopted budget between the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to be reached (by June 30).

For weeks now the Mayor’s been hounded over reviving the SYEP which was temporarily scrapped in early April; canceled due to COVID-19 and budget shortfall concerns which, in turn, were brought on by the health crisis itself.

In February, the Mayor first mentioned related concerns. “Governor wants to shift $1.1 billion in Medicaid costs to New York City. … This could potentially lead to the total elimination of the Summer Youth Employment program, which reaches 70,000 young people each summer.”

On April 16, the Mayor unveiled the Budget Plan which prioritized protecting health, safety, shelter and access to food for all New Yorkers.

The Mayor’s pledge to see that no New Yorker went hungry would go very far with the massive distribution of food to all who needed it. As well, were the large scale programs of handing out masks, assuring COVID-19 testing and health coverage assurances to all as well as providing shelter to the homeless and others who had no adequate place to self quarantine.

Yet, also within this budget would be the following line item: Temporary suspension of Summer Youth Employment Program (DYCD) – $124M over FY20- 21

A week later, the mayor stated the following concerning the SYEP and its cancellation:

“So we couldn’t say, let’s start up a Summer Youth Employment Program when we didn’t even know what the summer would look like or whether they’d be employers to receive those kids and whether people could gather in one place or any of those things.”

“The second reason was money. We’re running out of money. This is obviously, you know, the crucial question as we look at what’s happening in Washington with the stimulus, but even beyond that, we’re in the middle of a massive budget crisis. It’s horrifying, all because of COVID-19 and of the things that we have to focus on, we had to focus again on health, on safety, on food, and on shelter, and we could not prioritize certain things as a result of needing to focus on those basics. So, Summer Youth was not going to be a financial priority compared to a lot of other things like the $170 million we’re spending on food already, again, a number that I think will be growing. So that’s the bottom line on how we got to the decision. “

The City Council has stressed their strong interest in saving the program. Mr. de Blasio has spoken recently of his future talks with them about this very thing.

I asked the Mayor last week about the timing, wondering how much time would be left of the Summer should they end up making a decision in the beginning of July. Admittedly, at the time, I wasn’t familiar enough with budgetary timing (again, June 30).

He stressed how, if a virtual approach was used then there should be little concern over timing.

“How much of it is online versus you know, kids doing things at a physical location. These are all very big and unanswered questions. Anything online could start immediately. Remembering that typically summer youth programs don’t start until July anyway, because kids are in school up until almost the very end of June. So, you know, anything online that can move very quickly. If we get to the point of anything being more physical location oriented, that’ll take more time, but I still think we’ll figure things out and we’ll be able to do something that will cover a substantial amount of the summer, and certainly it’d be better than what we feared,” said Mayor de Blasio.

“I mean, at the time in April, when we made the decision, we feared, we weren’t going to be able to do anything this summer because it looked like the disease we’re going to keep growing and growing steadily. But I think whatever we do, we’ll be able to get a substantial piece of the summer in.”

All these weeks, the mayor would repeatedly point to the economic crisis which had taken the city by storm. The necessary economic lock-down brought on by the Pandemic and the ensuing need to feed people and see to the collective health and safety of our populations left us in a financial bind.

It was to be a scenario which would demand cuts in many programs. SYEP would be one victim.

Over time, any concerns over COVID-19’s effect upon those youth participating in the program would dissolve, to some extent, as the thought of virtual participation would come to mind.

Not long ago, First Lady Chirlane McCray and Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson introduced three youth programs as part of the Racial Inclusion and Equity Task Force’ efforts to help the city’s most vulnerable youth and their families. These programs (Community Crisis Response Initiative, NeON, and Each One Teach One) would employ a virtual approach just as tele-learning was used when the NYC School System was closed.

I indirectly asked her if the methodologies used in her programs might be applied to SYEP if it were brought back. The First Lady somewhat confirmed that yes, there would likely be a virtual approach to be used.

This past week, teen activists held a town hall meeting as a plea for the program’s revival.

Kail Lin Kwek, one of the leaders of the Teens Take Charge Save SYEP Campaign had the following to say:

“We’re here because SYEP was supposed to start on July 7, in about 2 weeks. For anything to be close to possible we need an official announcement immediately. SYEP provides 75,000 jobs making it the nation’s largest ____  employer. Many of these jobs go to low income youth of color helping to bridge gaps in social capital and work-based learning for the youth who need it the most. In addition, SYEP keeps youth out of the streets, increasing employment and reducing incarceration rates. In the midst of an unpredictable and traumatizing semester the Mayor cut youth programming by about 30% and SYEP entirely. “

She would later add that if a decision wasn’t made by city hall by the end of the school year on June 26 then they would take to the streets to protest.

The site’s page dedicated to saving SYEP in 2020 states the following:

“Mayor Bill de Blasio said that, this year, the city cannot afford the Summer Youth Employment Program, a line item that represents 0.14% of the overall budget. We do not and will not accept that. The mayor has it all wrong. SYEP is not a cost, it is an investment. An investment that is more important this year than ever before.”

It’s not absolutely clear what the outcome would be. Whether the Mayor and the City Council would partly or fully bring back SYEP for this coming Summer. Yet, it’s my thinking that they would move heaven and earth to make it happen. I believe that.

Soon enough, an answer will be had.