Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (D) and Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Yorkville, Lenox Hill) joined advocates, providers, and students in a virtual rally Wednesday morning to call for full funding of New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Williams and Kallos also called for the passing of their joint legislation establishing a universal youth employment program.
Joining Williams and Kallos were Youth Services Chair Debi Rose (D-Staten Island); Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (D); Councilmember Carlina Rivera (D-East Village, Gramercy Park); Councilmember Carlos Manchaca (D-Brooklyn); J.T. Falcone from United Neighborhood Housing; Chinese Planning Council (CPC) Chief Policy and Public Affairs Officer Carlyn Cowen; Global Kids School Director Diamond Butler; University of Rochester student Jorge Morales; and CUNY student Joseph Cobourne.
Kallos started by detailing how, towards the beginning of the pandemic, Mayor de Blasio gave a 48-hour notice that SYEP would shut down entirely. It was eventually partially maintained—with 35,000 available employment opportunities, down from 75,000, and with 5-week instead of 8-week jobs.
Kallos stated: “At this point we can’t blame the virus anymore. Our city is making decisions and young people are paying the price.” The entire SYEP budget is $124M, with the reduced operation running at $51M. Kallos brought into question the rationale behind cutting the program to save money, when the City’s budget is over $90B.
Jumaane Williams first yielded time to Debi Rose, who emphasized the importance of preemptively calling for SYEP funding ahead of budget deliberations. She spoke about the program’s role in giving vulnerable populations access to the labor market.
“Our youth need SYEP more than ever,” said Rose. “We have seen an increase in gun violence, child abuse, and a lack of access to mental health services during the pandemic, all of which are exacerbated by the loss of jobs and income for our young people.
“We will not balance a budget on the backs of our vulnerable youth. We are being pre-emptive, and we will not allow this conversation to start off with a loss of youth services.”
Williams conveyed disappointment that the current administration expressed “no appetite” for a fully-funded SYEP. He thanked the people on the call for expanding SYEP from 25,000 to nearly 75,000 jobs, but noted that it was without the support of the City’s administration.
He also pointed out that the communities affected most by the pandemic are also hit the hardest by cuts to SYEP: 85 percent of the 150,000 people applying for SYEP jobs in 2019 identified as people of color.
Brewer, speaking after Williams, called out de Blasio directly. She said that SYEP is “the most insane program to cut”, insisted on ensuring that 75,000 SYEP jobs be made available this summer, and commented on the City’s youth mental health crisis.
“Thousands of creative, intelligent, successful New Yorkers have had their beginning with SYEP,” she said. “I’m here to say that it’s a lifeline, and it needs to be fully funded by the administration.”
Carlos Manchaca thanked outspoken youth for bringing to the forefront the connection between employment and public safety, and acknowledged a failure on elected officials’ side to deliver what was needed. Manchaca described a “City Council-led, ‘People’s Budget’” that he aims to pass this year. This Council budget would be proposed in opposition to the Mayor’s budget, which is being released in a preliminary form tomorrow.
Carlyn Cowen outlined how the pandemic and budget cuts at the CPC meant the loss of a vital resource for nearly 3,000 people and disrupted community ties.
“We simply cannot let this happen again this year,” said Cowen. “Our community-based organizations are hanging by a thread. Demand for services has skyrocketed while budgets have been cut.”
Diamond Butler also spoke on institutional cuts that meant only 60 employment opportunities could be provided through Global Kids, when that number is usually in the hundreds. “Our young people feel they are being punished at this time.” Butler focused on the real material consequences of the SYEP cuts, which are little more than shifting numbers for others. She recounted a proverb: “How are the children? The response is supposed to be, ‘the children are well.’”
Jorge Morales, in his third year at the University of Rochester, called for public officials to finally prioritize youth and realize that they are the future.
Joseph Cobourne, attending a CUNY school, reiterated SYEP’s importance for low-income populations and people of color, and emphasized the long-term vision of a new New York that comes with seriously investing in youth programs.
Kallos thanked all of the speakers for participating, and directed supportive listeners to use the #SaveSYEP hashtag across social media. This event was hosted through Zoom and can be seen on Ben Kallos’ Facebook Page.
Jumaane Williams and Ben Kallos have introduced joint legislation (INT 1474-2019) to establish a Universal Youth Employment Program in NYC.