One of the proposed cuts was eliminating the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), a program that connects the city’s youth to paid work experiences.
Lawmakers and advocates fought back against the cut, and eventually the de Blasio administration partially restored the program and revised it as “SYEP Summer Bridge.” The program was cut to five weeks instead of eight, and the number of slots was reduced to 35,000, down from 75,000.
“Once the program was taken away, the devastating news almost took the hope out of our young people,” said Diamond Butler, community school director for Global Kids, an SYEP provider. “Our young people felt as if they were being punished.”
Carlyn Cowen, chief policy and public affairs officer for Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC), noted that the organization offers 3,000 young people summer employment each year. Cancelling the program would have impacted not just the teens, but also their families, many of which rely on the money the jobs provide.
“SYEP is as much a part of the teenage experience as prom and graduation,” Cowen said. “It’s an absolute economic lifeline and creates community for our young people, but our city doesn’t treat it like that.”
Last Wednesday, city legislators and advocates, including Cowen and Butler, rallied virtually to call on the mayor to fully fund SYEP this summer. The following day, Mayor Bill de Blasio released his $92.28 billion preliminary budget, which includes $132 million for 70,000 summer jobs.
The mayor’s administration and the City Council will continue to negotiate the budget until the end of June.
For Councilwoman Debi Rose, chair of the City Council’s Youth Services Committee, SYEP not only provides economic help for families, but it also narrows the inequality gap and uplifts young people who normally struggle to access the labor market.
“Our youth need SYEP more than ever,” Rose said. “They have spent their time in isolation, away from friends and family.
“We know that difficult budget decisions will have to be made this spring,” she added. “Let me be very clear, we will not balance the budget on the backs of our vulnerable youth.”
Councilman Ben Kallos also introduced legislation to establish a universal youth employment program to provide a summertime or part-time job to all who are eligible. The bill is currently in committee.
“The benefits of this program are immeasurable,” he said. “The experience these kids get is really invaluable. It’s often the first employment .”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is a co-sponsor of the legislation, said summer youth jobs is a public safety issue as well as an economic hardship issue.
“It serves the neighborhoods and youth hit the hardest,” he added.
J.T. Falcone, a policy analyst for United Neighborhood Houses, an SYEP provider, said their organization will continue to fight for SYEP slots.
“We push for a future where every young person applying for SYEP will get the opportunity,” they said.