Nonprofits push New York City Council to fund summer programs

New York City Council members grilled youth services officials about a lack of funding for summer programs in this year’s budget at a sometimes tense May 8 executive budget hearing.

Roshan Abraham

New York City Council members grilled youth services officials about a lack of funding for summer programs in this year’s budget at a sometimes tense May 8 executive budget hearing.

Some 100 New York City middle school and high school students holding signs reading #SaveOurSummer filled the City Council chambers as lawmakers pressured Department of Youth and Community Development officials to ask the mayor to expand funding of young adult summer programs in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2019 Adopted Budget. City Council members stressed that they were exasperated with a yearly inability to baseline additional funds for such programs run by nonprofits across the city. Baselining the funding would help remove some uncertainty from future budget cycles by establishing the program’s current spending level as a baseline amount to regularly appear in future budgets.  

“How can you tell these young people they have nowhere to go,” Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Dromm asked Bill Chong, commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development. DYCD was treated as a stand-in for the mayor's office since, according to the commissioner, DYCD’s portion of the executive budget is the result of conversations between his agency, the Office of Management and Budget and the mayor’s office.

At the joint meeting of the Committee on Finance and the Committee on Youth Services, Dromm, Youth Services Chairwoman Deborah Rose and City Councilwomen Margaret Chin and Vanessa Gibson echoed parents’ frustration with inconsistent funding for the School’s Out New York City and Comprehensive After School System programs. Concerns were also raised by council members about a lack of requested baseline funds for Summer Youth Employment Program and Runaway and Homeless Youth Services.

The mayor released his preliminary budget in February and the council issued their formal response on April 10, outlying their concerns. But DYCD’s budget as presented in the mayor’s executive budget released on April 26 didn’t address $74.5 million in outstanding council requests, according to a report released by the council ahead of the May 8 hearing.

“You must be just as frustrated as we are, but we have to tell our hundreds of providers that we don’t have funding.” - City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson.

The City Council asked the mayor to baseline an expansion of slots for the Comprehensive After School System program, which provides after-school programming for K-5 students. It asked for an additional $14.2 million in baselined funding for an additional 6,500 slots. The 2019 executive budget added no new slots.

Similarly, City Council members expressed ongoing concerns about the budget for Summer School’s Out New York City, a middle school afterschool programming plan that had baselined 34,000 slots into the 2014 executive budget but whose funding had been removed in the intervening years. Those baselined funds were repurposed for the city’s Renewal Schools initiative, with SONYC funds incrementally restored into the budget during annual negotiation processes. This leaves parents in a precarious position until budget negotiations conclude every summer, council members said.

“For us in the council it’s a major issue to tell these young people two months before summer begins that they may or may not have a summer slot to go to,” Dromm said at the hearing. He said the lack of baselining for what the council sees as crucial programs had resulted in an unfortunate tradition.

“This is a reoccurring issue,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get to a point in these negotiations where we don’t have to do this year after year.”

Chong said  he would continue to push the mayor’s office to baseline the contested funds in future budget cycles but said that unique funding threats from potential federal and state cuts prevented baselining this year.

“In the perfect world, I would baseline, but it’s not up to me,” Chong repeated at the hearing.

Council members pushed back that the mayor’s executive budget added significant spending on new programs and that the summer programs in question would only cost a fraction of that.

“The mayor’s budget is $960 million of new needs, new funding, new programming,” Rose said.

Chong responded he could only speak to his own department’s budget and not other new spending in the mayor’s budget.

Council members also expressed dismay at a lack of new baselined funds for the Summer Youth Employment Program, a jobs program for New Yorkers age 14 to 24. There are twice as many young people applying as there are slots available in the program, according to a report released by the City Council ahead of the hearing. The council had asked for an additional 10,000 baselined slots at an additional $21.3 million. The executive budget added no such funds.    

While the fiscal 2019 executive budget adds $20 million to address a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour for its Summer Youth Employment Program, the council responded that this still fell short of the need by $27 million.

When Chong said the DYCD executive budget would cover minimum wage increases for the Summer Youth Employment Program without additional baselined funds, Rose replied, “This sounds like new math to me.” But Chong, who was joined by DYCD’s Chief Financial Officer Jagdeen Phanor, Associate Commissioner Andre White and Deputy Commissioner Susan Haskell, argued the shortfall was not quite as large as it seemed. White said that they had looked at the program and found that young people were working fewer hours than they thought, leading to additional savings.

Chong seemed flustered at times during the hearing, pointing out that funding for the programs in question had increased over the years under his leadership and calling it “disappointing” that his advocacy was being challenged.       

“You must be just as frustrated as we are, but we have to tell our hundreds of providers that we don’t have funding,” Gibson told Chong and other members of the department.

Chong assured everyone at the hearing that they were all on the same page about the efficacy of the programs but that some funding decisions were out of his control.

“In the past years when money was available we were pleased,” Chong said.  “If those resources become available this summer, we will work hard to make sure those resources are well spent.”

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