Mayor de Blasio announced last Sunday that he planned to cut funding for the NYPD, and to divert part of that funding to the city’s youth and social services. More funding could mean the continuation of city-funded summer camps, the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), and other city-funded programs like Beacon community centers and Cornerstone Programs – all of which provide crucial services for under resourced communities of color in places like East New York and Brownsville, and which the mayor had planned to suspend funding for as part of his proposed 2021 budget.
Julie Stein Brockway, Executive Director of Sunset Park’s Center for Family Life, sees a glimmer of hope in the mayor’s new budget. What she doesn’t see, however, is a concrete plan.
“We haven’t heard anything,” she said. “There hasn’t been a plan for exactly how much money would be moved, exactly which services would be restored.”
Typically, the center operates programs in nine different Sunset Park schools, and serves 2,000 children per day through after-school and summer programming focused on visual and creative arts, literacy, and social and emotional learning. They also operate a Summer Youth Employment Program, as well as two different Beacon Community Centers. Because of mandated school closure, none of these programs are in operation. The center now faces the possibility that the children and adolescents that rely on their services will be left with no activities or opportunities for the summer, putting their parents – many of whom are essential workers, or employees needing – at a severe disadvantage.
“How do we do this fast enough so that we can continue uninterrupted into a very significant summer, at a time of incredible need?” Brockway said. While the staff are prepared to restart programming immediately if funding becomes available to them, she said, the mayor’s plan is not helping them to move forward.
“It’s an unbelievably difficult position that we are in, and it is heartbreaking.”
Nora Moran, Director of Policy and Advocacy for United Neighborhood Houses, a nonprofit that works with settlement houses around the city, mirrored Brockway’s concern that the mayor has not yet released a detailed plan of action for how, and when, the money would be reallocated. If and when the funding becomes available, she said, she hopes that, at the very least, it would prevent the initially proposed cut to programs like SYEP, which provides jobs for up to 75,000 young New Yorkers over summer break.
Moran sees the initial plan to cut back on these programs as more widely reflective of the city’s priorities.
“It’s very perplexing and very troubling that youth services was the first thing offered up in a budget cut proposal,” she said. “I think that just sort of has to do with a lot of the systemic issues that we’ve seen people protesting about over the past couple weeks. It’s racism and economic instability, all of those things sort of wrapped up into a budget. We found that sometimes the thought among city leaders is ‘well, will these communities be able to really sort of raise their voice, how disenfranchised are they, maybe we’ll just make these cuts and hope that it goes through.’”
While depriving kids and teens of summer programming is problematic to start, Moran said, many of the programs facing cuts serve the communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 – predominantly communities of color.
“To take these programs away when they’ve already experienced really significant loss just adds insult to injury.”
Another serious concern for Moran is the issue of helping students transition back into a classroom environment in the fall.
“We’re broadly just very worried that if there’s no summer camp, no SYEP, no summer support – that it’s just going to be that much harder for kids to go back to school in the fall, and be prepared to be back in a classroom setting,” Moran said.
Because many students have reportedly experienced learning loss as a result of remote learning, “having some programming in place this summer to make sure that educational gains are being reinforced to prevent kids from sliding backward — also just to help young people process some of the social and emotional challenges they’ve been having,” Moran said.
Michelle Neugebauer, Executive Director of Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation in East New York, feels that the mayor’s plan to reallocate funding – if he follows up on it – would send a positive message to the East New York community, many of whom continue to be criminalized by police in school buildings and in their neighborhoods because of the color of their skin, and would likely support the shifting of resources away from the NYPD.
“They know other things make them safe, not just cops. It’s those relationships, people watching out for each other, it’s block associations, it’s having great educational opportunities.”