Public Advocate Calls For Investment In Youth Employment And Support Programs At Council Budget Hearing

May 6th, 2021

Press Release

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams called for expanded investment in youth programs, including the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, and others, during a hearing of the City Council Committee on Youth Services on Thursday morning. He emphasized the need for this investment as part of a Renewed Deal for New York City in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Given the pandemic's impact on our personal lives over the last year and the fact that we are on a path to fully reopening as a City, we have to take into consideration the extent to which young people want to be out and active this summer, whether in a job or internship, or hard skills training, or recreational programming, or just getting the essential skills that people need," said Public Advocate Williams."Young people do not want to be idle; they want to be engaged."

"While the Mayor's Executive Budget is proposing an increase of funding in youth services, there were cuts to certain programs in the preliminary budget proposal that need more, not less, investment," he added. "Even besides the pandemic, we generally seem to be applauding ourselves for restoring cuts, when in fact we should have been asking for more funding from the beginning, not just restoring the cuts that were made." He called for SYEP capacity to expand beyond pre-employment levels to 100,000 slots, which could constitute a universal program.

Public Advocate Williams also highlighted his support for funding and strengthening both the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, saying "We need to do better in ensuring that every homeless young person has a place to sleep at night until they transition into permanent housing," and adding that he hopes the the newly initiated Unity Works program will be codified into City law as a way of ensuring these critical services will remain available for the LGBTQI community for many years to come.

Read the full statement as delivered by the Public Advocate below. TESTIMONY OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON YOUTH SERVICES - EXECUTIVE BUDGET HEARING MAY 6, 2021 Good morning, Thank you, Chair Dromm. Yes, I believe our class did stir up a bit of trouble these past few years. Good trouble, as they might say. But I want to say thank you Chair Dromm for those kind words, and the enormous work that you did as the chair, put forth some pretty impressive budgets. So congratulations on that. I'm looking forward to another one this year. Hopefully, last year's was a bit of an anomaly and we'll make up for what we did. And Chair Rose, as was mentioned, you did an amazing job as the Youth Chair so thank you for all of that. I want to lend myself to all of the words you both said about the staff as we go through this last budget so congratulations, and hopefully we can do some more damage as was mentioned in this budget coming up here. As was mentioned, my name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. Again, I want to thank both chairs and the members of the Committee on Youth Services for holding this very important executive budget hearing today. 

Last week, the Mayor announced the Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2022. As part of the financial plan, the City plans to allocate roughly $549.4 million towards the Department of Youth and Community Development. The Administration has  taken the  right steps to provide additional funding to guarantee more opportunities for our youth. The Mayor's plan to restore $186 million in funding to the Learning to Work and Arts Programming, and provide $200 million to Summer Rising to accommodate 190,000 youth this summer. Summer Rising gives young people in grades K through 8 the ability to participate in academic and recreational activities throughout the summer, while providing high school students with the opportunity to engage in programs offering work experience and internship opportunities, such as the Summer Youth Employment Program, also known as SYEP. Speaking of SYEP, it is important to highlight the additional $13 million that will be invested to add 5,000 spots to CUNY Summer Youth Employment. I am pleased to see the Administration is demonstrating a commitment to ensuring more young people will engage in professional development, community building, and social emotional learning activities this summer. I appreciated Commissioner Chong's words in the last hearing that he was going to do more to push these funds to be restored.

While the Mayor's Executive Budget is proposing an increase to funding in youth services, there were cuts to certain programs in the preliminary budget proposal that need more, not less, investment. Even besides the pandemic, we generally seem to be applauding ourselves for restoring cuts, when in fact we should have been asking for more funding from the beginning, not just restoring the cuts that were made. I am curious as to whether or not the Administration will provide additional funding to the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, or RHY. At the preliminary budget hearing held by this Committee in March, I, along with others, stressed the importance of RHY with respect to our homeless youth, especially those who identify as LGBTQI, and how the Administration's proposed decrease in funding by 3.3 percent at the time was unacceptable. Even though the executive budget's funding allocation for this program is closer to the amount of the previous fiscal year, I would like to reiterate that the City needs to be investing more money into RHY. At that same hearing, Commissioner Chong explained the funding, albeit decreased, will support 813 beds and 8 drop-in centers for runaway and homeless youth. With a homeless youth population of nearly 4,600 individuals, 813 beds is simply not enough. We need to do better in ensuring that every homeless young person has a place to sleep at night until they transition into permanent housing. I'm calling on the Administration to designate more funding to DYCD specifically for the RHY program. The intention is to not only increase the number of beds, but enhance the services. Although more investment needs to be made in providing shelter to our runaway and homeless youth, it is good to see that the City is making efforts to provide them with access to more social services and job opportunities. Last month, the Administration announced a partnership with the NYC Unity Project and the Ali Forney Center, which is the nation's largest LGBTQI homeless youth service provider, to launch the NYC Unity Works program. Starting this summer, Unity Works will admit 90 young people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. The three-year program will provide homeless youth with jobs skills training and career development opportunities; help them access public benefits, food, and clothing; and administer mental health support. The Unity Works program will be extremely beneficial for our LGBTQI runaway and homeless youth, and I hope this initiative will be codified into City law as a way of ensuring these critical services will remain available for the LGBTQI community for many years to come.

Given the pandemic's impact on our personal lives over the last year and the fact that we are on a path to fully reopening as a City, we have to take into consideration the extent to which young people want to be out and active this summer, whether in a job or internship, or hard skills training, or recreational programming, or just getting the essential skills that people need. Young people do not want to be idle; they want to be engaged. SYEP will likely provide 70,000 spots this year, which is still below the program's pre-pandemic enrollment number of 75,000. The availability of 70,000 open spots also means not every young person who applies will be accepted. Nevertheless, every youth who applies should be given an opportunity to participate in an alternative program. At the last budget hearing, youth advocates pitched the idea of SYEP Unbound, which would ensure every student who is not selected for SYEP is enrolled in a program that provides increased access to financial literacy workshops, seminars on résumé-writing, and youth town halls. There is a lot of potential for this type of program to happen because the physical locations of high schools and colleges can serve as sites for career readiness programs and skills training workshops. I fully support this idea, and I am again calling on DYCD to make this kind of initiative a reality. Just because a young person does not get selected for a summer job opportunity does not mean they cannot learn how to write a cover letter, how to interview for a job, or learn about coding, web design, or graphic design. This program is doable; we just have to think beyond the scope of what has been done in the past and look at what our young people can achieve in the future.

In closing, I would like to say that while this year's SYEP program is on track to meet pre-COVID enrollment levels, I hope, I would like to see an enrollment of 100,000 slots, which would be closer to a universal SYEP program. At the last budget hearing, Commissioner Chong said DYCD would accommodate this number if additional funding became available. If the Administration chose to make the funds being used to increase the NYPD's budget, and designate them towards DYCD, I am certain SYEP could accommodate 100,000 young people. It's a matter of what this Administration chooses to prioritize. I look forward to hearing how Commissioner Chong plans to serve our youth this summer given the proposed allocation of funds from the Executive Budget. I want to also align myself with the chairs' request for Work, Learn, and Grow. 

At last, I do want to make sure that every youth program we put forward, from DYCD or the DOE, includes mental health. I want to lift up the 13-year-old boy who was found hanging in his home yesterday. We are all suffering from trauma from the last year. That young boy left a note. He said "Good-bye, I love you guys so much. But life is too hard. I don't blame any of you guys. Don't let the school do an assembly about this." These are the people that we need to remember and focus on. Our young people need assistance, just like the adults do. So I'm asking everyone in their programming to remember this, because hurt people hurt people. And sometimes too often, they hurt themselves.

Violence and suicide is up in New York City; it's up across the nation. I also lift up Jamaal Abner, who committed suicide when we were younger. I remember he was a young man; it always stuck with me. I need people to think about the amount of pain someone is in, to take their lives. We have a duty here to provide the infrastructure needed to service them. That 13-year-old who took his own life is a demonstration of how many different places he was failed. Let's do right by him, and so many others who are suffering. Thank you so much. Peace and blessings to you all.

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