Gotham Gazette: Op Ed–Investments, Not Cuts, in Youth Summer Programs

April 18, 2016 , by Mathieu Eugene and Laurie Cumbo

In a short time, it will be summer, but it’s not the impending warm weather that’s causing parents to feel the heat.

Parents are scrambling to make plans for their children because Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has not included funding for summer programs in the city budget, and this severe cut will impact more than 34,000 students across New York City.

Our children deserve to have the educational and recreational opportunities they need to succeed. School’s Out New York, or SONYC, is a vital citywide initiative that engages youth in the arts, sports, and community service. This program helps youth from all neighborhoods foster their creativity, while encouraging sportsmanship and leadership.

Summer programs are not only an expansion of classroom learning, these crucial programs also offer children creative outlets in a supervised space. Childcare is expensive and many parents can’t afford pricey camps – our city’s summer programs offer youth a much-needed safe space to spend the summer.

We know our children are bombarded with negativity on a daily basis—but these summer programs offer them respite. The elimination of $20.4 million in funding for middle school students—which equates to at least 34,000 summer program slots—should not be perceived as a cost-saving measure, but rather a divestment from our most vulnerable population. Cutting costs shouldn’t be at the expense of our youth.

Our city has implemented a number of truly progressive policies to improve quality of life for residents, but the decision to eliminate summer programs for middle school children will drastically hurt the tremendous progress we have been making.

Since these important summer programs impact the constituents of virtually all of our City Council colleagues, we have already received tremendous support from Council members who have signed on to a letter asking Mayor de Blasio to restore this funding immediately—and to make this funding for youth a priority in future budgets. When the mayor releases his Executive Budget in the coming weeks, many working families would be relieved to see the funding included.

Last year, summer programs were included in the preliminary budget but the funding was inexplicably removed in May. By working together with our colleagues and dozens of youth advocates, we were able to make sure that it was restored. But, less than a year later, our children—and parents—are in the same uncertain situation since funding for these programs was not included in the budget for Fiscal Year 2017. So, once again, we must join together to fight for the restoration of these crucial programs that must be baselined in the budget.

It is our moral obligation to do everything possible for our youth. Ultimately, an investment in our youth is a great investment in our city.

By City Council Members Mathieu Eugene and Laurie A. Cumbo. Eugene is chair of the Youth Services Committee; Cumbo is chair of the Women’s Issues Committee.

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