Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Eugene fights to restore funding to summer camp program

By Paula Katinas

More than 30,000 kids will be left on city streets with nothing to do this summer due to a serious lack of funding for youth programs, elected officials and advocates charged.

Councilmember Mathieu Eugene (D-Kensington) recently joined with representatives of the group Campaign for Children and hundreds of young people who had previously attended summer camp programs for a rally outside City Hall to call on Mayor Bill de Blasio to restore funding for summer programs in schools.

Eugene, chairman of the council’s Youth Services Committee, said the mayor’s executive budget for Fiscal Year 2017 does not include funding for summer youth programs.

The funding shortfall will result in the loss of 34,000 seats in summer programs across the city, Eugene charged.

Summer programs are crucial because they offer children a safe space to spend the day and learn while their parents are at work, according to Eugene, who said the programs also give children a creative outlet.

“We must invest in our youth. Summer programs should be a priority in our city’s budget,” Eugene said. “Our children shouldn’t stop learning just because it’s summer. We have to make sure that regardless of what season we’re in, our youth are provided with the educational and recreational services they need.”

Eugene also spoke at a rally held last month on this same issue. But so far, despite the efforts of youth advocates, the funding has still not been restored to the budget.

“We need funding for summer camp programs. And we need it now so providers, parents, and children can prepare for the upcoming months,” Eugene said.

Following the release of de Blasio’s proposed budget plan, the Campaign for Children issued a statement criticizing the lack of funding.

“Summer programs are a necessity for thousands of children and families who have no other options for a safe, educational, enriching environment while school is out, and for the thousands of staff members and youth who rely on them for employment. While we applaud the mayor’s commitment to funding pre-K for 4-year-olds, after-school for middle school students and other important educational initiatives, we are outraged that the administration has proposed cutting 34,000 summer program slots,” the statement read.

The Campaign for Children conducted a survey of nearly 2,500 parents about their need for summer programs. More than 90 percent of parents responded that they rely on summer camp to be able to work.

The de Blasio administration has no funds budgeted toward the School’s Out New York City program for middle schools for this coming summer or the summers after that, according to a fiscal brief issued by the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO).

The mayor started the School’s Out program in 2014.

In May of 2015, the executive budget shifted $27.7 million from the summer program to the Mayor’s Renewal Schools initiative. Following a public uproar, funding was later added to cover the cost of last summer’s middle school program, but funding was not included for the summers ahead, leaving the availability of more than tens of thousands of slots for middle school students in doubt, according to IBO.

Amy Spitalnick, of the city’s Office of Management and Budget said that no funds have been cut. “There is no ‘cut.’ The de Blasio administration has dramatically expanded programs for middle school children,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. The 34,000 so-called lost seats “were never in this upcoming year’s budget and therefore were never cut,” she said.

“As we announced one year ago, the city funded the seats for last summer only, so that families and providers were not left hanging (due to an administrative issue). We were clear in may 2015 that the seats would not be funded in summer 2016,” Spitalnick said.

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