Volume 23, Number 6 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 18 - 24, 2010
Cuts to keep youth out of work
BY Michael Mandelkern
About 4,000 youth have applied for a seat in the Henry Street Settlement’s Summer Youth Employment Program this summer, but only about 15 percent of them will be accepted due to significant cuts from the state.
As Mayor Michael Bloomberg puts the finishing touches on his fiscal year 2011 budget and playing the blame game with Albany and the recession, youth programs across New York City are preparing to deliver some especially bad news this summer. Henry Street Settlement, which has been operating for over 100 years, is one of them. Located in the Lower East Side, it serves 50,000 New Yorkers every year.
Its S.Y.E.P. begins in early July, lasts seven weeks and serves youth ages 14 to 24, employing them with minimum-wage jobs at such places as libraries, law offices and child care centers for up to 25 hours per week. The program also includes a paid workshop with information on colleges and careers. The older half of the group learns how to use a debit card and manage a bank account.
A state emergency-spending bill passed Monday cut mental health and human services funding by $327 million, directly impacting the organization.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Gregory Rideout, deputy program officer for the program.
The Henry Street Settlement primarily assists low-income families from its base location with summer programs, homeless shelters, senior centers, health and behavioral education and a multidisciplinary arts center.
The S.Y.E.P. has employed counselors to the Henry Street Settlement’s day and sleep-away camps in past years, but “some of these camps would not be able to operate [without enough hiring funds],” he said.
Rideout believes the program motivates youth to pursue a college degree and career instead of the jobs they have over the summer.
“This program is a challenge. There’s a general frustration because there’s never enough funding to serve every young person and you have significantly less chances of getting into the program,” said Rideout.
The Henry Street Settlement wrestles with its financial situation each year as the mayor and governor finalize their respective budgets, but this year is worse.
“These are incredibly difficult times,” said Rideout.
Expanded Horizons, the Henry Street Settlement’s year-round college preparatory program that exposes youth to colleges and provides SAT and application process assistance, is struggling too.
The Department of Youth and Community Development’s Out of School Time budget is facing $6.18 million in cuts and, if implemented, there would be a cap on how many high school students Expanded Horizons could serve.
According to Ritu Sen, Director of Adolescent Educational Services, some participants lack support because their parents either did not attend college or graduate high school and, in turn, do not place higher education in top priority.
“The program helps them stay out of trouble, it’s a big loss,” said Sen.
This year, the DYCD has $37 million to allocate. The funding will support 25,449 positions, less than half of last year’s figures.
“Unfortunately, New York State has completely eliminated $19.5 million in funding for the program, which will make it extremely difficult to maintain the same level of jobs,” wrote Bill Chong, Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development, via e-mail.
The Henry Street Settlement has been lobbying for more funding; it protested the budget cuts at City Hall two months ago. State Senator Daniel Squadron, Congressman Charles Rangel of New York and numerous City Council members were in attendance. Various other summer job programs rallied there two weeks ago.
“We have been as active as we can be,” said Rideout.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York visited the Henry Street Settlement on June 1 to listen to concerns. “She gained a better understanding of our programs here,” he said.
The Henry Street Settlement has been deeply dependant on the state and federal funding it has received in past years. And while the proposed budget looks grim for many youth facilities, Squadron, chair of the Social Services Committee who represents Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, and some of his colleagues in the New York State Senate have been pressuring Governor David Paterson to raise funding for social services by $35 million.
Although not the full amount, Squadron and some of his colleagues were able to obtain $15 million towards summer youth employment during a budget extender meeting on June 14.
“That’s better news in a bad news year,” said the senator.
Squadron would have rather conducted a more formal budget negotiation process than talk budget extenders because “the governor holds a lot of the cards,” he said. Paterson plans on holding these meetings every Monday until the state passes its long-delayed budget.
“We insisted on getting some money back. It’s better than where we started,” noted Squadron.