Teens advocate for summer job funding

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Six high school students from the northwest Bronx sat in Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s Albany office last week to speak about an issue of great concern to them—summer job funding. 

They were members of Kingsbridge Heights Community Center’s Youth Leadership Council, who joined 300 other students from around New York City to hold a rally and meet with state lawmakers in Albany on Jan. 25. The top item on the agenda was funding for the Summer Youth Employment Program, which provided money to create more than 60,000 summer jobs in New York City last year.

“We are asking for $44.86 million [in funding],” Andy Jimenez, 16, from Youth Leadership Council told members of Heastie’s staff in the speaker’s office. 

The Summer Youth Employment Program provides state funding for organizations to hire young people over the summer. Since 2000, activists from the Campaign for Summer Jobs have advocated for increased funding and support for the program, which they praised for both its immediate and long-term effects. The Campaign for Summer Jobs is run by United Neighborhood Houses, an association of 37 community groups, of which the Kingsbridge Heights center is a part.

Additional funding “will raise more jobs and it will have the kids off the street and doing something that they like,” Jimenez said. 

The reasons the program should receive more funding, Jimenez and his cohort argued, included the need to adjust for the coming increase in minimum wage, and to meet the statewide demand for more jobs. 

Another member of the group, Kevin Balkaran, 17, said he first applied for a summer job under the state-funded program in 2014, got accepted—and could now see big differences between that summer and the years when he did not have a summer job. 

In 2014, “I was an art assistant and it was good I had a lot of responsibilities,” he said. “In 2015 I didn’t apply, and in 2016 I did apply and I didn’t get it that time, and I really didn’t do anything with my summer. I played video games, went outside and that was it.” 

“I feel like if there was more money for SYEP there [would be] more jobs and then the children—we would have more productive things to do besides play video games,” he said. 

At the rally earlier in the day, teens ages 12 to 19 gathered on the bottom floor of the legislative office building to hear from state lawmakers and from alumni of the summer jobs program. The assembly of 300 teens then broke off into groups to meet with more than 160 lawmakers and staffers.

The $44.86 million in funding the young activists were asking for would be $8.86 million more than what Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed in his executive budget for the 2018 fiscal year. 

Andrea Bowen, a policy analyst at United Neighborhood Houses, said the extra $8.86 million would add 5,000 jobs to the program. 

“The state keeps pace with minimum wage at about 18,500 jobs, give or take, but we want to see an increase in that, because the demand is high statewide,” she said. “Outside of the city, we are looking at about 6,000 [kids] per summer [who] apply but can’t get in, due to lack of funding. In New York City, it was more like 80,000 kids applied but couldn’t get in.”

Bowen added that the program has many benefits, in addition to helping kids earn a little cash and put something of their resumes. 

“The benefits are clear—beyond youth having more money in their in their pocket—it decreases incarceration rates, decreases mortality rates, it increases Regents completion rates, which is interesting,” she said. 

“The need for the program is strong on a couple of different levels, and it’s pretty clear when we say ‘Hey let’s go to Albany and ask for more money for this program,’ people are like ‘Sign me up how do I do it?’” she said. 

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