Disappointment Over Reduced NYC Summer Youth Employment Program

September 17, 2020

Originally published in Queens Gazette on September 16, 2020.

In the 2020-2021 budget, the NYS Senate and Assembly fought hard to fully fund the state-share of SYEP at $22.6 million for NYC. However, the City and State could not reach an agreement, and these funds have remained unspent. The NYS Legislature sent the following statement:

“While we appreciate the unique challenges our City faced and continues to face during the COVID- 19 pandemic, every other locality in New York State except the City of New York was able to come up with a re-imagined SYEP program. These localities met the necessary criteria for state funding, as determined by the federal government, while taking the necessary precautions to protect our youth and service providers from COVID-19.

“We also appreciate the efforts New York City took to raise private dollars and shift funding in an attempt to save SYEP amid a large deficit. However, even with those actions, only about 35,000 students were served this year, which is less than half of the nearly 75,000 students that typically participate.”

On April 7, the City of New York prematurely announced that SYEP would be canceled for summer 2020, which resulted in an overall lack of preparedness when that decision was subsequently reversed. Without adequate time to prepare their programs to include the standard employment components of SYEP and account for the necessary changes to safety protocols and remote work, providers faced an impossible task. Less than half of the students in NYC that usually participate in these programs, including those that need the services, experience, and financial assistance offered through SYEP, were employed this summer.

On June 29, after the City reversed course and announced that SYEP would, in fact, occur this year, Senator Persaud and Assemblyman Hevesi, along with 73 colleagues, sent a letter to OTDA and the Governor urging them to reconsider a requirement that “at least 80% of SYEP participants be engaged in traditional paid employment activities with no more than 30% of hourly participation for these SYEP participants in non-employment activities such as career exploration, mentoring outside the workplace, financial literacy, or education. Paid employment may include remote work so long as the position is consistent with work the employer would typically engage in, but is being conducted remotely due to COVID-19 business requirements or precautions.”

The State expressed a willingness to work with the City to meet the requirements, allowing for remote work. However, no such program materialized, and communication from both parties did not yield any new or revised plan meeting the requirements to release the $22.6 million.

The result was an unfortunate impasse, leaving $22.6 million in unspent Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, and a program for only less than half of the young people it was intended to serve.

“The Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) has given countless youth unique employment training opportunities that have changed their lives and broken the cycle of poverty,” said NYS Senator Roxanne J. Persaud, Chair of the Senate Social Services Committee. “We had to make numerous difficult choices in finalizing the FY 2020-2021 budget, but maintaining opportunities for underserved and underrepresented youth was critical, given the impending economic downturn we are currently in.”

“I am very disappointed that New York City and New York State did not come to an agreement on the parameters of the Summer Youth Employment Program. My colleagues in the state legislature fought to provide $22.6 million for this program for New York City children, in an extremely difficult budget year. It is frustrating to see that money remain unused while tens of thousands of New York’s kids were left out of this program this year. We need to do better,” said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, Chair of the Assembly Social Services Committee.