De Blasio Budget Ignores Summer Youth Program -- Jumaane Williams

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Council member Williams. NY1 News screen shot

[Commentary]

In a time when the federal government is attempting to choke off funding for both the state of New York and the progressive beacon that New York City should be, it would be appealing to some to limit or curtail government programs that New Yorkers rely on. Even the state government itself is limiting the funding for our city in a number of key areas. As New York City experiences record population growth, largely thanks to the highest immigrant population in more than a century, we must resist efforts to diminish the positive progress that New York is making on a number of issues.

The Mayor, in his preliminary budget plan, seems to recognize this need for a progressive budget. If corporations are made to pay their fair share in taxes, we can continue our work to advance New York, economically and otherwise. As there has been a historic increase in the labor force getting to work, and with near-record low unemployment largely as a success of the Obama administration's economic policies, there are a number of important initiatives that we as elected representatives and public servants should steadfastly support and expand.

Public safety is of paramount importance to New York, and should be represented accordingly in our budget. With all of the work that the Committee on Housing and Buildings achieved in the four years that I served as its chair in the field of tenant protections, it is vital that those who fight for tenants rights and against tenant harassment are given adequate resources. I am pleased that the administration sees this need and has provided significant funding for Stand for Tenant Safety, a group which has worked alongside the Council to pass critical legislation and protect tenants across our city.

In 2017, I was proud to work with the Council to pass many elements of the Construction Safety Act, including Intro. 1447, which set minimum levels of safety training for construction workers in a landmark effort to prevent injury and death on construction sites. Last year, the Council committed an initial $5 million to begin the implementation of these training programs and to expand access to workers regardless of affiliation, and now workers who build our city need the administration to allot adequate funding for their safety.

In the past year, the tragic death of Dwayne Jeune and other police encounters with Emotionally Disturbed Persons made clear the urgent need for the city to examine and reform the ways in which emergency services engage with EDPs. I authored a letter, along with Council Member Cohen, then the chair of the Committee on Mental Health, and the Black, Latino and Asian and Progressive Caucuses to the administration months ago calling for a task force to study the issue, a task force which the administration agreed to but which has yet to be formed.

I would like to extend my gratitude to the Mayor for having proposed funding NYC SAFE teams to respond to and de-escalate situations with EDPs. It is essential that our response to mental health-related incidents be markedly different from the police-driven response to most emergency calls, and it appears as though the administration is ready to make a financial commitment to this cause. Even as I applaud this initiative, I continue to believe that such a program would be most effective having gleaned recommendations from the task force to which the administration agreed. I urge the administration to expedite the formation of this task force to inform and collaborate with the newly funded safe teams, together having the potential to save lives and prevent the criminalizing of mental health issues.

A glaring absence in the Mayor's budget proposal is the lack of increased funding for the Summer Youth Employment Program. This program has been an incredible success in terms of providing meaningful employment to the youth of our city, engaging them in positive, productive behavior and keeping them from more destructive avenues. However, at present, the program does not have adequate funding to provide a job to every New York City youth who seeks one, and it is long past time for that to change. Months ago, when I identified the 'next chapter' for New York, I made special note of the success of SYEP and the necessity of expanding its funding and its offerings. When a program succeeds on this level, we have an obligation to recognize, continue, and expand that success, and I will continue to push aggressively for this vital service.

Youth are also left in need during the school year under this budget. We cannot be afraid to provide essential funding for our children's education, nor can we allow schools in lower-income communities to be disregarded or further disadvantaged. Education, and equity in resources for that education, must be a preeminent concern in budgeting. The City needs to do more for our schools, but so too does New York State. In fact, the state owes New  York City schools $1.6 billion in unpaid Campaign for Financial Equity funding, and owes additional money to schools statewide. Education must be supported, celebrated, and championed not only with our words but within our budget.

I recognize that in these very uncertain and even cautious times that New York State faces significant funding challenges as a result of federal policy, and I am glad to see that this budget maintains our  reserves, reserves we may even need to increase while we are able. While the national environment changes, however, my priorities and core convictions cannot.

As we face state cuts to our transportation budget and our budget for combating the affordable housing and homelessness crisis, and federal cuts across the board, we as a city must stand firm for our people and fund programs that we know have had and will have a tremendously positive impact on our residents and move us toward progress. This preliminary budget indicate that the administration is largely committed to that endeavor, but lacking in key areas, and I stand ready to fight on behalf of the causes I believe in for New York.

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