Drawing battle lines to save summer jobs program for area youth

The city’s summer jobs program is under the budget axe, again.

City Councilmember Lewis Fidler – who is the chair of the council’s Youth Services Committee — told members of the United Canarsie South Civic Association (UCSCA), gathered at the Hebrew Educational Society, 9502 Seaview Avenue, that Governor David Paterson’s 2011 budget cuts funding for the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) down to zero.

Calling the cut to the program proposed in the governor’s executive budget “insane,” Fidler told the group that it would result in a decrease in the amount of summer jobs for city teens from about 52,500— last year’s number and a record high — to approximately 17,000, which, said Fidler, would be a record low “in modern times.”

“To me this is extraordinarily troubling,” Fidler stressed, noting that the cuts would inflict pain not only on the young people who would lose the opportunity but also on the not-for-profit groups and other organizations which benefit from the young people’s work, in youth programs, senior programs, summer camps and the like.

In addition, he noted, “There is no program that is more of an economic stimulus than the summer job program. It takes kids who need the money. Studies absolutely prove that the money is spent almost immediately inour local stores in the neighborhoods those kids live in.”

There is need for more jobs, not fewer, Fidler went on, pointing out that, even with last year’s record number of summer jobs for youth, “95,000 kids who applied didn’t get a job.

“Clearly we can’t give every kid a job who applies,” Fidler acknowledged. Nonetheless, he went on, “Hopefully, we can talk some common sense into the powers-that-be in Albany.” Besides the governor, both the State Senate and the Assembly have input in creating the state’s budget.

Fidler recalled having fought hard when Governor George Pataki, a Republican, had wanted to cut funding for SYEP. With Paterson, a Democrat, proposing an even more Draconian cut, Fidler said, “I’m a Democrat, and I’m embarrassed.”

Given the city’s own straitened financial circumstances – which Fidler said he expects to be worsened as the state significantly cuts the funding it sends to the city – Fidler told the group that he was concerned that the City Council would be unable to do what it has done before, and provide an 11th hour rescue for the program.

“It’s going to be very difficult,” he acknowledged. “The cavalry may not be able to get over the hill this time. That’s why, if we don’t make a fuss in February, we might not have a summer jobs program in July.”