In the grim budget passed by the City Council late on Tuesday night, the partial, $115 million restoration of the Summer Youth Employment Program, rebranded as the SYEP Summer Bridge program, was one bright spot. This year the number of positions is set at 35,000, less than half of the usual number, but many of the nonprofits in charge of filling those positions still don't know how many young people they'll be able to hire.
"What we need is numbers and budget," said Liza Perez, director of workforce development at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center in the Bronx which processes thousands of SYEP applications yearly, and usually fills roughly 2,700 slots. "I know that we've had some initial discussions about a possible virtual SYEP program. But I don't have any information about when we would be expected to start, how many slots we would have, what the cost per student would be, what our budget would look like, what our staff would look like. I have zero information on that. And it's July 1st."
SYEP, which predominantly serves low-income young people ages 14 to 24, often begins shortly after the Fourth of July holiday, and got $51 million of the youth employment total.
Perez said she received an email from the city Department of Youth & Community Development stating that young people who had applied in February and March, before Mayor Bill de Blasio cut funding, will be asked if they would like to reapply for an SYEP slot with the understanding that their work will be done virtually. If an applicant agrees, their name will be placed in a reactivated lottery pool. What Perez is unclear on is how many applicants she will be able to process.
While MMCC is awaiting those figures, which involves hiring an employee skilled at onboarding participants for remote work, Eddie Silverio, SYEP director for Alianza Youth Services for Catholic Charities of New York, knows 1,000 young people will be given a slot if they apply through his organization. That number represents half the slots Catholic Charities had last year. Young people who agree to working virtually will be given a laptop to perform their work, said Silverio, with work that includes U.S. Census outreach to neighborhoods with low return rates and tutoring positions.
"At this rate, we're all behind the eight ball in terms of terms of next steps," said Silverio when it comes to onboarding youths, which he estimates, if the city offers greater details, could be as early as July 20th.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had completely gutted SYEP in April, citing the coronavirus pandemic, which a triggered a stay-at-home order along with a budget crisis. De Blasio said SYEP was not a "financial priority."
But after protests over the killing of George Floyd raged, the calls to reallocate money for social programs grew louder, and lawmakers and youth advocacy groups demanded the cuts be restored, which the council eventually did.
SYEP participants will receive a stipend—$1,000 for young people age 16 to 24 working 15 hours a week for for six weeks, and $700 for those age 14 to 15 working a total of 60 hours, as opposed to hourly.
Nadeera Hassan, a young Bronxite, had submitted an application for an SYEP slot in March. Before heading to the University of Vermont for college, Hassan was hoping to once again work at the Edenwald Community Center in the Bronx, an SYEP site.
"[The program gives] the young people the chance to work, build experience," Hassan said. "Have something to do and not just sit back doing nothing."