Summer camps and public beaches in New York City could close. The city’s public pools have already been shuttered for the summer. And despite receiving some backlash, New York City’s summer youth employment program will probably remain canceled.
The summer is shaping up to be a somber experience for the city’s youth as the COVID-19 crisis drags on. Some programs, such as summer camps, are nearly impossible to implement in a way that allows children to stay at least 6 feet apart from each other. And as the city and state face massive budget shortfalls, funding programs to keep kids engaged is not a top priority for elected officials.
Some plans on what the summer holds for children in New York are still being figured out. Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that schools will continue to operate remotely for the rest of the academic year, he won’t make a final decision on whether he’ll cancel summer school until the end of May. “Nobody can predict what the situation is going to be three weeks or four weeks from now,” he said during a press conference on May 1. Cuomo also has yet to clarify whether summer camps across the state will be open this year, though some summer camp operators upstate remain hopeful their work will fall under essential child care services.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has indicated that remote learning will continue in some form over the summer as well to avoid a drastic learning divide when students return to class in the fall. Details on how summer school will be implemented have yet to be released, but the mayor has indicated it will apply to a broader number of students than usual. The city said it will prioritize its efforts over the summer on middle and high school students. “We’ll be using the summer months to ensure any student who needs additional targeted support receives it to remain on track,” Danielle Filson, a spokeswoman with the city Education Department, said in a statement.
But plans for other summer youth programs are coming to a close. New York City canceled its $124 million summer youth jobs program, which employs about 75,000 young adults each year. Nonprofits operating the program and program participants, who are between the ages of 14 and 21, have rallied against the cuts after they were announced in early April.
“We have to be clear that right now we just do not have the money to do anything like we’ve ever done previously with summer youth.” – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
Supporters argue that the program could be adapted to a virtual system and help teenagers make money during a period of immense economic distress. Teens Take Charge, a youth advocacy group, created a petition that has been signed by nearly 30,000 people since the cuts were announced, and dozens of local and state lawmakers have joined the push to restore the jobs initiative in some form.
The city stoked animosity among nonprofit providers with the initial announcement from the Department of Youth and Community Development, which gave organizations only one day to shutter their programs and lay off staff. The agency soon after changed its tone to give providers about a week to stop their work – but that hasn’t stymied calls for the program to return. “In terms of (the summer youth employment program), it would’ve been great if the city reached out to providers to come up with a solution,” said Evie Hantzopoulos, executive director of the nonprofit Global Kids. “Instead, we just got an email saying, as of tomorrow, cease operations. There was no collaboration or problem-solving.”
The likelihood that the jobs program returns remains slim. The city comptroller predicted the city will lose up to $6 billion in tax revenue because of the coronavirus, and if federal relief for states and localities doesn’t come through soon, additional cuts in funding could come from the state. And de Blasio’s decision to slash $1.3 billion from his executive budget has been criticized as a weak response to the city’s financial crisis.
“We have to be clear that right now we just do not have the money to do anything like we’ve ever done previously with summer youth,” de Blasio said at the start of May. “I think there are things we can do for young people for sure this summer. But I think, right now, we have to assume they are not – with young people being out in communities by and large, a lot of it may have to be from home.” Still, the mayor hasn’t ruled out bringing the initiative back this year. “I don’t see a way to do it right now, but I’m always going to have an open door to the council, and budget adoption is not until the middle of June or later June,” he said on May 5.
The mayor’s proposed budget also puts most other city-funded summer youth programs on the chopping block, meaning many kids will be without virtual classes.
“These cuts, essentially, pretty much eliminate our youth services at Grand St. Settlement,” said Robert Cordero, the organization’s executive director. Rachael Gazdick, who heads New York Edge, one of the city’s largest providers of after-school and summer camp programs, said her organization wouldn’t be able to continue its virtual classes into the summer if the cuts go through. “We basically have no safety net,” she said, fearing she wouldn’t be able to afford to retain staff to manage after-school programming once the next school year starts.
Though several community-based organizations, such as Global Kids, are planning to continue to work with kids throughout the summer in similar remote programs, their reach will be more limited with less money available. This means youth who rely on these city-funded programs may be left with little to do for the next several months.
And that’s a concern for groups that work with kids who are being traumatized by the COVID-19 outbreak. At a time when family members are falling sick and youth are kept physically apart from their friends, children and teenagers already are under stress with fewer forms of social support.
“One of our kids, her mother died of COVID-19,” Gazdick said. “If she didn’t have her dance class every day, she’d have absolutely nothing to do. It’s not just the academic part of this, but the emotional trauma it has taken on kids.”