United on summer youth employment funding, Jeffries and Diaz decline to back de Blasio

Jeff Stein
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

United on summer youth employment funding, Jeffries and Diaz decline to back de Blasio

United on summer youth employment funding, Jeffries and Diaz decline to back de Blasio
May 10, 2016

At a press conference organized to call for increased funding for New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. declined to throw their support behind Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2017 re-election bid, furthering speculation that one, or both, will eventually challenge the mayor.   

“We’ll see what happens,” Diaz said, citing the 2016 election as his most pressing political concern. Jeffries echoed the sentiment, saying that it is “premature” to determine whether de Blasio deserves to be re-elected.

Jeffries also declined to comment on how the investigations dogging the De Blasio administration have factored into his thinking.

“In terms of the investigation, I think the mayor is entitled to a presumption of innocence just like any other citizen of the United States of America,” the Brooklyn congressman said. “There certainly is a lot of smoke emanating from City Hall these days, but it’s not clear that there is fire.”

While both offered vague answers about their own political aspirations, Jeffries and Diaz were unequivocal in their support for a proposed$80 million in additional funding to expand the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program. According to Jeffries, “only 41 percent of the young people who applied and participated in the (Summer Youth Employment Program) lottery actually received a job,” leaving as many as 75,000 applicants “out in the cold.”

“That’s a shame in the richest city in the world,” Jeffries said, adding that the investment pales in comparison to the overall budget, which is estimated to come in at around $82 billion, and the city’s $8.5 billion “rainy day” fund.  

Jeffries, who participated in the Summer Youth Employment Program during his high school and college years, advocated for more funding in highly personal terms. He said that his summer jobs taught him to have a strong work ethic, to show respect and to exercise time management. He also highlighted data that points to higher school attendance and Board of Regents exam passage rates, as well as lower incarceration rates, for Summer Youth Employment Program participants.

“The Summer Youth Employment Program here in New York City made me a better person, and that opportunity should be available to young people all across the five boroughs,” he said.

Diaz echoed Jeffries’ comments, drawing a link between youth underemployment and crime levels.

“As we speak of reduction in crime levels, I think this will go a long way in keeping our youth busy, helping them learn the lessons of responsibility and respect, but also helping them with their families and (putting) food on the table,” Diaz added.

But even as Jeffries and Diaz spoke forcefully for increased funding and expansion, some wondered if the press conference was more about political optics than engaging the community.

One advocate for Summer Youth Employment Program expansion, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that neither elected official had contacted the source’s organization to coordinate. And another elected official was overheard on the steps of City Hall telling advocates that Council members, many of whom have been vocal supporters of increased funding, were not invited to speak.

Nonetheless, advocates who attended Tuesday’s press conference welcomed the increased attention.

“Summer youth employment has so many amazing outcomes for young people — academic performance, safety, building resumes — and it only makes sense to expand the program to meet demand,” said Andrea Bowen, a policy analyst for United Neighborhood Houses. “And the only way to expand is to baseline, so it’s exciting to see so much political energy around the issue of expansion.”  

Jeff Stein from New York Nonprofit Media