Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a comment from City Councilman Steven Matteo.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was impractical to estimate the financial impact of policies under review in Washington, D.C. while drafting his preliminary $84.67 billion budget because there was too much uncertainty about what would transpire under the new Trump administration.
But City Council members made it clear they viewed the erratic political climate as evidence the city should be saving even more than what de Blasio proposed in his financial plan. Nonetheless, some city lawmakers will likely look to invest more in a few initiatives, with the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program seemingly poised to be one shared priority.
At the urging of lawmakers last year, the city ramped up funding to ensure 60,000 job slots for the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program. De Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also announced last September the convening of a task force that by 2017 would produce recommendations on how to improve the summer program, which is aimed at providing vulnerable youth with a six-week, paid, professional opportunity, as well as other youth employment opportunities. The task force has not yet released any suggestions, but as it continues its work, the mayor is calling for an investment of $9 million, which would allow for 5,000 more job slots and a total of 65,000. However, that increase pales in comparison to the Council’s Progressive Caucus’ and Black, Latino and Asian Caucus’ prior request for 100,000 positions.
Councilman Jumaane Williams, who has long advocated for treating youth employment programs as an investment in steering vulnerable New Yorkers away from crime, said he was surprised the task force did not wrap up before the preliminary budget proposal and would, instead, have to have its findings be incorporated into the mayor’s executive budget this spring. He said a 5,000 job slot increase was a start, but “not even close” to what the city needs to see in the final budget due by July 1.
“My recollection was that the reason we wanted to have a task force was so that it would inform what went into the prelim because everybody agreed that waiting for the exec was too late,” Williams said.
De Blasio acknowledged that the task force’s recommendations were delayed, but said he expected to receive them in the coming six to eight weeks and incorporate them into the executive budget and his 10-year, $89.6 billion-capital strategy plan. “I want to see a clear picture from that task force of what we think the future of Summer Youth Employment should be: what the numbers should be going forward … how we ensure it has the impact that a lot of members of the Council are talking about,” de Blasio said.
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the co-chair of the task force, spoke about the budget with reporters at City Hall, but City & State was not able to immediately connect with her. She sent a statement indicating she was disappointed by the investment in summer youth jobs, and that she believed the city should work toward providing universal summer youth jobs, as the council called for last budget season.
Council GOP Minority Leader Steven Matteo, who sits on the task force, said he has been focused on how to help the program provide more of a professional experience. "It should provide young people with an introduction to potential careers and mentors, rather than just a few extra dollars during the summer,” he said in a statement. "My focus on the task force was maximizing this city's resources to get more local businesses involved and to help young people find real professional work experience."
Another lawmaker on the body – Youth Services Chairman Mathieu Eugene – was not available to discuss the task force’s work with City & State before deadline.
Another member of the task force, Partnership for New York City President Kathryn Wilde, declined to discuss the body’s findings so far, but said that as the leader of a philanthropic-focused business group, she knew businesses want to make sure youth are adequately prepared for positions. “Where (CEOs) expect a return in terms of well-prepared employees for their company or for their industry – that gets people's attention in the business world,” Wilde said. “And for that you need a system, not just a one summer, placement, but really an ongoing system, where there's a coordination between education and work experience and higher education.”
De Blasio’s preliminary budget would increase spending by about $1 billion from the current budget. But the mayor said his team had identified $1.1 billion in savings and would find another $500 million in reductions before the executive budget is due. He also touted billions his administration has stashed in reserves as it prepares for a federal administration that could enact policies curtailing funding for city health care, hospitals, police, public housing and other subsidized homes.
Still, the desire to find even more savings topped the suggestions Mark-Viverito and Ferreras-Copeland included in their response to the budget. Economic Development Chairman Daniel Garodnick said he was still scrutinizing the proposal, but that he may feel compelled to spearhead another pro-savings campaign like the one he pushed for last year. That effort resulted in nearly half the Council calling on de Blasio to implement a “peg,” the once-standard practice of asking city agencies to identify potential ways to cut their budgets by 5 percent.
“I'm glad that they are more focused on savings, and it is clear that the Council's advocacy on this point prompted that,” Garodnick said. “We’re going to need to ensure that we're doing enough. … We really need to make sure that our house is in order here and protect ourselves, otherwise we're going to be in trouble when the D.C. madness hits the fan.”
Correction: City & State initially mischaracterized City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland’s response to our requests.