SYEP suspension done prematurely and without precaution

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Joel Bautista | The Ticker

Amanda Salazar

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city was going to suspend the Summer Youth Employment Program — which serves around 75,000 young adults per year — and the related Ladders for Leaders program in the wake of the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, pandemic.

The decision, while the result of well-meaning intentions, was rash and could cause more trouble than needed.

De Blasio and the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Bill Chong had the right idea when they announced that the program would be suspended, since the goal is to keep as many people in their homes as possible.

By cancelling this program that employs thousands upon thousands of NYC youth, more people will be staying home during the warm months, or in theory, at least.

“This is a very unpredictable time for NYC and we know many of you are dealing with personal challenges related to COVID-19 such as closed schools and loved ones who are ill. We value your wellbeing above all else. With that in mind, and the uncertainty over how COVID-19 will continue to affect NYC and social distancing guidelines, DYCD made the very difficult decision not to operate a Summer Youth Employment Program this year,” an email sent out to SYEP applicants read. “We share in your disappointment but look forward to your application when the program resumes. Wishing you the best in all of your endeavors and that you and your family remain safe and in good health.”

However, by doing so, the city has deprived thousands of teenagers and young adults of the ability to make money to support themselves and their families.

A large portion of the participants in SYEP are from low-income families. In fact, while applicants that do not suffer financial hardship get selected for the program through a lottery, SYEP accepts some people specifically because their family has an annual income below a certain threshold.

Many of these adolescents do not have another opportunity to make money apart from SYEP because it can be hard to secure even a simple job without any experience.

The program accepts 14 and 15-year olds to participate in “paid project-based activities which will help them explore different career opportunities,” according to its website, and 16 through 24-year olds for minimum wage jobs.

Program participants are paid a set amount for the entire summer but are only allowed to work up to a maximum number of hours for a certain amount of days per week. If they go over, they could be removed from the program and their employer could lose their partnership with SYEP.

Not only does the program give financially struggling teens and young adults access to jobs with reasonable hours, it also gives that same access to the other participants who win through the unbiased lottery.

With the coronavirus pandemic eradicating many non-essential jobs, there is an even greater need for teenagers to work, whether or not they’re from low-income backgrounds, since their parents or siblings may have lost their jobs.

Without SYEP, those reasonable hour jobs are gone or require many more hours.

On top of that, SYEP gives young people the opportunity to have work experiences listed on their resumes, even if it is just a camp counselor job, for example.

Chong was trying to do the right thing when he cancelled the program for 2020, but it seems that he did not consider the consequences of this action when doing so.

“The City has had to make some tough choices about whether programs should remain open or closed or be modified to ensure the health and safety of New Yorkers. Out of an abundance of caution for our young people, providers and worksites, we have made the very difficult decision not to operate the Summer Youth Employment Program this year,” he said. “While the cancellation of this summer’s SYEP will be disappointing to its participants, making this announcement now rather than later will allow young people and their families to make more informed decisions on alternative summer plans.”

He should have waited longer to make the call, though, because he made the decision when it had just barely even turned spring.

Summer is still a ways away and while it is necessary to think ahead during the current circumstances, it is also important to recognize that we have no way of knowing what will happen in the future. We have no way of knowing if the coronavirus will still be a major issue during the summer.

Many SYEP jobs do not begin until July, with some starting in late June. Why make the call to cancel the program now? Why not wait a little bit longer to see how things were closer to the start date?

The application had been out for a couple of months and many people already applied. They could have waited until early to mid-June to decide whether or not to cancel the program for the year.

If the virus still viciously persists by that point, NYC’s youth would know that the DYCD suspended SYEP after trying to keep it open for this year as best as they could.

In any case, it is important to understand that de Blasio and Chong were truly trying their best to keep the city safe and made the decision that they genuinely think is right.