With thousands of summer jobs in jeopardy, more than 200 city teens rallied in City Hall Park Thursday against funding cuts to the popular Summer Youth Employment Program.
In his proposed budget, Gov. Paterson slashed the state’s $35 million allocation. Mayor Bloomberg proposes another $1 million in cuts from the program.
Nachaell Gonzalez, 16, of the Bronx who has worked at a family center for the past three years, called the program critical for local youth.
“Without it kids would be on the street, standing on the corner, doing I don’t know what instead of earning money,” she said.
For the past 40 years, the summer job program has given city youth employment and educational opportunities, working entry-level jobs in various fields, from hospitals to summer camps.
Last year, the city enrolled 52,255 youth in the program, the most in a decade, according to the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development.
It would mean only 17,200 jobs available in the program this summer – a loss of 35,000 jobs.
At the protest, sponsored by nonprofits United Neighborhood Houses and Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, organizers said the cuts don’t make sense.
“In this climate of record-high youth unemployment, it is bad policy to slash this critical opportunity for young people,” said Anthony Ng, of United Neighborhood Houses.
Gigi Li, of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, noted that teens usually spend their paychecks locally, “helping our economy.”
Politicians who attended also echoed the students’ concern.
“The tough economy is a good reason to keep this program, not gut it,” said state Sen. Dan Squadron (D-Brooklyn). City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Queens), who said he worked in the program as a kid, said he knew “firsthand what these jobs mean to our youth.”
For Luis Munive, 17, of Bushwick, Brooklyn, the summer jobs program provided him with cash to buy school supplies, and a boost on the job market.
“It gave me better communication skills and helped my résumé,” he said.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) encouraged the students to remain vigilant.”Don’t give up, don’t give in, this is a fight we must win,” he said, adding, “we are going to win it for this summer.”