Tanzina Vega: In New York City, where more than 20,000 people have died from COVID-19 so far. The city is facing major budget cuts and the closure of these programs feels especially acute. Mayor Bill de Blasio released a budget proposal that would make $235 million worth of cuts to public summer programs. In April, the city canceled its summer youth employment program, which last year helped place nearly 75,000 kids and young adults between the ages of 14 to 24 in jobs.
That could leave thousands of families in New York without the programs or childcare they need while the pandemic continues. To talk about this and how it's playing out nationwide, I've got Aaron Philip Dworkin, the CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, with me, and Reema Amin, a reporter for Chalkbeat, to talk about how this is playing out in New York.
Reema Amin: These programs that we're talking about, if you just talk about summer youth employment alone, thousands of kids who participate are from low-income families. Last year, 85% of the kids who got jobs through this program reported incomes of about $31,000 or less from their families. These are children who are earning work experience, who are earning paychecks, and then bringing that money home. Especially in a time when families are suffering from the economic fallout, possibly dealing with job losses, many in the community had looked to this program and thought this will be extra income during the year.
With the prospect of it being canceled that, I think, is worrying to many low-income families. If you're a more affluent family, you have access to private day camps. In terms of the day camp offerings for younger children, you can afford to pay the fees that are associated with that. The divide comes when you're a family who can't really afford that and would have relied on a subsidized program.
Tanzina: Right. I'm curious, Aaron, whether or not what we're seeing here in New York, particularly the income divide that Reema was just discussing, is playing out nationally. On the one hand, we have kids who are going to lose summer work, who actually could have used that money. They're not just working because it's good experience. They're working to actually bring money into the household. On the other hand, you have kids who just won't have access to publicly funded recreational facilities. Are you seeing that nationally?
Aaron Philip Dworkin: Absolutely. It's so interesting. It's a microcosm for the rest of the country. Our organization has that are around for more than 25 years and summer learning loss has always been a major equity issue. One of the largest examples of inequity in all of education is what happens over the summer months. This is not new. People and educators and program providers have been tackling these divides and the gaps that grow over the summer months more dramatically than any other time. It's playing out now.
You have summer learning loss, and now we have COVID learning loss. You have those with resources who are able to find solutions, and those without who are really struggling and being impacted. I think what we do see across the country are different examples. The COVID cases are different in different parts of the country as well, but those that are being successful, in our opinion, are those that are most hyper creative and hyper collaborative.
If we just want to stay on the example of youth employment in the city of Charlotte, instead of initially canceling their leader, Don Hill, working for the mayor, went and approached all the business job providers and said, "Listen, I know you're struggling, but don't cancel these jobs. Can we come up with another solution?" Initially, right off the bat, they were all agreeing to fund young people to get trained in Microsoft programs and LinkedIn learning programs until they had more time to figure out what they needed and then could come up with project, that young people would be paid over the summer. They agreed to that, and also to extend those jobs past the summer into the fall. Some there, an example of out-of-the-box, more collaborative examples that I think are the solutions we need right now.
Tanzina: Reema, we've been talking here about the loss of a lot of these public summer program providers in New York City. Mayor De Blasio here in New York has cited the budget shortfall that's forcing him, in his opinion, to make these decisions. What are you hearing from the providers here, according to-- How are they responding to Mayor De Blasio's proposed cuts?
Reema: I think the most generous term here would be anxiety. I do want to note that the mayor has announced that after a lot of public pressure that they are going to find some funding sources for both SYEP, the Summer Youth Employment Program, as well as these day camps, these subsidized day camps. Providers are basically in the situation now where they have a sense that there is going to be some funding coming in, but there's no sense of how much that's going to be. In terms of the day camps, those providers are having to tell their folks who work on these programs that, hey, come June 30th, which is the end of the fiscal year here, that we might have to lay you off. We might have to furlough you or we might have to-
New York's biggest afterschool provider, New York Edge, recently told 1,700 employees that they're going to be moving to a two-day work week starting June 29th. The issue there comes that you might have employees who decide, hey, for me and my family, it's better that I quit this job and try to search for something else, or maybe I can devote my energy elsewhere, maybe find other work. This makes it tough for providers to plan for the summer because A, they don't know how much money they're getting, if any, at all, and B, they might be losing the very workers who would help them make programs and program options for kids when the funding comes in. It's this big question mark.
Tanzina: Aaron, one thing that often gets lost in the conversation when we talk about education and school for low-income folks is that a lot of people, many low-income families throughout the country, rely on not only the facility, but also the subsidized or free meal programs that continue often throughout the summer. Do you know if food scarcity is going to be a problem for some children and their families if these summer programs are not available this summer?
Aaron: Yes, absolutely, without a fact. Hunger and nutrition issues over the summer are our major areas of concern that a lot of folks are addressing. Groups like No Kid Hungry, Food Research Action Council, but they say the [unintelligible 00:07:22] shows that only one in seven youths that are eligible during the school year for free and reduced lunch meals actually are in programs that can access them in the summer. It's already a problem and now you'll have less programs. To the of credit the federal government, they're creating a lot of waivers and flexibility now. You don't have to be in a program to access the meals or the pickup. There's a lot of focus on this and as much flexibility as possible, but it's a huge concern because those programs typically are where a lot of young people get two to three meals a day.
Tanzina: Another thing that's come up in the conversation of parenting in a COVID world is the question of childcare. We saw so many parents, wealthy, not wealthy, people who were just struggling to get through distance and online learning, partly because their childcare had been taken away. The schools also represented an opportunity for folks to have their kids somewhere else while they went to work. Many of the basic childcare that many parents were used to was also taken away. Reema, summer programs provide that childcare. What's going to happen to low-income families this summer who don't have that?
Reema: Yes, this is a really important point for providers and families alike. I just talked to a mother yesterday. She is raising two middle school sons, sixth grade and seventh grade, on her own. She's a widow and she was recently laid off from a city job. Her kids have been participating in an afterschool program provided by New York Edge. She was looking to the summer program as a way for her sons to continue meeting new kids. They're new to the area and they live in Brooklyn, so that was going to be something that she was going to lean on while she searched for new work, while she got things done during the day that she needed to for her family. Now that's sort of in limbo.
I think providers I've talked to have said that they serve literally thousands of low-income families. The one big concern now is that New York City is slowly starting to go through these reopening phases where different businesses are reopening. As families who have been potentially out of work for months are going back out, pursuing work, they're going to need some sort of childcare that they can at least not have to pay for, for at least part of the day. Not having access to these programs could really hurt that.
Tanzina: Aaron, I am loath to ask you a question that is going to add even more work to what parents, particularly low-income parents, are going to deal with this summer, but I've got to ask, are there any suggestions for parents who won't have access to summer programs for their kids this year? I'm thinking I grew up in public housing. Those apartments are small. They're dense. They're hot. I just can't imagine not having some outlet for that. What can parents do this summer?
Aaron: There are a lot of resources for parents. A lot of groups are trying to make those available for free. Unfortunately, all the digital divide issues are still significant, but if you have access to a computer and you have access to the internet, there are a lot of free curriculum out there. I think our recommendations are, first, we have to take care of their health. There's a lot of trauma going on. If you just do something that both will keep them physically active or on the nutrition side, and also social emotionally, like check in with them.
There's a lot of curriculum from Sanford Harmony, that's free, and Castle, that's free. We have a lot of resources on our website, summerlearning.org, to make sure they get ready for school. We can't use this summer to make up for everything we've missed over the last few months. By the way, this is going to be going on for-- the effects of this COVID will be next summer as well. Every student has one area that they could improve on, that's maybe a high need area.
Talk to your school. Talk to a teacher. Find out what. Is it reading? Is it math? Is it STEM? Find something. There's a ton of curriculum and free, hands-on. Khan Academy has great resources for students to activate. The last thing here is, the moment we're in, this politically charged moment, and students are not unaware, whether it's how to respond to the COVID issues or the structural racism challenges we're seeing in your country play out right now, and with the big election. I would just say, find a way to empower your students to get involved and do service and take a leadership role.
Tanzina: Well, there you heard it. Aaron Philip Dworkin is the CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, and Reema Amin is a reporter for Chalkbeat. Thanks to you both for joining us.
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