New budget cuts will affect programs for youth
Monica Rigucci is a sophomore at Ithaca High School. After receiving job training and interview practice from the Ithaca Youth Bureau Youth Employment Services, Rigguci was offered a job at Cass Park. She was the first of her friends to have a summer job.
“I learned so much from the real work experience,” Rigucci said. “And without the help of the Youth Bureau, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to get the job.”
Through organization by the Ithaca Youth Bureau and financial support from the state youth services funding, Rigucci’s experience with Summer Youth Employment Services was completely free and, according to Rigucci, entirely beneficial.
Yet, upon the approval of the most recent state budget, teenagers like Monica Rigucci might soon lose this opportunity. Youth programming in Tompkins County and across the state is now at risk of limited funding and potential elimination.
On March 27, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the 2011-12 budget, which contains plans to balance a $10 billion deficit by reducing aid to youth services across the state by 50 percent.
State funding cuts to youth services will jeopardize the existence of programs and services across the state that are available to more than 2 million children. The largest program put at risk is the New York Youth Bureau, which offers afterschool programs, services for runaway teens, teen pregnancy prevention and job services.
The $132.5 billion budget agreement also includes cuts to education, detention centers, prisons and youth services and begins a long-term restructuring of Medicaid programs.
After weeks of negotiations and political discourse, the new budget is being hailed for passing on schedule for the first time in five years. According to a press release from the state capital, the new budget plans to “transform the future budgeting process” and overhaul a “failing system.”
The budget reduces overall spending by more than 2 percent from the previous year and aims to reach its fiscal goals with no new taxes and no borrowing. It will also cut the 2012-13 projected budget deficit from $15 billion to about $2 billion.
But amid the sweeping changes of the budget proposal, youth advocates are questioning its overall effects.
Tompkins County Department of Youth Services is a government organization that exists to support youth in the county by organizing programming and allocating funds to several youth organizations throughout the community. Amie Hendrix is the newly hired director of the department.
“As a new member of the staff, this has been a challenging introduction,” Hendrix said in an interview with Ithaca College’s WICB radio. “But we’ve been preparing to handle it from the beginning.”
The details of the cuts will not be revealed until the budget goes into effect in July. Until then, the Department of Youth Services can only guess what programming will be affected.
“Our job at this point is to ensure that there is a safety net for those programs at risk and assess where our fund will be needed the most at the point of cuts,” Hendrix said.
The Ithaca Youth Bureau is under the umbrella oversight of the Tompkins County Department of Youth Services. Allen Green, the Ithaca Youth Bureau’s director, is now faced with possible limited financial support from the state government.
“I just think it’s good public policy to make sure that young people are staying active and engaged in a positive way,” Green said. “But unfortunately, this new budget doesn’t offer that opportunity.”
According to the Division of the Budget, the governor’s proposal would eliminate funding to nine youth and family service programs. The loss for central New York’s youth bureaus could range anywhere from $118,000 to more than $460,000.
In Ithaca, the local Youth Bureau relies on state funding for 5 to 10 percent of its annual budget. Yet, this amount totals nearly $43,000 in funding. Cuts will drop this funding by half and directly affect 11 community programs.
The Youth Employment Services, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the Paul Sheers Memorial Program and the Ithaca Youth Council, among many others, are now all facing extinction.
Youth Employment Services is a program that provides job training, networking and employment opportunities for teens, with the hope of allowing young people to contribute to their community and local economy. It receives partial funding from the New York Youth Bureau Summer Youth Employment Program.
Suki Tabor, the program coordinator for Youth Employment Services, ensures that funding is available for programming.
“One of the biggest things that young people are challenged with today is finding their place in the world,” Tabor said. “And I think jobs are a great way to do that.”
Amena Farley is a sophomore at Ithaca High School who has participated with Youth Employment Services for more than a year. She attributes increased responsibility, confidence with interviews and even new school clothes to her work experience.
“Even in smaller jobs like Chili Fest, I still learn at lot,” Farley said. “And I’m always busy, too.”
Tabor’s largest concern is that a lack of positive engagement in the community will lend to an increase in “less productive activities.” Tabor said that without the support of community programs, youth in Ithaca and the surrounding areas are more likely to participate in illegal activity and enter youth detention services.
The program’s previously allotted $15.5 million was restored. Yet, according to Tabor, this amount is not necessarily enough to run sufficient programming.
“When you make cuts like this, then there is no support to help the kids turn that cycle around,” Tabor said.
Green of the Ithaca Youth Bureau also sees this trend as a potentially dangerous connection with the recent budget cuts. Cuomo has passed a budget that cuts preventative youth services by half, while simultaneously cutting the state’s juvenile facility capacity by 376 beds.
“It’s more likely that young people will end up costing you a lot more money than if you keep things focused on prevention programming,” Green said.
According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, it costs $210,000 a year to incarcerate each young person. A recent report by the service also indicates that the youth involved in most detention services in New York are from areas lacking in educational structure and support.
In contrast, Green said the average cost of a year of youth services for a single young person in Tompkins County is $7,000. While a small cost comparatively, budget cuts will make additional support necessary for the Youth Bureau in order to continue programming.
According to Green, the Ithaca Youth Bureau, unlike smaller community centers, has had success with federal grants, participant fees, inter-municipal partnerships and private sponsors and donors.
Teens working with Youth Employment Services are currently planning a fundraising initiative to support the Ithaca Youth Bureau. Banana Fest, scheduled for August, aims to fill some of the budget gap for programming.
Amena Farley is one of the students helping with planning.
“We’re just lucky to have been able to work with the Youth Bureau,” Farley said. “We want to make sure other kids can, too.”
Green said that this kind of outside support will allow the bureau to continue functioning without the state funding, but other smaller bureaus may not be as lucky. State funding is now allocated more directly to urban areas with higher rates of juvenile delinquency, leaving rural bureaus at risk.
When the funding cuts go into effect in July, Amena Farley, along with 2 million youth and their parents across the state, may be faced with limited community opportunities.
“I’m not really sure what I would be doing without the Youth Bureau,” Farley said. “But I definitely wouldn’t be working.”
Emily Miles is a sophomore journalism major who would like to officially propose her own budget. Email her at [email protected].