Last-minute city funding leaves NYC summer camps scrambling
Yasmin Schwartz had all the ingredients to run a successful summer camp.
Schwartz, who oversees a popular after-school program at Liberty Avenue Middle School in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn had a proven curriculum, an eager staff and students. She had a school willing to host the program and a likely funding source: a 2014 city initiative to fund programs like hers.
There was just one problem: this year, like four of the last five, city officials only restored the funding in last-ditch budget negotiations in late spring, leaving just weeks for Schwartz to hire staff, book activities, and reserve space.
By the time the city camp contract was available in June, Schwartz said it was too late to claim space at the school, forcing her to nix the program.
“We run safe, fun, experiential summer camps,” Schwartz said. “We can’t do that so effectively so last minute.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s middle school summer camp initiative serves almost 23,000 students through community organizations like Schwartz’s Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation that contract with the Department of Youth and Community Development, according to city figures.
But funding has been on the chopping block since 2015, when the mayor pulled the entire $20 million to fund his signature Renewal School program.
After community uproar, de Blasio restored the camp money in the final adopted budget — but only for one year.
Since then, the city has continued to allocate the money in one year increments — often adding it to the final version of the budget in May or June — and has decreased the amount from $20 million to $15 million.
Community organizations that run the camps say the funding is vital, and have called on the mayor to build it permanently into the city budget, a request the City Council echoed this year.
“We know the money is there,” said Nora Moran, Director of Policy and Advocacy for United Neighborhood Houses, an advocacy group that lobbies on behalf of community organizations. “Just plan ahead and put it in the budget early on, and everyone will be happy."
Without the city-funded camp at Liberty Ave Middle School, the Cypress Hills neighborhood has few affordable summer options for middle-schoolers, Schwartz said, and some families have decided to keep their kids at home.
“When (middle-schoolers) have more programs, they take it and use it for good,” Schwartz said. “We really do a disservice to them when we neglect them every year and tell them they don’t matter. It’s not a hard or super-expensive win.”