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City Task Force to Help ‘Most Vulnerable Young New Yorkers’ is Well Behind Schedule


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Council Member Mathieu Eugene (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


A task force created in 2017 by City Council legislation aimed at providing better services and more opportunities for out-of-work, out-of-school youth and young adults has been delayed from the start, having met only a few times since its creation and now more than a year overdue in presenting its first report as mandated by law.

The City Council, with help from nonprofit advocacy group and service-provider JobsFirstNYC and other outside partners, passed a bill that would create the Mayor’s Disconnected Youth Task Force -- a 25-member committee composed of designees from city agencies, appointees by the mayor and Council speaker, representatives from community-based organizations that provide services to young adults, intermediaries, representatives from the business community, and young people ages 16 to 24 who have been out of work and out of school.

According to the bill, the creation of the Task Force was necessary to “examine the obstacles to education and employment for disconnected youth and to make recommendations regarding measures to improve outcomes for disconnected youth,” a group prone to falling through the cracks and into the criminal justice system.

The Task Force is led by the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives under de Blasio, a position first filled by Richard Buery, and now his successor, Phillip Thompson, who convened the first meeting. Members include Marjorie Parker, the President and CEO of JobsFirstNYC; Stanley Richards, the Executive Vice President of the Fortune Society, an advocacy group and service-provider that works with people who have been in the criminal justice system; representatives from several city agencies including the Departments of Education, Health, Homelessness, Children’s Services, Youth and Community Development, and others.

The legislation, sponsored by Brooklyn City Council Member Mathieu Eugene, then the chair of the Council’s Youth Services Committee, outlined specific deadlines for the Task Force. It required the appointment of all 25 members within 30 days of the law’s April 2017 enactment and an initial report due by March 1, 2018, followed by subsequent biennial reports until the submission of the Task Force’s final report on March 1, 2022.

The Task Force didn’t meet for the first time until February 1 of this year, well over a year after it was supposed to and despite the fact that the law required it to meet four times before submitting its first report, which was due nearly a year prior to the first actual meeting.

As of Wednesday, the Mayor’s Disconnected Youth Task Force is yet to produce its first report, with the calendar closer to the deadline for the second report than the first.

Since the first meeting in February, where two workgroups were named, there have been five Task Force meetings and over a dozen workgroup meetings, according to a spokesperson for JobsFirstNYC. It is unclear when a first report from the Task Force may be out.

It appears that some of the Task Force’s delay may be due to the change in leadership from Buery, who left the administration in early 2018, to Thompson, the deputy mayor who now chairs it and led its first meeting last year.

Both the office of Council Member Eugene and the de Blasio administration failed to respond to several attempts by Gotham Gazette to ascertain the status of the Task Force and its first report.

After the first meeting last February, Deputy Mayor Thompson said in a statement, “This task force is seeking to help the most vulnerable young New Yorkers — those who do not finish school, those who are not in the workforce or those who are involved with the criminal justice system.”

He continued: “As somebody who was myself in foster care for part of my youth, I truly understand the challenges and the need to create pathways and support. The de Blasio administration is implementing a comprehensive strategy that involves working more closely with industries and companies to create relationships and partnerships that help move at-risk people into long-term careers. Some of these strategies are already producing results to reduce rates of youth disconnection citywide but we need to do so much more. I look forward to working with members of the task force to develop a better coordinated strategy among programs servicing youth citywide.”

Over the past nine years and coinciding with an extended economic expansion after the Great Recession, New York City has seen a consistent decline in the number of out-of-school, out-of-work youth. From 2010 to 2019, this population has dropped from 187,588 to 118,000, according to data from the Community Service Society.

The creation of the Task Force is an attempt to increase efforts to assist members of this population to find work or pursue further education, and to improve coordination among city agencies and between city government and outside partners. The main goal of the Task Force is to reframe the way that New York City provides services to OSOW youth by identifying and implementing solutions to the barriers that disconnected youth face.

JobsFirstNYC has been a driving force behind the creation of the task force and attempts to get its work to move ahead at a pace more in line with the legislation creating it. JobsFirst is a nonprofit intermediary organization that focuses attention and resources on what it calls a crisis of disengaged and disconnected young adults in New York City. It was founded in 2006 with an initial investment from the New York City Workforce Funders Group -- an entity that seeks to identify and develop initiatives at a citywide level and make the city’s workforce systems more responsive to the needs of workers and employers.

At the Task Force’s first meeting in February 2018, 20 of 25 members were named and the two workgroups were established: one focused on prevention and one on re-engagement. These workgroups were created to assess current systems, make observations and identify specific ways to make services and programs for youth and young adults more connected and collaborative. 

“We were asking ourselves a couple of framing questions: ‘What is it that we need to understand about the issue of disconnected youth?’, so we made a lot of requests to try to first understand the way the system is operating,” said Richards of The Fortune Society and the Task Force, in an interview, when asked about the work done by the workgroups thus far.

“We had experts from across the spectrum of government officials, service providers, educators, really talk from their viewpoint about how the system operates and then we asked ourselves, ‘Where are the gaps, where are the inconsistencies, what gets in the way of a highly functional system?’,” Richards said.

Due in 2022, the Task Force’s final report must include an “assessment of the obstacles that prevent disconnected youth from pursuing educational opportunities or entering the workforce, including but not limited to, issues related to housing, childcare, health care and substance abuse, criminal justice, transportation, wages, and language and cultural barriers.”

The report must also provide an analysis of how to address said obstacles and recommendations for how to better adjust the city’s current efforts to helping OSOW youth by working on ways to strengthen the partnerships between public and private providers that serve disconnected youth.

The Task Force is responsible for providing recommendations for how to improve data collection for disconnected youth programs and make the data publicly available, as well as how to better inform the public of the availability of services for disconnected youth.

It is also expected to make recommendations to the city on how it should allocate its $500 million workforce budget in a way that is more efficient and beneficial to OSOW youth.

The legislation outlined that four of the Task Force members had to be appointed by the Mayor, four by the City Council Speaker, and that three members would be youth leaders between the ages of 16 and 24. The additional members had to include other specific government officials or their designees such as the Commissioner of Youth and Community Development and the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Center for Youth Employment.

JobsFirstNYC, which conducts research on disconnected youth and ways to help them, is represented on the Task Force and on the prevention and re-engagement workgroups. The organization examines the variety of city services and systems and evaluates how they can be modified to better serve young people, while articulating barriers that prevent young people from gaining full-time employment or pursuing post-secondary education. 

The organization -- and likely the Task Force -- aims to encourage employer engagement in improving workforce development and building more structural partnerships so that training and post-secondary opportunities are directly connected to in-demand employment. The Young Adult Sectoral Employment Project (YASEP) is a program conceived by JobsFirst that aims to identify whether different sector strategies can help link OSOW young adults with employers by creating customized pathways to employment.

According to research conducted by JobsFirstNYC in collaboration with Dr. James Parott, formerly of the Fiscal Policy Institute, and Lazar Treschan of the Community Service Society, some of the barriers that dictate a young person’s ability to enter the New York City economy include race, geography, education, poverty, and the 2008 recession.

The research, published in 2013 as Barriers to Entry: The Increasing Challenges Faced by Young Adults In the New York City Labor Market, found that OSOW youth are highly concentrated, with 18 of 55 New York City neighborhoods home to over half of the OSOW young adults in the city. These neighborhoods include East Harlem, Ocean Hill, East New York, and Parkchester. 

Additionally, race is a dominant characteristic in the OSOW population the research found: of the 48,000 out-of-school, out-of-work young people without a high school diploma, over 83% were black and Latino.

The research helps impact programs such as the Bronx Opportunity Network (BON), launched in 2008, that aims to provide young adults in the South Bronx with intensive tutoring and academic support so that they can enroll in and complete college. Another program through JobsFirstNYC is the Lower East Side Employment Network (LESEN), a program that aims to lower the barriers to access high-quality jobs in high-demand industries for Lower East Side residents. 

The Invest in Skills NY campaign, where JobsFirstNYC is a co-chair organization, is an advocacy partnership among key stakeholders -- employers and others doing workforce development -- trying to ensure that state government makes a skilled workforce a priority with programming across New York.

As the Mayor’s Disconnected Youth Task Force first met in February, JobsFirst and Invest in Skills NY released a “policy brief” to help guide the Task Force’s work. Developing a Single-System Strategy for New York City’s Out of School, Out of Work Adults outlines recommendations to the Task Force, including the broad goal of creating, as the brief’s name suggests, a “single-system strategy,” so that programs support young adults across a cooperative continuum. This system “intervenes before a young person becomes an OSOW, engages and connects OSOW young adults to opportunities and supports the career development of young adults who are marginally connected to the labor market or pursuing post-secondary education.”

“Until now, this issue has lacked real leadership,” said Kevin Stump, Vice President of Policy, Communications and In-School Practice at JobsFirstNYC, in an interview, “which is why we remain optimistic that Mayor de Blasio’s Disconnected Youth Task Force will develop a fully-funded single-strategy system that is data-informed and meets the unique needs of this population and the communities in which they live.”

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by Jewel Antoine, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: City Plan to Replace Rikers Island Jails Moves Ahead


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(image: mayor's office rendering of new Brooklyn jail)


July 17, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: City Plan to Replace Rikers Island Jails Moves Ahead

Tyler Nims, executive director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, also known as the Lippman Commission, joined the show to discuss the city's plan to close the Rikers Island jails and replace some of the inmate and detainee capacity with four local jails, one in each borough other than Staten Island. He addressed details of the plan, which was largely based on his commission's work, and some of the pushback that has arisen as the land use review process moves ahead.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Advocates See Irony in Cuomo's Thinly-Veiled Shots at De Blasio Over City Problems


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Cuomo & de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo believes in action, rather than rhetoric, and rarely shies away from criticizing those who he believes fail to live up to their promises, including his fellow Democrats. He’s also appeared particularly irritated by the ascendent progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has challenged him, unfairly he argues, and offers what he says are pie-in-the-sky talking points over the types of achievable results he’s delivered.

Cuomo brought the critiques together on Friday in an op-ed in the New York Daily News, where he inveighed about underfunded schools, the problem-plagued Rikers Island jail complex and the plan to close it, New York City’s homelessness crisis, and the mismanaged city public housing authority (NYCHA). That same day, Cuomo complained of a rising homeless problem on the city’s subways, calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), an entity he effectively controls, to confront it in its upcoming reorganization plan. 

But on each of those issues, Cuomo, now in his third term, offered no concrete solutions of his own, and advocates who have watched him hold the reins of power for eight-and-a-half years say his rhetoric distracts from his own policy failures while pinning the blame on others. In this case, the unnamed target was clearly New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is now running for president on what the mayor calls a long list of progressive accomplishments in the nation’s largest city.

In many instances, including the op-ed, Cuomo’s indulges in discussion of “what it means to be progressive” appear to be his attempts to differentiate himself from de Blasio, among others.

“The common denominator of these great failures — Rikers, poor schools, NYCHA — is obvious,” Cuomo wrote in the op-ed, “poor, powerless minorities and basic civil rights violations. Addressing them should be the cornerstone of a true progressive agenda, and yet they continue to languish.” 

He went on to criticize “Democratic failures” that fuel Republican success, before taking a shot at the 2020 Democratic presidential field. “Today, every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate is articulating the same basic ‘progressive’ goals: more economic opportunity, better public education, affordable health care, etc. To me, the far more important question is how we achieve these goals and who has the ability to get it done,” he wrote (Cuomo has repeatedly expressed support for former Vice President Joe Biden). 

The governor all but shouted from the rooftops that the common denominator on all those issues is de Blasio, a favorite target of his criticism despite the long history the two share. Cuomo’s acrimony towards what he sees as faux progressivism is never as obvious as when it’s directed at the second term mayor, and the two have spent more time arguing over issues they agree on rather than working on solutions.

Cuomo has been quick to fault de Blasio for the city’s homelessness crisis, the long-running problems at NYCHA, and what he inaccurately called a “stalled” plan to close Rikers. Inequity in school funding is another area where Cuomo, despite his own significant power to effect change, has taken a cudgel to the mayor. While de Blasio has struggled to varying degrees with each of the problems Cuomo mentioned, the mayor and others have also sought more state support than the city has received.

The mayor’s office clearly understood who the op-ed was targeting. “We agree - being progressive requires more than just talk,” said Jane Meyer, a spokesperson for de Blasio, in an email. “That’s why we back our words up with action. Our plan to close down Rikers is one year ahead of schedule, we have helped over 117,000 New Yorkers avoid or exit shelter, and we are testing 135,000 NYCHA apartments for lead to eradicate exposure.”

It is not lost on many close watchers and stakeholders that the issues Cuomo has railed about, and targeted de Blasio on, have of course been ripe for gubernatorial action, especially from a governor who has repeatedly sought to outshine, undermine, and overstep the mayor, whose shortcomings are not to be dismissed.

But overall, those working on solutions in the areas Cuomo mentioned say his op-ed says as much, if not more, about him than anyone he sought to call out. 

Rikers Island
In a conference call with reporters on Friday, Cuomo repeated his criticism of the Rikers closure plan, saying the state Legislature should have acted to close it long ago and that de Blasio’s plan “was unworkable from the day it was announced” -- a claim that does not appear supported by fact at this point in the process currently unfolding.

Though he was ready to offer help -- “Tell me what you need from the state’s point of view and we’ll be however helpful that we can,” Cuomo said -- he did not provide any concrete ideas. And he seemed to suggest that elected officials in the city would be best served if they moved ahead with the plan despite community opposition, which is what appears to be happening, contrary to Cuomo calling the plan unworkable and stalled. 

Brandon Holmes, the New York City campaign coordinator for JustLeadershipUSA, which has spearheaded the #CloseRikers campaign, chalked up Cuomo’s rhetoric to a “political game” with the mayor and one that undermines a successful ongoing effort to move towards a closure of the jail complex. Instead, he called out Cuomo’s yearslong efforts to either oppose or water down criminal justice reforms making their way through the state Legislature. 

Holmes noted, for instance, that Cuomo opposed the complete elimination of cash bail (it was severely limited for use in non-violent offenses under new legislation this year, which will be a big boost to the Rikers closure efforts given the expected reduction in remand), did not voice support for reforms to the parole system or eliminating solitary confinement.

“Cuomo didn’t support all of these things that would not only improve conditions for people who are currently incarcerated but also ensure that thousands more New Yorkers would never come into contact or return to prison in the first place, and he didn’t support any of that,” he said. “This is really just a political move. I don’t know what games he thinks he’s playing but he really should stay out of the picture and allow advocates and people who are formerly incarcerated to continue leading this movement to decarcerate New York which we’ve had to force him and drag him along the way to doing.”

While Cuomo did champion major bail and other criminal justice reforms that did move this year after Democrats won the state Senate, the governor’s critiques of de Blasio’s efforts to close the Rikers Island jails appear to boil down to calling the timeline too long, which is certainly debatable, though the governor has not followed up that criticism with anything concrete, and the unfounded jabs at the replacement plan, which is moving through the city’s land use review process.

Homelessness
Cuomo has repeatedly criticized the rise of homelessness in New York City, which continued to climb during de Blasio’s first several years as mayor but has plateaued after billions of dollars in additional spending by the city administration. De Blasio has himself repeatedly mentioned homelessness as his biggest failing as mayor, where he said he did not quickly enough grasp the magnitude of the problem and how many city resources needed to be dedicated toward it.

But Cuomo’s more recent tirade was directed more specifically at homelessness on the subway system. “[I]t's something we've all lived with as New Yorkers, but what's striking to me is how much worse it is and it's not just a question of looking at the numbers and the statistics, it's visibly worse,” said Cuomo, who has not ridden the subway in two-and-a-half years, on the press call. 

Cuomo called on the MTA, which is currently undergoing a top-to-bottom reorganization of its bureaucratic structure, to tackle the issue without relying on assistance from the city, while he again appeared to distance himself from actually providing state help.

“We need social service outreach workers. We need police in a supporting role. We need transportation accommodations. And the MTA has to have a concerted, efficient, professional effort where outreach workers make contact with homeless people on trains and in terminals doing assessment on-site as to the issues that are being presented by the homeless individual,” he said. “If the homeless individual is violating the laws or the regulations of the MTA, then help that person get the assistance they need. Be it a shelter, supportive housing, mental health facilities.” 

But the governor’s comments about additional policing, just a month after a separate announcement that the MTA would add 500 new police officers to patrol the subways for fare evasion (funded by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office), struck some experts as misguided.

Jacquelyn Simone, policy analyst at nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement Friday that the state should redouble its investments in permanent solutions such as affordable and supportive housing. “However Gov. Cuomo’s reference to increased policing of homeless people in the subways is misplaced,” she added. “We have always advised State and City leaders that the answer is most definitely not more policing because summonses and harassing vulnerable people to make them move simply pushes them deeper into the shadows without helping them obtain the services and housing each one of them needs. If Gov. Cuomo wants to fix the problem, let him step up with more housing and services specifically targeted for homeless people, stop shifting the cost of shelters off to localities, and stop the prison-to-shelter pipeline from the State’s correctional facilities.”

Cuomo’s has touted state investments in affordable and supportive housing, but experts have shown it has been slow to materialize, and the governor has refused to support a more significant state investment into housing subsidies that the city has provided to those leaving shelter.

JustLeadershipUSA’s Holmes offered rhetorical questions: “He comes out with this investment saying he’s gonna fund additional police officers into the MTA to solve those problems. What if he actually put that money towards providing permanent housing for people who are experiencing chronic homelessness? What if he put that money into repairing public housing buildings across the city?”  

NYCHA
The city’s public housing authority has suffered a series of setbacks and self-inflicted problems over the last many years, not the least of which involved the falsification of lead inspection records that led to a federal lawsuit and eventual oversight from a federal monitor. The authority also has an estimated $32 billion capital repair backlog, though the de Blasio administration was able to bring its operational expenses under control after years of deficits, in part by putting more city funds toward the authority.   

For over two years, however, while the agency faced investigation, Cuomo has refused to release about $450 million in state funding allocated for repair and maintenance, citing the agency’s mismanagement. “Progressives all espouse the need for affordable housing, but the incompetence of NYCHA has been tolerated for years with children being housed without heat and exposed to lead poisoning, without any coherent solution,” Cuomo said in his op-ed.

The governor also seized on NYCHA as an issue last year, as he was running for a third term, holding a number of NYCHA-related government events at various public housing developments, promising some conditional funding, and threatening a state monitor, pending the outcome of the federal examination.

The governor has not been a frequent NYCHA visitor since winning his primary last September, and he did not allocate any additional NYCHA funding in the new state budget passed April 1.

School Funding
“On public education, I think the op-ed is a bit of an indictment of his own policies,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, an education advocacy group, and a frequent Cuomo critic who supported the governor’s primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, in last year’s election.

AQE has long pushed for fully funding the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, which would require billions more in state “foundation aid” funding for underfunded schools in poorer schools districts. Cuomo has repeatedly denied that funding, arguing that the state has no remaining obligation under the CFE decision, and this year pushed his own alternative “education equity” formula that would require districts to direct more funding toward their poorer schools.

In his op-ed, Cuomo critiqued the state Legislature for failing to increase funding for poorer school districts without also increasing funds for richer ones, but his formula accomplishes the same outcome. The governor pushed through additional requirements for New York City to report on how state education aid is being delivered to specific schools. 

“He has utterly failed to deliver for high-need schools in this state,” Easton added. “This year the Legislature proposed a plan that would increase funding over the next four years for high-need school districts by $3 billion and he aggressively blocked it.”

Cuomo has at once touted that the state continues to increase overall education funding to record levels each year, and also said that the state cannot keep throwing more money at education, citing the highest per-pupil spending in the country, by far.

He’s backed an expansion of charter schools, particularly in New York City, an effort that stalled this year under full Democratic control of the Legislature despite the state cap on charters for the city having been hit. De Blasio and Easton are staunch opponents of charter schools, which supporters point out often deliver better education than traditional public schools in low-income communities of color, while critics say they often don’t educate representative student bodies, are test-prep factories, and starve district schools of resources.

Easton derided the governor’s so-called pragmatism as one driven more by fiscal conservatism, and noted that the disparity in per-pupil funding between richer and poorer school districts has only gone up under Cuomo’s tenure (though the Legislature certainly has a hand in that as well). 

“I think he’s just lashing out. He’s lashed out at de Blasio, he’s lashed out at AOC, he’s lashed out at Cabán,” he said. “He’s lashing out at anyone who’s actually a progressive. He wants the definition of progressive to probably be center-right like he is. That’s just not the reality. The truth is, what the op-ed also shows is that progressives are defining the agenda that Democrats have to respond to. He’s got that intuition, he’s always had the intuition that he needs to brand himself as a progressive but he’s a lot better at branding than he is at delivering on some of the most important progressive priorities.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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