Mayor proposes $6.3 million in American Rescue Plan funding for summer programs
Youth engagement and vulnerable communities are focal points of the mayor’s plan, which now needs approval from the Board of Alders.
Isaac Yu, Staff Reporter
On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Justin Elicker announced a citywide Summer Reset Program, a plan to divert $6.3 million of funds from the American Rescue Plan, or ARP, to youth engagement, maintenance, cultural and public safety initiatives for the coming summer.
The details of the mayor’s proposal, which was submitted to the Board of Alders on Monday night, were laid out by a slate of public officials at an in-person press conference held at City Hall on Tuesday. The proposal would allocate funds to a total of 20 new and existing programs across four categories: Youth Engagement, Clean and Safe, Arts and Culture and Safe Summer. Officials emphasized that this spending will not only address the city’s pandemic-related issues but long-term goals of equity.
“This gives us the financial support that we need to get through this pandemic ourselves,” Elicker said at the press conference. “But much more beyond that, this invests in young people and invests in the communities that have historically been underrepresented. Now is not only a time for us to bounce back, but move forward.”
The $6.3 million figure in this plan represents a small fraction of the American Rescue Plan’s direct allocation to the city of New Haven, which totals $94 million. The mayor characterized this first round of spending priorities as addressing these “urgent” public needs, as the city approaches the summer season. The remainder of the ARP’s funding will be distributed in the coming months through a “process with community input,” he said.
Elciker’s proposal comes six days after potential challenger Karen DuBois-Walton ’89 delivered a video speech outlining her own plan for reallocating ARP funds. DuBois-Walton, who currently serves as the president of Elm City Communities, called for the city to invest $10 million toward police accountability and gun violence reduction programs.
Elicker’s plan would focus funding in the following areas.
To foster youth engagement, it would direct $1.5 million to the city’s Youth and Recreation Department. The funds would aim to extend summer camp programming by three weeks, sponsor a youth summer concert and create a counselor-in-training program for eighth graders to train them for camp jobs. Funding would also support nonprofit youth services providers, driver’s and traffic safety courses as well as neighborhood pop-up events for families.
The Clean and Safe Program, named after the city’s existing Clean and Safe Sweep initiative, would allocate $1.5 million for improvements to parks and playgrounds, neighborhood revitalization through paint, maintenance and trash can repair, an expansion of the city’s youth ambassador program with the Livable City Initiative and citywide cleanup efforts.
The plan would also provide $1 million for civic-minded arts and culture events like the New Haven Grand Prix and Independence Day fireworks. It would also include grants for small community celebrations, arts-focused programs for youth and promotional marketing for existing cultural activities.
The Safe Summer allocation would redirect monies to bolster Youth Connect programs, which bridge “youth to services to navigate mental health and high-risk behaviors” like homelessness. It would add more funding for additional school counselors and engagement activities.
The Elicker administration stressed during the announcement that it would look to eventually redirect additional amounts of ARP funds to the program. City Economic Development Administrator Mike Piscitelli also noted that the ARP also allocates aid to federal agencies for discretionary grants, which the city could apply for as an additional source of funding.
“We’ve had the fundamentals in place, and then with the American Rescue Plan and with the additional funding that will be coming, we have the opportunity now to deploy the right solutions and create meaningful change in our community,” Piscitelli said.
Gwendolyn Busch Williams, director of the city’s Youth and Recreation Department, said at the press conference that students “are experiencing a collective trauma” due to the pandemic’s impact, and expressed excitement at the idea of providing neighborhood potlucks to simulate “family reunion.” Bolstering a sense of connectedness among families is essential, she said.
“We cannot build a future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future,” Williams said. “It takes a village to raise a child. We are proud to present programming to help our youth for summer 2021, recognizing they have been impacted greatly by COVID-19. It is our goal to create a summer of fun and open their horizons and provide recreational programs that will help them create new memories.”
New Haven Community Service Administrator Mehul Dalal echoed Williams’ statements, and added that one of the effects of the “collective trauma” she mentioned could be high-risk behavior, and that building a “fun summer” also means building a “safe summer.”
Many of the “summer reset” programs will be conducted in partnership with a host of community organizations, such as mental health service Clifford Beers, prison reentry service group Project Model Offender Reintegration Experience, or Project M.O.R.E., and the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. Elicker has deemed city partnerships with the organizations as “vital” for the city to engage youth and vulnerable populations during the coming months, especially as children leave schools for summer break and the federal eviction moratorium ends.
Elicker’s proposal will next be considered by the Board of Alders.