On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council will face a difficult choice. With limited funds remaining, the council will consider whether to invest federal COVID-19 relief funds in children’s programs now, or to hold off on this funding for another year.
For those following closely, you may remember that I have been pushing for this increased investment in my role on the San Jose City Council. I managed to secure some funding last year—but those funds have all but run dry.
In the meanwhile, San Jose received more than $200 million from the American Rescue Plan Act this spring—yet we only pledged about a tenth of 1% of that enormous fund to support COVID impacted families with after-school, preschool and summer camp programs that many utilize as an affordable childcare option. A 1% commitment is a drop in the bucket. An unacceptable amount for investment in our children and youth.
At the June budget meeting, I brought this issue to a head—securing an additional half million for these programs. And I secured a commitment from the council and city manager that we would make a much bigger investment this fall. Based on this council direction, I convened city, county and education leaders from across our region in a joint committee hearing with the Board of Supervisors to develop a plan of action.
This plan led to a proposed $4 million investment from the city manager. Yet it is now clear the administration is going to back off from its commitment and proposal. The reasons may sound sensible—there are concerns about the city’s budget picture, and city officials believe there is still time to deliver on this commitment down the road.
Yet both of these things are not true—not even close.
First—there is simply no time to spare. Youth programs are developed and launched based on the school year cycle. By the time the city budget is developed in June, plans for both summer and fall after-school programs are well established. Waiting until June would mean children’s COVID relief programs would be put on hold until almost 2023—an unacceptable delay that should be obvious to all involved.
City staff have not developed the details of these programs, because the council has never funded them. If the funding is put forward now, the programs can get developed in time and can happen. If we fail now, we will not be able to support COVID-impacted families with reliable youth programs.
Last, let’s discuss the budget picture. We clearly face uncertainty. And some of our regular city funding sources have been really challenging to pin down. But the fact is, no group is more frequently asked to take the back seat than our kids. Programs that ensure an 8-year-old has a safe place to go after school, while her parents work, simply aren’t being prioritized over shoveling more dollars to support businesses: $14 million and counting, just this year.
I won’t stand for it any longer, and I hope you won’t either. Let your voice be heard on Tuesday.
Sylvia Arenas is the District 8 councilmember for San Jose.