Parents and youth advocates up in arms over budget cuts

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By Rebecca Bowe

Representatives from a host of youth-services organizations gathered on the steps of San Francisco city hall Thursday afternoon to sound off on proposed budget cuts to the Department of Children, Youth and their Families. DCYF faces a proposed $11 million in cuts for the 2009-10 fiscal year, according to NTanya Lee, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. Add to that cuts to juvenile probation and Human Services Agency programs, and the total annual reductions to youth-related causes could be some $15 million, Lee estimates.

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“This is the worst we’ve seen it in our entire organization’s history,” said Lee, whose nonprofit organization has been speaking up for kids on budget issues for 30 years. DCYF is hardly the only city department facing funding reductions: To address a staggering $576 million budget deficit for the 2009-10 fiscal year, the mayor has asked all city departments to find ways to dramatically reduce spending. But in the case of DCYF, the announcement of funding reductions came as a second blow. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s firing of former DCYF Director Margaret Brodkin, who was widely respected for expanding the department’s services to reach more kids and especially disadvantaged children, recently drew the ire of youth advocates.

“The firing of Margaret Brodkin is basically setting the stage for a complete raid on the children’s fund,” Lee said, referring to a budget set-aside that is allocated specifically for youth programs under the City Charter. “We want Mayor Newsom and the Board of Supervisors to fight like hell to protect our kids.”

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Diana Oliva of the Central American Resource Center gave an impassioned speech about the on-the-ground effects of losses in funding. “We have people coming in on a daily basis. Hundreds, hundreds, every single day: ‘I don’t have a job.’ ‘I’m being evicted.’ ‘I don’t have enough money to raise my kids,’” Oliva cried, her voice blaring out of the speaker. “So today, I want to ask: What are you doing City Hall? What are you doing Mr. Mayor?”

Following the rally at City Hall, a vigil was held, and then a DCYF budget hearing commenced with some 250 people in attendance. Since most of the department's funding is granted to community-based organizations that administer youth programs, Lee explained, many of the cuts will result in job losses those nonprofits. “Even though DCYF is trying to be extremely conscientious” in terms of where to shed funding, “a couple thousand kids at least will be impacted by reduced services,” she says.

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