NEW YORK CITY — Nichol Perez’s son Tijauri is the kind of kid who other parents ask to babysit, who saves the money from his summer job to buy himself a computer, and who can take apart up that computer to manually install more memory.
Even Tijuari, 17, couldn’t figure out how to apply online for the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) this year, his mom said.
“It was really frustrating,” Perez, 47, said. “I’m trying my hardest, but nothing’s happening and no one is telling me anything.”
Perez is one of nearly 95,000 New Yorkers who have rushed to apply for SYEP Summer Bridge 2020, a condensed five-week program designed to fit the constraints of a budget slashed in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing rules the virus made necessary.
Mayor Bill de Blasio initially cut the program in April, but when parents, teens and educators rallied together to fight for its inclusion in the 2021 budget, the city cobbled together a virtual 60- to 90-hour program at half-capacity and less than a third of the cost.
While last year about 75,000 students took advantage of a $164 million program that offered 25 hours a week of minimum wage work, this year they compete for roughly 35,000 spots and stipends ranging between $700 and $1,000, city records show.
That stipend is part of what motivated Oscar Tepoz, 17, to submit his application Friday morning, the Information and Technology High School student said.
“My parents weren’t able to work for three months,” Tepoz said. “They give you a thousand dollars and that could help my family.”
Since participants will be selected via lottery, Perez decided to stay up until midnight Thursday to be among the first to submit an application on the Department of Youth and Community Development website.
Perez told Tijuari — who wants to go to college and become the next Bill Gates — to leave it to her, Perez said.
“You go to sleep, you get your rest, let me do this,” Perez told him. “I was so hurt when it said, ‘This website is not working.’”
An onslaught of nearly 50,000 people logged on Friday to apply to the program and caused problems on the site, but DYCD was quick to set up a Youth Connect hotline, spokesperson Dayana Perez said.
But several parents reported online that they couldn’t get through, and neither could Perez.
The Harlem mom and her son experienced “two days of stress” as she called helplines that were either busy or out of service, logged in every email address she could think of, and appealed to friends for help online.
Meanwhile, another pod of anxious parents formed in Jackson Heights to combat a very different set of problems.
Tenant organizer Andrew Sokolof Diaz said spent weeks preparing about 50 families of 89th Street Tenants Unidos for an application process he knew would prove difficult for his neighbors.
But even he was surprised.
“It’s such a crazy way to roll out this program,” Sokolof Diaz said. “It’s almost impossible.”
While 17-year-old Ingri Perez, no relation to Nichol, said she was able to submit an application without a technical glitch, the Jackson Heights teen said she needed some help.
“The questions were kind of hard,” Perez said. “You needed a parent right next to you.”
But what infuriated the tenant organizer and stymied his neighbors was that application instructions were written only in English and the application demanded proof of income.
Some of the 89th Street families needed translations they couldn’t find and others worked at cash-only jobs that disappeared when Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued New York’s stay-at-home order in March, leaving them without any income documentation to show, he said.
DYCD has since promised to address Sokolof Diaz’s concerns, working on making the app translatable and providing options for parents without proof of income he said.
But the July 15 deadline is approaching.
“It's not immigrant-friendly,” Sokolof Diaz said. “The way you have it set up, you’re excluding a whole bunch of kids.”