Inside a former North Long Beach fire station now used as Councilman Rex Richardson’s field office, about a dozen or so youth activists on Monday night performed a skit criticizing the city’s budget priorities.
While singing the phrase “Watch the money move” over and over, the Long Beach teens acted as city leaders throwing public money to the police department while leaving youth programming dry of funding.
“We have to fight for our funds because they don’t care,” one of the teens said, referring to their efforts to demand more money from the city.
The performance was part of the inaugural “Young People’s Budget Hearing”, where members of Khmer Girls in Action, a youth advocacy organization, called for the city to invest in youth services and establish what could be the city’s first fund dedicated to youth development.
“If I didn’t have KGA I would just stay home and do nothing, I would just think about how I’m not doing anything with my life,” said 17-year-old Poly High student Katie Duch.
Duch said being a part of Khmer Girls in Action has given her a purpose and enabled her to help her community, which she loves. She said she hopes to make her parents—survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide—proud of her.
Long Beach is in the midst of its budget season, with close to half of its $498 million general fund budget decided to police alone. By comparison, a data analysis by the Advancement Project shows that youth development programs receive about $25 million.
Youth up to 19 years of age make up 27 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census, and a third of the youth population under age 18 live below the state’s poverty level, advocates say.
Local youth advocates already scored a victory when Mayor Robert Garcia and City Manager Patrick West last week released a budget proposal that earmarked $200,000 in one-time funding for youth programming or activities through a participatory budgeting process.
The city’s proposal noticeably addressed some requests community groups, including KGA, made mid-July during the first-ever “People’s Budget Proposal”—focusing on funding for historically marginalized residents.
However, KGA and other community groups are asking for additional funding for a total of $500,000 annually that could establish a permanent youth fund.
Joy Yanga, spokeswoman for KGA, said the fund would also help create transparency to allow the public track where the money goes. Currently, funding benefiting the youth is budgeted under multiple departments, like the parks, library and health and human services.
Richardson, who co-sponsored the event, said he supports their request for $500,000, but acknowledged it’s city staff who need convincing. He pointed to the fact that other cities similarly sized as Long Beach have established youth development departments and the efforts made by the youth advocates can lead the way to help create the city’s own version.
“I agree that we need to not look at that [$200,000] as a participatory budgeting fund but look at it as a seed for something greater—a larger youth development fund,” he said.
Advocates would like the money for amenities such as youth centers that can provide programming such as tutoring, academic literacy and other classes and activities.
Youth advocates will be at the city council’s chamber in city hall Tuesday, Aug. 7 at 4 p.m. for a special meeting on the proposed budget. City Hall is located at 333 W. Ocean Blvd.
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