Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray rolled out a plan Monday for boosting counseling services for young people struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic — but included few details, such as a timeline or price tag.
The new measures — which will be run under the banner of the embattled ThriveNYC initiative — are set to be focused on 27 neighborhoods hard hit by COVID-19 and will include giving students a brief quiz to check in on their mental health health and hiring up to 150 social workers.
De Blasio and McCray would not provide a price tag for the program and Hizzoner declined to say how it would be funded, other than to say the new effort would be a ‘budget priority.’
“What we are saying here is we will make it a budget priority to provide this support in the 27 neighborhoods that were hardest hit by COVID,” he said when pressed on the funding details. “Whatever it takes, we’re going to make it a budget priority. Even if it means we have to reduce spending in other areas.”
The Big Apple faces a $3.8 billion budget shortfall next year, which has left Hizzoner banking on a significant injection of federal aid to close.
However, the recently passed $900 billion federal stimulus package included little assistance for cities and states — and de Blasio has acknowledged there is little hope for an injection of cash if Republicans maintain control of the U.S. Senate.
De Blasio and McCray spent much of the morning press conference touting the new mental health checks for students, which Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza described as a brief five-minute quiz-like assessment.
Officials said the new check would be folded in with the citywide student assessments announced earlier this month to determine how much students have suffered from virtual learning, though there were few specific details about what public school children would be asked or when the evaluations would be conducted.
“Think of these screenings as an expanded health check up for students to learn how they are feeling, how they are getting along with friends and at home,” McCray told reporters during his husband’s daily press briefing.
De Blasio, McCray and other administration officials billed the new program as part of the much-criticized $1.2 billion ThriveNYC, for which the first lady serves as its most prominent booster.
Political insiders speculated for years that Hizzoner put his wife in the high profile position to boost her image in preparation for a much-rumored Brooklyn Borough Presidency bid, which she eventually nixed in October.
ThriveNYC established a public service campaign to promote mental health awareness, paid for retraining portions of the city workforce to better handle emotionally distressed New Yorkers and set up a hotline to help connect New Yorkers to psychiatrists and other mental health services.
Lawmakers, mental health advocates and good government groups roundly criticized the program in recent years for focusing its efforts on combating mild forms of mental illness like anxiety, instead of focusing on severe forms of distress.
City Hall eventually accepted the critique and announced in March it was overhauling the program to put more emphasis on disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia.