AmeriCorps is getting things done – but for how long?

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

As of today, it sounds like legislation that allows the U.S. federal government to fund all programs at 2010 levels will expire in a couple of weeks.

Background

In order to continue funding programs like AmeriCorps and HeadStart, Congress must come together to pass a new budget. Soon the Senate will look to pass a budget, which must be reconciled with the one that the House of Representatives passed Feb. 18th—H.R. 1—which cut $100 billion from President Obama’s proposed budget, and effectively eliminated funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) among other programs.

CNCS, one target of defunding in H.R. 1, is an independent federal agency that oversees several national service programs that allow people over 18 to serve part- or full-time in their local communities.

AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps NCCC, and Senior Corps members and Foster Grandparents roll up their sleeves every day to:

  • tutor and read with our children,
  • create healthy schools and build affordable housing in our neighborhoods,
  • take care of our forests and rivers,
  • help us access health care when we find ourselves under-insured,
  • assist recent immigrants on the path to U.S. citizenship,
  • help returning Veterans transition to new careers,
  • establish volunteer programs that recruit even more people to help out in local communities,
  • and build the capacity of our organizations that are working to end poverty.

Tens of thousands of people participate in national service programs every year, earning an education award and in some cases a very modest stipend.

The point of the stipend isn’t so much to offer service corps members a wage; national service is different from employment. The point is that in most cases, full-time corps members can support themselves on their stipend. This frees up their time to devote to their communities, and keeps them from competing against unemployed people for scarce jobs.

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Americorps Members, via the Grace Hill St. Louis Flickr feed

National service programs are a network of partnerships between the government and nonprofits, schools, and agencies which receive—and match—funds that put corps members to work.

Because of the partnership model, national service programs are cost effective; offer host organizations valuable, focused, energetic staffing power to start new projects and serve clients at an affordable cost; and create opportunities for people to serve in critical-needs areas in their communities.

Actions to save service

In an effort to rally support for and defend funding for national service, several pro-service organizations have formed a new coalition called Save Service. Last week Save Service, AmeriCorps Alums, and other groups organized thousands of people to participate in District Day visits. People across the country showed up in 441 local House and Senate offices to share stories of the impact of national service programs with 295 Representatives and 83 Senators (and/or their staff). Save Service is offering web tools to help service fans talk with their leaders about the importance of national service and social innovation to their communities. And news media is covering national service like it’s 2008.

Rumor has it that AmeriCorps Week will be moved a week later this year (to May 14-21). As it happens, that is a district work week for Representatives, so as people across the country are celebrating AmeriCorps they can reach out to their Representatives and invite them to see first-hand member impact.

To be fair

We are in debt nationally. Yesterday my colleague Put Barber wrote about the need to make painful changes in order to create a financially sustainable future. We need to make sacrifices.

But surely we can do that without abolishing a valuable, cost-effective, successful, and popular program that involves thousands of communities across the United States and tens of thousands of citizens.

What do you think? Are you speaking up on behalf of service programs?

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Comments (4)


  1. Melissa Ruiz writes:
    March 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I am an AmeriCorps VISTA Alumna and I served with Coastal Habitat for Humanity as their Resource Development Associate. I would never have been able to receive that opportunity, with such incredible responsibilities if it were not for CNCS and the AmeriCorps program. While I was aiding my host organization to expand and reach more families in need, my job was changing me for the better, giving me work experience I would not have been qualified for with my Fine Arts degree. Now I am looking for a career with a non-profit organization, and every recent graduate I meet who is interested in service, I tell them to apply for AmeriCorps. Instead of funding wars in other countries we do not need to be involved in, let us focus on the war at home against generational poverty, adult illiteracy and the housing and energy crisis. I want my taxes to go toward community service, not weapons for other governments.


  2. Jenn writes:
    March 4, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Also an AmeriCorps VISTA alumna and I joined after college because I couldn’t find a job. Through my experience I accomplished more than I had working any other “regular” job and was personally more fulfilled with the work I did. Congress needs to realize that if CNCS funding is elminated, it will put thousands of people in unemployment and welfare offices. How does that help our economic situation? Is it cheaper to give these hardworking volunteers welfare checks and food stamps, or provide a (very) modest living stipend and get tangible, important work done in local communities?


  3. Elizabeth writes:
    March 12, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Another AmeriCorps VISTA alum here, my feelings and experience with the program are summed up by the above posters.

    The one component of the Save AmeriCorps campaign that has been missing is a discussion of what AmeriCorps is doing to prevent college graduate unemployment. Virtually all AmeriCorps members are recent college graduates who have very little chance at traditional employment in this recession. AmeriCorps fills an undiscussed gap by providing a place for college graduates to gain the much-needed skills and experience that will make them job-ready by the end of the service year. The statistics on a recession’s life-long impact on graduates’ wages and lost experience are brutal. Given that some are predicting a shortage of college degreed labor after the baby boomers leave employment, it is in our national interest that we continue to grow this generation.


  4. ANONYMOUS writes:
    March 12, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Current AmeriCorps NCCC member- And I am limited in what I am allowed to say about how I feel about the new budget proposals.. But I will say that I am scared for March 18th. A government shutdown is in our future, and I don’t know what is going to happen to all of us scattered across the US- My mission is not complete.


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