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.
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.
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?