By Jennifer Durrence
President Clinton's proposal to reauthorize AmeriCorps and other Corporation for National Service programs - Learn and Serve and the Senior Corps - will go to Congress this month but brokering a compromise to continue the programs is going to be more difficult than funding them.
Although Congress increased spending on the programs by $68 million this year, the Corporation for National Service (CNS) has been steeped in controversy since its inception. First, it was politics on the Hill that almost toppled AmeriCorps in 1996 and 1997. The budget needed to be balanced and Republicans in Congress thought that young adults, who receive a small living allowance, a $4,725 education voucher, should not be paid to serve.
Then, it was the structure and delivery of National Service programs that presented problems. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a watchdog of government inefficiency, ordered a General Accounting Office report that showed expenses being much higher than promised. The study also reported that the agency is not doing what the President said it was going to do - encourage youth to continue their education. Out of 24 programs GAO surveyed, only 54 percent of the participants used their education awards.
After the report, Grassley worked with Harris Wofford, who heads the Corporation for National Service, to make some changes, but they were not enough for some members of Congress.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chair of the House Oversight Subcommittee of Education and the Workforce, will not support reauthorization. Hoekstra maintains that the corporation's records are unauditable and there is no way to tell if it has been effective at all. "There are millions upon millions of dollars that are unaccounted for," said a spokesman for Hoekstra.
The president's proposal for reauthorization does make some changes, though. It would allow millions more Americans to serve and would give communities and states more flexibility in administering programs. It would also strengthen partnerships with volunteer organizations and encourages AmeriCorps members to recruit more volunteers. Clinton is optimistic about the reauthorization, "After years of partisan fighting over it, I'm pleased that Congress now seems ready to come together to support AmeriCorps."
At least one organization thinks that the proposal may be going in the right direction. Andy Moore, vice president for government relations and public affairs at the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (NASCC), says that although he hasn't reviewed the entire proposal, "NASCC is encouraged by the expansion of the education award's only provision that allows enrolled participants [of NASCC or other volunteer organizations] to receive scholarships."
NASCC, a national service organization of 27,000 members, provides training and assistance to AmeriCorps programs and receives roughly 40 to 45 grants from the Corporation for National Service. Moore says the focus of the corporation's programs has shifted and has little to do with NASCC. National Service programs provide services to youth, but it is not easy for disadvantaged youth to participate. "You get more bang for your buck by giving them a chance to serve in their communities."
"In general, we have been telling CNS for years some of the directions it has chosen to go, such as the direction of greater emphasis on tutoring, volunteer emphasis on education, and plans to decrease support to each AmeriCorps member excludes a number of well established and experienced corps [programs] to apply for funding."