House Approps Would Eliminate AmeriCorps, Increase Head Start Funding

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The House Appropriations Committee made public today a proposed spending bill that would eliminate AmeriCorps, increase funding for Head Start and limit Pell Grant eligibility.  

The bill recommends 2012 appropriations for the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service. It is flanked by opposition, from Democrats who think it doesn’t include enough money and Tea Party conservatives who think it includes too much, and will likely not make its way through the normal appropriations process.

The draft includes just $280 million for CNCS, only enough to finance the National Senior Volunteer Program and accommodate the “orderly elimination of other programs” at CNCS, including AmeriCorps, a service-learning program that offers young adults stipends and college tuition to work for community-based organizations.

AmeriCorps is also one of the largest employers of 18- to 24-year-olds in America, who have been hit especially hard by the economic downtown.

CNCS was funded at $1.1 billion for 2011, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill last week that would fund the agency at that level again in 2012.

AmeriCorps, which looked poised for an expansion from 75,000 to 250,000 members after the Serve America Act was passed in 2009, was funded at $350 million in 2011, and $373 million in 2010.

“At a time when the nation's investment in service should be growing to create jobs and better provide services to local communities, the House bill shuts down the Corporation for National and Community Service, eliminating funding for AmeriCorps, the Social Innovation Fund and Learn & Serve America,” AnnMaura Connolly, director of the Save Service in America Campaign, said in a statement issued this afternoon. “Innovative and fiscally efficient initiatives that they are defunding account for over 100,000 jobs and provide vital services to communities in need across the nation.” 

In the Republican-proposed bill, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Administration for Children and Families faces a $1 billion cut from 2011 levels, and almost all of it would come from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The House targeted Head Start for a $1 billion cut early in 2011’s appropriations process, but now year proposes a $540 million increase to $8.1 billion in fiscal 2012, which is $200 million more than its increase in the Democrat-led Senate Appropriations bill.

The proposed House bill maintains the current maximum Pell Grant award of $5,550 for students, but would cut more than $2 billion in education spending mostly by restructuring the Pell Grant system. Proposed reforms include lowering the number of years of Pell Grant eligibility from nine to six years, and eliminating eligibility for students who attend school less than half time or have not obtained a high school diploma or GED.

The draft also recommends elimination of Race to the Top ($698 million in 2011) and the Investing in Innovation Fund ($149.7 million), two education programs initiated by the Obama administration. The Senate bill would level-fund both programs for 2012.

House appropriators would cut Labor Department spending by 20 percent, but a statement about the draft on the Appropriations Committee website said that most of the reduction is attributable to moving Labor onto a normal fiscal year schedule. Many of the Labor programs currently receive appropriations that include an advance payment for the following year.

The bill does include a $517 million increase for Job Corps.

The appropriations process for fiscal 2011 broke down, nearly shuttering the government several times, and ultimately resulted in a broad continuing resolution passed in the spring. Congress is already behind on passing appropriations for fiscal 2012 – which begins Saturday – and both houses this week approved a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government running until Oct. 4.

If Congress avoids the string of continuing resolutions that marked the 2011 process, it will likely be through an omnibus spending bill that strikes spending deals somewhere between House and Senate appropriations levels.