Alumni and groups that support the programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service – AmeriCorps, Learn and Service and the Senior Corps – are mounting a massive grass-roots campaign to educate local leaders and their congressional representatives about just what would be lost if the agency is eliminated, as called for in the House’s continuing budget resolution.
The bill, passed by the House early Saturday and now before the Senate, strips virtually all funding for this year’s operation of CNCS – even though nearly five months of costs have already been incurred. Elimination of CNCS would put an abrupt end to service programs across the country, from City Year corps members who are working to keep middle school students from dropping out to the work of Teach for America members and thousands of college students who mentor and tutor school children every day.
AnnMaura Connolly, president of Voices for National Service, which is a coalition of service agencies, is heading the national “Save Service” campaign (www.saveservice.org).Two other national coalitions, ServiceNation and America Forward, are joined with Voices for National Service in the campaign.
The effort is being led by private groups because employees of the corporation, including AmeriCorps members, are strictly limited in lobbying Congress. Connolly said they will seek mostly to tell their stories of the work they are doing, to individuals and through various media.
The central effort of the campaign will come Friday on Save Service District Day, when alumni and other CNCS supporters plan to go to the district offices of their congressional representatives to explain what programs and constituencies are being helped in their individual districts and to urge them to support funding for the corporation.
“We are trying to bring this home” to elected officials, Connolly said in an interview today. “We don’t see this as a Washington strategy effort." She said it’s more an effort to “get individual communities to understand how unique these programs are and what would be lost if the corporation is not fully funded.”
And to remind them how popular the programs are for youths in transition from high school to further education and training. In fiscal year 2010, more than 400,000 youths applied for AmeriCorps positions, compared with about 250,000 the year before.
If the programs are eliminated, at the very least, there would be a large impact on unemployment for those between the ages of 18 and 24, and that would ripple through various nonprofits that partner with the corporation.
Although corporation supporters beat back an effort, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), in 2003 to defund AmeriCorps because of financial management problems, the current situation is different because in its current form the continuing resolution totally eliminates the corporation’s programs.
Because the Corporation is a public/private partnership, many people never realize that the people who are helping in their own communities are doing so through CNCS programs, Connolly said.
The corporation grants money directly to some groups, but most of its grants go to nonprofits that leverage the federal money with foundation, corporate or local money to carry out their service programs. Among the programs that get money are The Corps Network, YouthBuild (whose direct appropriation is also zeroed out in the continuing resolution), Public Allies and Jumpstart.
The current funding level is sufficient to support about 80,000 volunteers in AmeriCorps, who earn a small monthly living stipend and can earn grants to help pay off college student loans or to pay for college expenses. President Obama proposed essentially level funding for CNCS in his 2012 budget released last week.
Generally, service program officials estimate that each AmeriCorps member brings in or supervises about 30 to 35 other unpaid volunteers, which would put the total number of those serving because of the programs at nearly 3 million.
The Learn and Serve America program provides support to schools, institutions of higher education and community-based organization that are involved with service as part of a child’s education. The Senior Corps provides volunteer opportunities for senior citizens. Because the president’s $10 million Social Innovation Fund, which serves as an incubator for social entrepreneurs, is budgeted through the CNCS, it, too, would be eliminated.
As the U.S. House of Representatives was debating the Continuing Resolution that includes more than $61 billion in budget cuts, member after member rose in defense of AmeriCorps and other service programs operated under the aegis of the Corporation for National and Community Services, whose $1 billion budget was an easy target for a big chunk of money. Some House members have sought to kill the program for years.
Still, the continuing resolution – including the elimination of funds for CNCS – passed the House early Saturday by a vote of 235-189.
The bill currently is in the Senate, where there is a bevy of strong supporters, among them Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill,). Although he partnered with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to help gain passage of the Serve America Act, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has not commented on the proposed cuts, though he pressed hard on the administration for its firing of the corporation’s former inspector general, Gerald Walpin.