Applications to AmeriCorps Increase, but a House Committee Doesn’t Come Through with Funding

While AmeriCorps applications are seeing a steep rise, the Corporation for National and Community Service is climbing an uphill battle for funding.

According to an unpublished Corporation report, discussed by Tim Zimmerman on today’s Change/Wire, the blog of the Service Nation campaign:

•    In June 2009, [the Corporation for National and Community Service] received 34,373 online AmeriCorps applications, nearly triple the 11,814 online applications received in June of 2008.

•    During the previous 8 months (Nov. 2008 – June 2009) AmeriCorps received 146,699 online applications, a 217 percent increase above the 46,221 applications received during the same 8 month period a year ago.

The Corporation report sites a “compassion boom,” the economic downturn, the inspiration of Obama’s call to service, and the volunteering culture of today’s young people and boomers as reasons for the increase in applications.

Graph that shows the increase in applications this year.

It’s unclear if these numbers include application figures for programs like Teach For America, which has its own application process and has seen record breaking turnout in applicants in the past couple of years. The numbers don’t include the meteoric rise in applications the Peace Corps is also experiencing.

While AmeriCorps programs were already turning away applicants that it could not accommodate for lack of openings, the stark rise in applicants means that even more people have been turned away this year. The Kennedy Serve America Act, passed in April, attempts to fund more AmeriCorps members — doubling the total number of members in the coming years. (Currently, 75,000 serve — about 22K full time, and the rest part-time.)

However, the Kennedy Serve America Act is facing difficulty in the House currently, as the full Appropriations Committee approved $90M less in funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service than Obama had requested (though still a $169M increase in funding over 2009). According to the Appropriations Committee press release, the funding for this year — coupled with the funding from the stimulus bill — will increase the number of total corps member openings by 15,000 — a very small number compared to the numbers of people turned away by the programs this year.

In an opinion piece last week, John Bridgeland and Alan Khazei spell out the rationale for increased funding for AmeriCorps:

Fully funding the Serve America Act will allow for a rapid scaling up of national service positions, adding an additional 10,000 national service slots in the coming year, with further growth planned in the years that follow. That, in turn, will put Americans who want to serve — and who are having trouble finding more mainstream jobs — to work in our economically hardest-hit communities. This is similar to the strategy that President Franklin D. Roosevelt used with such great success when he created the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, putting millions of Americans to work preserving our national lands.

In a message to the national service community on July 21, Nicola Goren, the Corporation’s Acting CEO put it this way:

The increase proposed by the House is a significant and welcome step in what is a very tough budget year.  As the bill moves through the legislative process, we are hopeful Congress will fully fund the President’s request.  As social needs continue to grow, and as Americans look for ways to give back, national service is a critical, cost-effective investment that engages citizens in tackling our most serious challenges in education, health, housing, poverty, and other issues.

Voices For National Service, the Service Nation coalition, and other national service champions have launched email and letter-writing campaigns to urge Congressional representatives — who’ll soon consider the Appropriations Committee’s recomendations — to fund the Corporation at Obama’s requested levels.

The House subcommittee that initially recommended rejected full funding of Obama’s request cited a need for “improvements” in the Corporation’s “internal operations” — a slap on the wrist for the agency, which still doesn’t have a permanent C.E.O., and which lost its inspector general recently.

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