Last week, the House of Representatives appropriated $90M less to implement the Kennedy Serve America Act than Pres. Obama requested in his proposed budget. In response, The New York Times printed an editorial urging Congress to fund the Act which was passed into law in April and could greatly expand the AmeriCorps family of programs and the number of open positions. Here is the Times’s editorial:
Just a few months ago, Congress overwhelmingly approved the Serve America Act, a bipartisan measure to increase the opportunities for Americans to participate in national and community service. Now, having taken credit for their good deed, lawmakers cannot seem to come up with the money to back up their votes.
The act’s core mandate is staged growth of the domestic volunteer force, which includes AmeriCorps, whose members are eligible for a small living stipend and a modest educational stipend after an intense year of work. The goal is to have 250,000 volunteers by 2017.
But the House version of next year’s budget for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services contains $90 million less than President Obama requested for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which manages the volunteer program.
Most egregious, the House omitted $41 million sought by Mr. Obama to expand AmeriCorps next year by 10,000 members, who would be put to serious tasks like mentoring at-risk students, cleaning up parks and responding to emergencies. Applying the House math, AmeriCorps would field about 75,000 to 76,000 volunteers in fiscal 2010, roughly the same level as this year.
In another mistaken move, the House bill also shortchanges a newly created Social Innovation Fund intended to provide money for proven private approaches to social problems. The aim is to spread their good ideas and programs. Mr. Obama requested $50 million; the House allotted $35 million for the fund. That seems particularly unwise given the need for fresh approaches and the willingness of foundations and philanthropists to match the federal investment.
The action moves now to the Senate. Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the chamber’s relevant subcommittee, can make a valuable contribution by leading his colleagues to resist the House cuts to Mr. Obama’s national service request, and then standing firm when the issue goes to a House-Senate conference committee.
Yes, these are tough economic times, but applications to join AmeriCorps have risen exponentially. Lawmakers should look elsewhere to economize.
According to Nicola Goren, Acting CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and Related Agencies is holding a markup of the its bill tomorrow, Tuesday, July 28, and a full Appropriations Committee markup is expected on Thursday, July 30.
You can see details of the President’s request, including a chart showing the differences between the House-passed budget and the President’s request, are on the Corporation’s budget page.
What do you think? What impact would an expanded AmeriCorps have in your community?