AmeriCorps is getting things done – but for how long?

As of today, it sounds like legislation that allows the U.S. federal government to fund all programs at 2010 levels will expire in a couple of weeks.

Background

In order to continue funding programs like AmeriCorps and HeadStart, Congress must come together to pass a new budget. Soon the Senate will look to pass a budget, which must be reconciled with the one that the House of Representatives passed Feb. 18th—H.R. 1—which cut $100 billion from President Obama’s proposed budget, and effectively eliminated funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) among other programs.

CNCS, one target of defunding in H.R. 1, is an independent federal agency that oversees several national service programs that allow people over 18 to serve part- or full-time in their local communities.

AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps NCCC, and Senior Corps members and Foster Grandparents roll up their sleeves every day to:

  • tutor and read with our children,
  • create healthy schools and build affordable housing in our neighborhoods,
  • take care of our forests and rivers,
  • help us access health care when we find ourselves under-insured,
  • assist recent immigrants on the path to U.S. citizenship,
  • help returning Veterans transition to new careers,
  • establish volunteer programs that recruit even more people to help out in local communities,
  • and build the capacity of our organizations that are working to end poverty.

Tens of thousands of people participate in national service programs every year, earning an education award and in some cases a very modest stipend.

The point of the stipend isn’t so much to offer service corps members a wage; national service is different from employment. The point is that in most cases, full-time corps members can support themselves on their stipend. This frees up their time to devote to their communities, and keeps them from competing against unemployed people for scarce jobs.

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Americorps Members, via the Grace Hill St. Louis Flickr feed

National service programs are a network of partnerships between the government and nonprofits, schools, and agencies which receive—and match—funds that put corps members to work.

Because of the partnership model, national service programs are cost effective; offer host organizations valuable, focused, energetic staffing power to start new projects and serve clients at an affordable cost; and create opportunities for people to serve in critical-needs areas in their communities.

Actions to save service

In an effort to rally support for and defend funding for national service, several pro-service organizations have formed a new coalition called Save Service. Last week Save Service, AmeriCorps Alums, and other groups organized thousands of people to participate in District Day visits. People across the country showed up in 441 local House and Senate offices to share stories of the impact of national service programs with 295 Representatives and 83 Senators (and/or their staff). Save Service is offering web tools to help service fans talk with their leaders about the importance of national service and social innovation to their communities. And news media is covering national service like it’s 2008.

Rumor has it that AmeriCorps Week will be moved a week later this year (to May 14-21). As it happens, that is a district work week for Representatives, so as people across the country are celebrating AmeriCorps they can reach out to their Representatives and invite them to see first-hand member impact.

To be fair

We are in debt nationally. Yesterday my colleague Put Barber wrote about the need to make painful changes in order to create a financially sustainable future. We need to make sacrifices.

But surely we can do that without abolishing a valuable, cost-effective, successful, and popular program that involves thousands of communities across the United States and tens of thousands of citizens.

What do you think? Are you speaking up on behalf of service programs?

Cross posted from Idealist.

Battle in the House over the Continued Existence of AmeriCorps

Will the House kill the Corporation for National and Community Service?

The battle

According to Voices for National Service, this week the U.S. House of Representatives begins consideration of H.R. 1, a Continuing Resolution that will fund the last 7 months of Fiscal Year 2011 and eliminate AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Learn & Serve America and the Volunteer Generation Fund.

More info

The youth worker newspaper Youth Today posted:

And The New York Times’s columnist David Brooks wrote more about the budget mess last week.

Take action

Voices for National Service is urging people to contact their Representative and let them know how national and community service programs have made an impact in their lives and communities. From Voices for National Service:

Talking points for Calling the House of Representatives:

  • I am calling to urge you to vote NO on H.R. 1.  Please do not shutdown the Corporation for National and Community Service or eliminate AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Learn & Serve America or the Volunteer Generation Fund.
  • The CR will decimate vital services in our communities when millions of Americans need food, shelter, healthcare, job training and educational support.
  • Communities are counting on national service participants and community volunteers to meet the increased demand for services.
  • Provide an example of your local impact and what will be lost if your program is eliminated.  Example: My organization has 140 AmeriCorps members serving in 10 Boston Public Schools.  They are providing targeted and school-wide interventions in literacy, match, attendance and classroom behavior.  If Congress eliminates AmeriCorps, nearly 2,000 high-risk 3rd-9th graders will no longer receive this additional support in the classroom.
  • The CR will only push unemployment rates up.  Unemployment numbers — particularly for young people, veterans and military spouses, older Americans and people of color-remain alarmingly high.
  • For Americans who are struggling to find work, national service programs offer participants the opportunity to earn a subsistence-level stipend, develop skills, and create pathways to future employment.  Eliminating programs like AmeriCorps will result in jobs lost for the corps members and the staff who supervise them.  Example: If Congress eliminates AmeriCorps, our 140 AmeriCorps members and the staff that supervise them will be out of work.
  • The federal investment made in faith based and community organizations through the Corporation for National and Community Service leverages $799 million in matching funds from companies, foundations and other sources.
  • If you defund the national service programs, whole organizations will shut down and most will not be able to reopen again even if funding is restored.

How to Contact Your Member of Congress:

  • If you need help determining the members of your congressional delegation, visit www.congress.org. This database will provide you with contact information for your elected officials.
  • You can call your Representatives directly or be connected through the House Operator (202-225-3121).  Once connected, identify yourself as a constituent and ask to speak to the Legislative Assistant in change of national service and education issues.
  • Given the severity of the cuts proposed by the House, you may experience some difficulty calling the Capitol.  It is important that you keep trying.  If you can’t reach your representative by phone, please send a fax communication to their office.  This is time sensitive ask.  Emails or mailed letters will not reach the decision makers in time.  It is critical that our lawmakers hear from the constituents directly impacted by their decisions.

Voices for National Service also highlighted the many weeks this year when the House plans not to be in session, in honor of district “work weeks” when Representatives will be in their home districts. If you’re part of a national service corps, consider inviting Representative(s) for your region to visit service sites, meet with corps members, and see first hand what your program is doing in communities.

It’s hard to imagine that if Congressional Representatives knew what AmeriCorps members actually do, that they could turn their backs on communities in their own backyards by yanking such cost-effective, grassroots, direct & indirect support.

Senate Approves Funding for Peace Corps and AmeriCorps Programs

Today the Senate  gave final congressional approval to a package of six appropriations bills to fund many government programs for Fiscal Year 2010, including 1.149 billion for the Corporation for National and Community Service, and  $400 million for the Peace Corps.

President Obama is expected to sign the appropriations package into law shortly.

The $400 million appropriation for Peace Corps is larger than Obama’s budget request, and it means that the agency should be able to place higher numbers of Volunteers in the field.

The $1.149 billion appropriation is the largest in the history of the Corporation for National and Community Service — $260 million more than last year. The increased funding will make it possible for the organization to move forward implementing initiatives authorized by April’s Serve America Act. Here’s an excerpt from this afternoon’s announcement:

The budget provides increases for all the Corporation’s programs, including a significant expansion of AmeriCorps, taking the first step towards the Serve America Act goal of 250,000 AmeriCorps members by 2017.  In addition to increasing member positions, the bill funds the first-ever increase in the dollar amount of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award members earn in return for their service. The $220.9 million for Senior Corps includes increases for all three Senior Corps programs and will support nearly 500,000 older volunteers to meet local needs through service.  The five percent increase for Learn and Serve America will support 1.3 million participants, increase the number of disadvantaged youth participating, and begin a 10-year longitudinal study on the impact of service-learning.

The legislation funds a number of new initiatives, including $50 million for the Social Innovation Fund, which will help solve some of our nation’s most difficult social challenges by investing in promising programs and practices that have demonstrated outcomes. In addition, $4 million was included for the Volunteer Generation Fund to develop and improve volunteer recruitment efforts, $1 million will support a new Nonprofit Capacity Building Program, and $2 million was allocated for a new Summer of Service program to engage middle school students in community-based service-learning projects.  For more information on the Corporation’s Fiscal 2010 budget, click here.

CNCS Chief Nominee Corvington Clears Committee

Corvington, Obama's pick to lead CNCS

Patrick Corvington, Barack Obama’s pick to become the C.E.O. of the Corporation for National and Community Service, was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee earlier today.

His nomination may see the floor of the Senate as early as next week — if he’s supported there, he’ll be able to start his new job early in the new year.

It’s been over a year that David Eisner left his position at CNCS, when his Chief of Staff Nicola Goren stepped up to serve as Acting C.E.O. Last month Eisner assumed his new role at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, as its new President and CEO.

Corvington, who has been working in leadership development and nonprofit capacity building at the Annie E. Casey Foundation has a strong record of interest in next-generation social change leadership—for example, co-authoring studies Ready to Lead: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out and Next Shift: Beyond the Nonprofit Leadership Crisis, and supporting the work of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.

Groups he’s been involved with like the social innovation fellowship Echoing Green and the nonprofit education organization American Humanics have soundly endorsed Obama’s choice to head CNCS. Read the CNCS press release announcing his nomination earlier this year.

In addition to overseeing the work of AmeriCorps programs, the Corporation may soon take on new responsibilities outline in the Kennedy Serve America Act that was signed into law earlier this year and is making its way through the Continue reading

Congress is Considering Final Action to Appropriate $400M for Peace Corps

More Peace Corps may be in the stars — and the budget.

Yesterday evening, Jonathan Pearson of the National Peace Corps Association’s Advocacy Program announced that According to Congressman Sam Farr, speaking tonight at an event in Washington to celebrate the Peace Corps, negotiations on the State/Foreign Operations Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations bill have closed.

Farr says the final bill contains $400 million for Peace Corps — an impressive figure that falls in between what the House ($450M) and the Senate ($373M) recommended for the Peace Corps appropriation.

The Peace Corps Polyglot yesterday sounded optimistic that because of the amount of work that Congress needs to get done by December 18th, the $400 million figure is not likely to be amended.

Peace Corps advocacy groups like the National Peace Corps Association‘s More Peace Corps campaign, and the informal group Push for Peace Corps have been urging Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and other supporters to contact their elected representatives this week to voice their support for expanded Peace Corps funding.

Yesterday the NPCA sent a letter to President Obama asking him to increase his suggested Peace Corps budget for his 2011 budget request. That letter was signed by almost 60 RPCV affiliate groups.

Senate Committee Hearing Thursday on the Public Lands Service Corps

This coming Thursday the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will look at a bill to strengthen national service activity on public lands.

The Public Lands Service Corps Act, s. 1442, would amend the Public Lands Corps Act of 1993 and would:

  • provide service-learning opportunities on public lands
  • establish a grant program for Indian Youth Service Corps
  • help restore the Nation’s natural, cultural, historic, archaeological, recreational, and scenic resources
  • train a new generation of public land managers and enthusiasts, and promote the value of public service

The bill was introduced in July by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who is also the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) cosponsored the bill.

According to its blog, The Corps Network is providing information to help land management officials prepare their testimony for Thursday’s hearing.

These Senators are on the Energy and Natural Resource Committee and will be considering the legislation:

Senate Energy + Natural Resources Committee Members

Senate Energy + Natural Resources Committee Members

In March, Congressional Representatives introduced similar legislation (H.R. 1612) in the House. That legislation passed out of committee in June, and has the past week been added to the Union Calendar in the House (Calendar no. 177).

Learn more about Public Lands on the Public Lands Day site.

Senate Appropriations Committee Backs Funding for the Kennedy Serve America Act

Yesterday the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $1.157B to fund the Corporation for National and Community Service implementation of the Kennedy Serve America Act.

The figure is greater than the $1.149B requested by President Obama, the $1.059B that the House of Representatives passed in its appropriations bill, and the 2009 fiscal year budget of the Corporation.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Senators Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) and Thad Cochran (R-MS), issued a statement:

The bill includes $1.157 billion for the Corporation for National and Community Service. This level is $267 million above the fiscal year 2009 enacted level. The Committee recommendation puts AmeriCorps on the path to 250,000 members, the goal approved by Congress earlier this year in the SERVE America Act. The Continue reading