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AMERICORPS DECLARES IT'S STILL AROUND

AmeriCorps has survived the budget wars, but now it has to convince potential recruits that President Clinton's national service program still exists.

"The reports of our death were greatly exaggerated," said former Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa., head of the Corporation for National Service, which oversees AmeriCorps. Nonetheless, recruiting efforts have been hurt by the lengthy budget wrangling, he said.Clinton's pet project was targeted throughout the budget battle by Republicans, who decried what they said were high costs and, most recently, shoddy bookkeeping that critics said made financial records unauditable.

But the embattled program eventually got $402.5 million, about 85 percent of last year's funding, in the 1996 budget that Clinton signed last month.

"I'm not totally comfortable with that," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees the program. "But I recognize how important this is to the president. And it's probably a reasonable compromise."

But the long wrangling over the 1996 budget cast doubt over the program's future that hurt recruiting efforts.

"It's fun to quote Mark Twain, but the widespread reports, the word that we're dead, it's a major problem," Wofford said. "It's had a real chilling effect on recruiting."

AmeriCorps member Vanessa Backe, who works in a health clinic in Washington, said she had worried about losing funding because AmeriCorps money paid her rent.

"I couldn't have afforded to do this (without AmeriCorps funding), but all along the Corporation for National Service has said they are fairly confident that it would continue," said Backe. "But I wondered."