Facebook Twitter

AmeriCorps to lose funding for its volunteers, programs

Program may cover only half its workers in 2003

SHARE AmeriCorps to lose funding for its volunteers, programs

WASHINGTON — Local directors of AmeriCorps, the community service program President Bush has repeatedly praised and promised to expand, said Friday they have been notified of what they called "devastating" cutbacks in their allocation of volunteers for the coming year.

Memos sent to the states by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the parent agency for AmeriCorps, indicate that dozens and perhaps hundreds of long-established programs, including some singled out for praise by the president and first lady Laura Bush, will lose their funding.

Sandy Scott, spokesman for the corporation, said the memos that set off the alarms Thursday are "guidance" to the states and final numbers will not be announced until Monday. Alan Khazei, the founder and chief executive of Boston-based City Year, one of the oldest and most highly praised community programs, said the national office has told him "only three of our 10 programs will be funded. It is devastating. Basically, national service in America has been wiped out or reduced to a shell this week."

The board of the corporation learned last month that there might be only enough money to cover half of the 50,000 volunteer slots for fiscal 2003, and since then, officials have been trying to determine how many could actually be funded.

Administration officials said the cutbacks result from complex accounting and management problems, plus a sharp reduction in congressional funding.

Bush, who often meets with AmeriCorps volunteers on his trips around the country, had proposed a 50 percent increase in its size — to 75,000 members — in his budget and State of the Union address. But so far, at least, Bush has not intervened to block the cutbacks.

Paul Schmitz, who runs Public Allies, an 11-year-old program that recruits and trains young adults to work full-time in Boys & Girls Clubs, faith-based organizations and other community groups, said its programs in Milwaukee, Chicago and Cincinnati, which now have 88 AmeriCorps workers, "will receive no funding and no volunteers for next year."

"We had 100 applications and interviewed 77 people last week," he said, "and now we may have no slots for them. People are in tears about what is happening."

Rob Waldron, the head of Jumpstart, a Boston-based program that pairs college students with preschool children to work one-on-one developing literacy and language skills, said that Bush met personally with some of his volunteers last October and that Laura Bush wrote all of the tutors urging them to consider teaching careers.

Now, he said, "every single one of our programs has been de-funded in the new round of state competitive grants." Four newly proposed programs made the cut, he said, but the loss of existing programs likely will mean that private-sector partners, such as Starbucks, which contributes $1 million a year, may also withdraw their support.

The pattern is similar around the country. Amber Roos, head of the Indiana community service program, said it appeared her program would lose five out of six of its slots. Indiana Reading Corps'20 full-time AmeriCorps workers recruit, train and place college students and other volunteers who offer literacy help to 2,200 children a year, said program director Keri Hunter. "We may not be one of the survivors," she said.

Mark Lazzara, head of the New York state AmeriCorps Alliance, sent an e-mail to members of the New York delegation warning that the "Corporation for National Service is cutting New York by 85 percent."

Friday night, AmeriCorps Director Rosie Mauk issued a statement saying, "We are keenly aware of the impact that the reduced level of funding for 2003 will have on the entire field of national service." But she held out hope that additional grants may be made later this year.

A dispute between the Office of Management and Budget and the General Accounting Office over how much money the corporation must put aside to pay for future scholarships to AmeriCorps workers is supposed to be resolved Monday, when final figures may be available. The volunteers are eligible for $4,725 grants to pay for college or graduate school or to repay student loans.

In part because the GAO said AmeriCorps had signed up more workers in the past than it could afford to give scholarships, Congress cut AmeriCorps' appropriations to $175 million last year.

Bush has requested $324 million for next year, but officials said much of that money may be diverted to replenish the scholarship reserves.

"It's hard to understand why this should be happening when the president says he wants us to grow by 50 percent," Schmitz said. "He seems to get everything else he asks for."