AmeriCorps may face closure
Resolution would end funding, cost state $25 million a year

By Jerry Mitchell

02/16/2011


AmeriCorps volunteers clear trees from a Yazoo County yard following last April's deadly tornado there. The chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee has introduced legislation that would cut $100 billion from the budget for the rest of fiscal 2012. The proposed cuts include defunding AmeriCorps. / File photo/The Clarion-Ledger AmeriCorps volunteers clear trees from a Yazoo County yard following last April's deadly tornado there. The chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee has introduced legislation that would cut $100 billion from the budget for the rest of fiscal 2012. The proposed cuts include defunding AmeriCorps. / File photo/The Clarion-Ledger.

AmeriCorps members arrive at Jackson-Evers International Airport in July 2009 before heading to the Southern Region campus in Vicksburg. If adopted, a resolution introduced in the U.S. House last week would eliminate funding for AmeriCorps. / File photo by Joe Ellis/The Clarion-Ledger
AmeriCorps members arrive at Jackson-Evers International Airport in July 2009 before heading to the Southern Region campus in Vicksburg. If adopted, a resolution introduced in the U.S. House last week would eliminate funding for AmeriCorps. / File photo by Joe Ellis/The Clarion-Ledger.

If Congress' current continuing resolution is adopted, AmeriCorps and related national service programs would be eliminated - costing Mississippi more than $25 million a year.

That's how much Mississippi receives annually, ranking fifth in per capita funding for national service.

"Eliminating national service would deprive Mississippi of a variety of programs," said Brandi McNeil, deputy director for program and operations for the state Commission for Volunteer Service.

More than 44,000 people are involved in the Mississippi programs, working through schools, local nonprofits, religious organizations and others.

For instance, these programs provide 14,532 students with after-school tutoring and another 6,870 students with in-school tutoring, McNeil said.

Mississippi spent $363,000 on the Commission for Volunteer Service last year and received $25 million from the Corporation for National and Community Service, she said. "For every $1 spent, we get $50."

Last week, U.S. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers introduced a continuing resolution that would cut $100 billion from the remaining months of fiscal 2011.

"America has reached a fiscal crisis," Rogers, R-Kentucky, said in a statement. "We are now borrowing 40 cents for every dollar we spend.

We have no choice but to rein in out-of-control spending, and get our nation's fiscal house in order."

Those cuts would include the Corporation for National and Community Service, which funds AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America.

House GOP leaders would like to vote on the entire bill on Thursday, prior to next week's recess.

The bill would fund the government from March 4, when the current continuing resolution expires, until the end of the federal fiscal year on Oct. 1.

AmeriCorps officials are hoping President Barack Obama's proposed fiscal 2012 budget is adopted. Obama is proposing a $109 million increase.

In a statement, Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said Obama's budget shows "service isn't secondary or separate from achieving national priorities, it is essential to achieving them."

Service is critically needed, he said. "Too many of our citizens are out of work, too many of our young people aren't graduating from high school, and too many families are struggling to make ends meet."

Government cutbacks, too, have increased the need for service, he said.

Rogers called the President's budget "long on rhetoric and lean on spending cuts. We must go much further than this anemic effort of symbolic reductions and additional spending proposed under the guise of funding 'freezes' if we are truly to get our nation's finances on a sustainable course."

AmeriCorps is a 10-month residential program for men and women between 18 and 24. In return for their full-time service, they receive an education award of about $5,350 to attend qualified colleges, universities or vocational programs.

In Mississippi, 350 AmeriCorps members help provide tutoring to elementary students and recruit volunteers to assist with America Reads - Mississippi, which operates in 82 schools across the state.

The nonprofit DOT USA uses 280 AmeriCorps members at 200 public schools in the Mississippi Delta.

"We deploy them into schools and have them work with teachers, not only how to use 21st century technology, but how to implement that technology in the classroom," said Ginny Sims, director of communications for DOT USA. "By empowering the teachers, we're able to better engage the students and prepare them to enter the work force."

Sims said she couldn't speculate on what the proposed cuts would mean, but a letter DOT USA officials distributed said it "would force our program to shut down, would eliminate the jobs of our 280 members and most of our 20 staff members who supervise them."

Twenty-five AmeriCorps members help out Hands on Mississippi, a nonprofit on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, doing everything from helping with the oil spill cleanup to construction and working with vulnerable adults.

"AmeriCorps is a great way to link nonprofits and government agencies together," said Catherine Gautier, executive director for Hands on Mississippi.

McNeil said national service programs "proved vital in recovering from Katrina and also helped after the oil spill. Whenever Mississippi has been in need, national service has come in and brought federal resources to help us get the job done."


To comment on this story, call Jerry Mitchell at (601) 961-7064.