Congress Needs to Step Up for AmeriCorps
Published: April 5, 2012
After months of Republican obstructionism, the Senate last week unanimously confirmed Wendy Spencer to lead the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps and other programs that encourage Americans to serve in their communities.
Times Topic: Americorps
The Republican blockading of Ms. Spencer, herself a Republican who has led Florida’s volunteer and community service effort under three Republican governors, had no justification. Finally, persistent complaints about the delay from service groups were heard.
Ms. Spencer arrives on the job at a critical moment. AmeriCorps has been a favorite budget-cutting target for House Republicans. Their latest budget calls for eliminating the federal agency and ending financing for AmeriCorps — a move they pushed for in the last two budget cycles. Even with support from the White House, money for AmeriCorps has been shrinking.
Republicans used to get it. Just three years ago, Congress approved a major expansion of the program with overwhelming support from both parties. AmeriCorps was to have 140,000 members serving this year, on projects like building low-income housing, cleaning up rivers and parks, responding to natural disasters and teaching at-risk students.
Instead, the program’s operating budget for fiscal 2012 has been cut to $471.1 million from $500.6 million in fiscal 2009. There are now 82,500 members, down from 88,000 in 2010, even though hundreds of thousands apply to serve every year.
Last year, the Points of Light Institute honored President George H. W. Bush, its founding force, for his efforts to promote national service and volunteerism in a televised tribute. Now some Republicans who sponsored that event, including Representatives John Boehner, the House speaker, and Eric Cantor, the majority leader, are abandoning AmeriCorps and its vital work.
Ms. Spencer’s immediate challenge will be to work with President Obama and Senate supporters of national service to keep the program at the current level. She will need to reach out to House Republicans, who seem to have forgotten the value of community service.
A version of this editorial appeared in print on April 6, 2012, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Congress Needs to Step Up for AmeriCorps.