100 Hours of Continuous Testimony to Save AmeriCorps
by Guest Blogger, 9/8/2003
AmeriCorps’ actions are felt throughout the nation. Yet congressional budget cuts may mean many cities will do without AmeriCorps’ services. In Memphis, Michael Warr will have to drop 220 families from his home visitation program at the Porter-Leath Children's Center if Congress does not fully fund AmeriCorps. Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz will have trouble finding dedicated people to take food to the homebound in Buffalo, N.Y., or give a helping hand to the homeless. In Bridgeport, Conn., Robert Francis will be forced to cut his staff of 55 AmeriCorps volunteers in his community organization down to 25, which he fears might be too few to run his Safe Neighborhood Partnership program. And in Maryland, the Forests and Park Service will lose half their staff, leaving the state’s natural resources less protected and new restoration projects on hold. On July 21, the House Appropriations Committee defeated a move to add $100 million to AmeriCorps dwindling budget for the current fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1. According to the Washington Post members of the House Appropriations Committee were acting on the belief that AmeriCorps parent organization, Corporation for National and Community Service, had mismanaged their current budget and therefore should not receive any additional funding. AmeriCorps hands out grants to national nonprofit organizations (such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Save the Children) and to state commissions, which in return dole them out to local nonprofits and faith-based groups. There are more than 900 community service programs nation-wide that rely on AmeriCorps’ resources. Every organization that houses AmeriCorps’ members will feel the impact of these cuts, and some will even have to stop providing much-needed services to their community. Meanwhile, both President Bush and the United States Senate have publicly supported fully funding AmeriCorps. Yet the promise of maintaining the 50,000 volunteer spots for 2003-2004 looks bleak since the House Republican leadership has shown no signs of agreeing to add in the extra money. A coalition of 50 AmeriCorps-affiliated groups formed the Campaign to Save AmeriCorps to respond to these program breaking budget cuts. The Campaign took a dramatic new step on Sept. 2 when Voices for AmeriCorps began a 100-hour national town hall meeting with around-the-clock testimony on Capitol Hill about the importance and impact of national service. Hundreds of Americans – from Alaska to Mississippi, from CEOs to AmeriCorps alumni, and from senator to citizen – came to the nation’s capital to testify in this unprecedented ‘people’s hearing’ for national service. Voices for AmeriCorps continued through last week with 716 confirmed testimonies. Some of the people who testified on behalf of AmeriCorps included Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY); Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA); Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA); Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute; Rodney Slater, head of transportation during the Clinton administration; and the Goo Goo Dolls. All statements will be presented to President Bush and Congress along with a petition with over 50,000 signatures. To be part of Voices for AmeriCorps sign the petition.