National service group deserves more funding

Suppose you are an 18-year-old preparing to go to college, but you lack the funds to pay for your education. Instead of going straight to college, you could spend a year teaching inner-city children how to read. During that year, you would receive almost $5,000 toward your education, along with a small stipend on which to live. Your experience will not only have benefited you, but it will have also helped numerous kids and will eventually give the United States another highly educated citizen.
AmeriCorps, the program that provides this opportunity for 40,000 individuals yearly, is in danger. Its funding is up for renewal this year, and many Republicans are opposed to the program.
AmeriCorps has five goals for America: that every child has a mentor, a safe place to go after school, a chance at a healthy start at life, a quality education and finally, every American should have the opportunity to serve his or her community. While the current number of job opportunities is limited because of funding constraints, AmeriCorps has still achieved a great deal of success in working toward its goals. Since its inception in 1994, AmeriCorps members have taught, tutored and mentored over 2.2 million children and have recruited over 1.8 million unpaid volunteers to help with projects such as Habitat for Humanity and the Conservation Corps.
Members of Congress state concerns about high administrative costs and claim that AmeriCorps members are not true volunteers since they receive a small stipend. However, AmeriCorps’ administrative costs are extremely low. The amount of money spent on each member, after accounting for the stipend, college money and health benefits, is less than $2000. And AmeriCorps has stopped calling participants volunteers and now simply calls them members. When the facts are examined, some Republicans’ opposition seems to be based more on politics than on actual policy objections.
The position changes of two prominent Republican legislators are encouraging. Sen. Rick Santorum, Pa., and Rep. John Kasich, Ohio, who were formerly opposed to AmeriCorps funding, now have come out in support of the program. Santorum’s switch is especially encouraging as Harris Wofford, the current head of AmeriCorps, was his opponent in the last Senatorial race. Santorum now credits Wofford for pushing AmeriCorps to “get these people … into these small nonprofits where they’re facilitators in the community, not bureaucrats with an agenda.” The positional changes of these two leaders illustrate that those who honestly investigate AmeriCorps come to support its mission.
AmeriCorps is the kind of program that all Americans should be able to agree upon. It provides smart, motivated individuals with an opportunity to serve society and help themselves at the same time. It achieves these goals at an extremely low cost and with very little bureaucracy. Congress should renew AmeriCorps funding and seriously consider increasing it in order to expand the opportunities for more Americans. Service is an important part of being a citizen, and AmeriCorps provides a great opportunity to serve both oneself and one’s community.