End AmeriCorps? Short-sighted idea.

  • Article by: WADE HAUSER
  • Updated: February 17, 2011 - 7:43 PM

The program is a cost-effective way to put thousands productively to work in their communities in this tough economy.

Commentary

The proposed federal budget by House Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers contains drastic cuts in nearly every area of discretionary spending. Many of these cuts are shortsighted and troubling.

Among other ills, they will have a devastating impact on job creation and job retention, and on millions of the nation's most vulnerable citizens.

One of the most misguided of these cuts is the proposed elimination of AmeriCorps, a government partnership with nonprofit organizations that engages 75,000 Americans in full-time community service each year.

AmeriCorps volunteers, to name just a few examples, are Habitat for Humanity coordinators, college career placement officers and home energy efficiency experts.

AmeriCorps members serve as Teach for America volunteers and after-school program coordinators. They help the homeless to find permanent shelter, the unemployed to find work, and endangered species to make comebacks.

AmeriCorps volunteers do all this, and a lot more, while being paid nothing but a modest living stipend and a scholarship to be used for future education or to pay off student loans.

Last year, I served as a National AIDS Fund AmeriCorps volunteer in Washington, D.C.

My 11 teammates and I conducted thousands of HIV tests, enrolled recently diagnosed HIV-positive people in care, taught prevention strategies in schools, and delivered meals to those too sick to cook for themselves.

We did this and more for stipends of about $1,000 a month.

AmeriCorps is valuable not only for the communities it serves but also for the people it employs.

I graduated from St. Olaf College in 2009. I was the student body president and graduated in the top quarter of my class. Yet, in the height of the great recession, my job prospects were bleak.

For me and for a countless number of my classmates, AmeriCorps meant a chance to get out of our parents' basements and into the workforce while serving people in need.

AmeriCorps creates long-term economic growth. Due to the skills and experience I gained, I now have a full-time job at a HIV-services organization here in the Twin Cities.

Without the opportunity of AmeriCorps, I undoubtedly could not have developed the same skills as quickly and for as little cost to the public and my employers.

AmeriCorps is a cost-effective program that allows thousands of enthusiastic people a chance to get meaningful jobs in this tough economy.

To cut it would put as many as 75,000 Americans out of work, cut critical services for the most vulnerable, remove some of the best and most innovative teachers from schools, and take away a much-needed helping hand for the environment.

As the debate over the budget continues, Congress should take note: AmeriCorps provides meaningful service, real-world job training and economic growth. Best of all, it does it on the cheap.

Wade Hauser, Minneapolis, is an HIV case manager.

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