It Was Clintonian -- Now It's Meat for Bush's Grinder

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Supporters of an AmeriCorps program are not giving in to budget cutters without a fight.

Advocates and former participants have begun rallying opposition on Capitol Hill to President Bush's proposal to slash the National Civilian Community Corps' budget by $22 million and phase it out in a year.

The corps is part of a network of three service programs created by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It brings together more than 1,100 18-to-24-year-olds on five residential campuses each year to spend 10 months working on service projects, mainly homeland security and disaster relief.

An Office of Management and Budget review found the cost of $27,859 per participant to be "extremely expensive" and deemed the program "ineffective." The administration would spend $5 million to close it next year, although two other AmeriCorps programs would survive.

On March 16, 52 members of the House, led by Rep. Doris O. Matsui (D-Calif.), wrote leaders of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the program's funding to object to the cuts. Most of the signers are Democrats, but three -- Rob. Simmons (Conn.), Ralph M. Hall (Tex.) and Wayne T. Gilchrest (Md.) -- are Republicans.

"Since 1994, the AmeriCorps*NCCC team members have played an important role by developing leaders and strengthening communities through team-based national and community service in the areas of disaster relief, education, unmet human needs, environment and public safety," the lawmakers wrote.

On March 31, 16 Democratic senators chimed in with a letter to the counterpart Senate Appropriations panel, asking for $27 million for the program this year.

The senators wrote that over the years, the program's more than 11,000 participants had built and renovated 5,500 houses, tutored more than 300,000 students, constructed 7,800 miles of hiking trails and cleared thousands of acres of trees burned by wildfires.

"The loss of these five campuses will be felt not only in their local communities but within the hundreds of communities throughout the country where they are deployed each year," they wrote.

The five campuses are located in the District; Perry Point, Md.; Sacramento; Denver; and Charleston, S.C.

On April 4, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a longtime supporter of AmeriCorps, persuaded her colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to include $20 million for the program in the emergency supplemental spending bill. The House and Senate have yet to agree to that change.

-- Christopher Lee

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