April 21 (UPI) — Nearly a decade after former President Barack Obama provided a major shot in the arm for the U.S. government’s premier civil service program with a healthy infusion of cash, it now faces the end of the road under the Trump administration.
Exactly eight years ago Friday, Obama pledged an additional $6 billion for AmeriCorps, the government’s 23-year-old civil society program that provides much-needed work on a number of fronts from coast to coast.
The program, created in September 1993 and launched in 1994 under former President Bill Clinton, offers full- and part-time opportunities for young Americans to perform valued services in various U.S. communities that might otherwise go ignored by overworked federal agencies. Three months after his inauguration, Obama submitted the cash as an effort to grow AmeriCorps’ workforce from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2019.
The program, which relies on federal funding and private donations, addresses a multitude of needs across the United States — including at-risk school children, public lands and waterways — and engages more than 80,000 workers every year. It is often referred to as a domestic Peace Corps.
Under the new administration, however, the AmeriCorps footprint could be entirely wiped from existence.
The 2018 budget blueprint submitted last month by President Donald Trump, which calls for a dramatic increase in military spending, completely eliminates funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers AmeriCorps. If Congress authorizes the president’s budget, which Trump titled “America First,” it would mean the end of the road for what has become an American institution.
Since Trump’s proposal was submitted in March, many former government officials and advocates have spoken against eliminating the program, citing vast positive effects it continues to have nationwide.
“It would cripple … community organizations like Teach For America, Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Charities USA and The American Red Cross, that rely on AmeriCorps members to serve children and families as tutors and mentors, respond to natural disasters, and take care of military families in large and small communities all across our nation,” AnnMaura Connolly, president of Voices for National Service, said last month after Trump’s budget was submitted. “It would put the 80,000 people who serve in AmeriCorps annually out of work. At a time when the price of college is astronomical and so many Americans need jobs, AmeriCorps helps young people pay for college, prepares them for the workforce and helps the unemployed find work.”
AmeriCorps isn’t the only entity on the cutting end of Trump’s budget. Other federal agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency (31 percent in funding and 3,200 jobs) and State Department (29 percent), are also marked for cash reductions.
Trump’s budget, in fact, would cut funding to 19 agencies — including the African Development Foundation, the Chemical Safety Board, the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. Institute on Peace and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Meanwhile, it fattens the Department of Defense by an extra $52 billion, the Department of Veterans Affairs by $4.4 billion and the Department of Homeland Security by $3 billion.
Trump’s hawkish proposal, though, is only a recommendation. Congress determines the budget, and advocates pushing for AmeriCorps’ survival are taking their pleas to Capitol Hill.
“As Republicans, we support the critical goal of eliminating government waste,” a group of GOP donors and former lawmakers wrote in a letter to Trump. “But as conservatives who believe in the unifying, patriotic values of national service, we urge you to support the Corporation for National and Community Service.”
“Last year Congress voted to expand AmeriCorps, underscoring the strong bipartisan support national service has among members of Congress,” Connolly added. “We look forward to working [with legislators] through the congressional budget process to ensure that national service continues to provide vital support to communities across the country.”
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a vocal supporter for AmeriCorps, has led a charge online to save the program — mindful of the fact that its members have been invaluable during some of the country’s toughest times of the last quarter-century.
“I hope America never endures another storm as devastating as Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “Should we, though, I pray AmeriCorps members will be there. It’s up to Congress and the new administration to see they are.”
“That’s the beauty of service — anybody can do it,” Obama said when he backed AmeriCorps with full government support eight years ago. “You don’t need to be a community organizer or a senator or a Kennedy or even a president to bring change to people’s lives.”