AmeriCorps gets boost in federal funding

BY SARAH ZAWACKI
For the Daily
Published April 6, 2009

AmeriCorps, a service organization that focuses on picking up some of this country’s most downtrodden communities, is getting a helping hand from the federal government, in the form of a massive boost in funding.

This increase in federal funds to AmeriCorps will allow more students from the University and across the country to participate in the program.

Late last month, Congress sent legislation to President Barack Obama’s desk that will pump more than $6 billion into community service programs over the next five years. Because of this boost in aid, funding for AmeriCorps tripled, allowing the organization’s participant capacity to increase from 75,000 to 250,000.

The bill, named after Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), will provide for the largest expansion of national service in 50 years.

AmeriCorps, which was created by President Bill Clinton in 1993, offers students over the age of 18 the chance to live in subsidized housing and receive health care while serving in communities around the country. Following their service, participants receive a financial award to pay for college or graduate school or to pay back loans.

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act will increase the amount students receive for service from $4,725 to $5,350, the maximum financial aid offered through the Federal Pell Grant. The AmeriCorps award will also be tied to the Pell Grant to match any future increases in the financial aid.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee, wrote in a press release that the bill comes at an especially important time, given the current economic climate.

“History has shown that in times of crisis, Americans turn to service and volunteering for healing, for rebuilding and for hope. The spirit and generosity of the American people is one of our nation’s greatest assets,” he wrote. “This legislation is just what we need, at this pivotal moment, to get our nation back on track.”

As a result of the surge in funding, the Michigan division of AmeriCorps has increased its number of volunteers. This increase comes at an opportune time, as student-targeted service programs like National Student Partnerships, a non-profit organization focused on combating poverty, begin running into funding trouble.

Addell Anderson, program director of the Michigan AmeriCorps Partnership, said the funding increase has benefited many students by allowing more of them to have summer service internships.

“Before, fewer students would have had an opportunity to do that,” she said.

Anderson said the boost in funding will help AmeriCorps expand its collaboration with the Semester in Detroit program here at the University. She said the group’s common affiliation with the Ginsberg Center, a campus organization dedicated to service learning, is a good foundation for partnership in the future.