President Bush’s 2007 budget request, released last month, proposed a 5 percent reduction in the federal AmeriCorps service program funding and could completely eliminate at least one section of the program. The cut’s effect on the University’s programs is still not clear.
AmeriCorps federal funding is distributed through numerous channels, including state governments and national organizations that apply for money directly, such as Habitat for Humanity. Typically, colleges apply for financial support for AmeriCorps programs in the form of grants.
The University’s main AmeriCorps program, the Michigan AmeriCorps Partnership, is supported by state-allocated funds, as well as contributions from individual colleges at the University.
Addell Anderson, program director of the partnership, said it is difficult to estimate what the impact of the proposed cuts would be on the University’s program. She said that while she doesn’t believe the program will be at risk of closing, it may have to offer fewer positions than it has in the past.
The University launched its AmeriCorps program in 1995, making it one of the oldest in the country. The 58 participants in this year’s program will begin their service commitments in late spring.
Anderson said the federal cuts will not affect administrative support, one of the crucial areas of the the University program’s budget, because federal funding for administrative expenses is not permitted after a program’s seventh year.
“I am more concerned about other programs across the state, which may close since they necessarily depend more heavily on federal dollars to operate their programs,” Anderson said.
After former President Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act in 1993, establishing the Corporation for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps emerged as a core program of the corporation. It engages thousands of people each year in domestic service projects relating to education, environmental, public safety and health care.
The University’s Americorps program annually places students at 40 sites throughout southeast Michigan, mostly in the Detroit area. Part of the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, it connects nine undergraduate and graduate divisions, including the Ross School of Business and the School of Public Health.
Social Work Prof. Larry Gant, an evaluation consultant for the AmeriCorps program, said a reduction in financial resources could make it more difficult to get students involved in the program, as well as the ability to provide high-quality training.
“More and more service learning opportunities are being compelled to be run as volunteer opportunity, but you can’t run these kinds of initiatives on pro bono time only,” Gant said. “Students may be able to secure places on their own, while others may not be able to be involved without the money and the training.”
In his proposal, Bush also recommended the elimination of the National Civilian Community Corps, a division of AmeriCorps. Most of the budget reduction the parent corporation will face in the 2007 budget – $48.5 million – results from the termination of the NCCC.
The NCCC is an elite yet expensive arm of the AmeriCorps program, including about 1,000 full-time volunteers stationed at five regional campuses across the country. While other service groups within AmeriCorps provide disaster relief, the NCCC distinctly focuses its training and response efforts on disaster situations.
For this reason, Anderson said she did not understand the rationale behind shutting down the NCCC.
“NCCC has been instrumental in providing human resources in times of critical need, for example, serving in areas affected by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina,” Anderson said. “They perform the type of work that really is not appropriate for other national service programs, like the National Guard.”
But despite the cuts, Corporation spokeswoman Siobhan Dugan said AmeriCorps is expanding overall and will be able to support 75,000 members in the future compared with the 70,000 currently.
“AmeriCorps members will continue to engage in service and do the work they’ve been doing for 12 years,” Dugan said. “I hope people take advantage of the opportunity and realize the importance of the need for people for disaster relief in the Gulf and apply for those positions.”
Through the University’s Americorps program, Business School junior Brian Bae worked as an intern at Focus:HOPE, a non-profit organization that facilitates community projects in the Detroit area, such as food distribution centers and children’s day care.
Bae said while the budget cuts are problematic because sufficient funding is crucial to the success of AmeriCorps, the announcement is in keeping with the general decrease in federal support in numerous areas.
“If they gave us more funding, it would be helpful to the organization,” Bae said. “But we need to make do and adjust to the situation.”
President Bush’s proposed federal budget of $2.77 trillion for 2007 would increase spending on national security to aid the country’s fight against terrorism. To address the deficit, the plan advocates the purging or reduction of 141 government programs, including AmeriCorps, housing and urban development programs.