AmeriCorps: Recruiting a New Generation of Leftists Obama recently signed a bill to triple the taxpayer-funded AmeriCorps’ membership.
AmeriCorps is a government-funded public-service network that was formally launched when President Bill Clinton signed the 1993 National and Community Service Trust Act, thereby establishing the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). CNCS administers AmeriCorps and seeks “to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.” From its inception, AmeriCorps incorporated two existing national service programs: the VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program that President Lyndon Johnson established in 1964, and the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), a volunteer network engaging in environmental and social-welfare projects.
Membership in AmeriCorps is open to all U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents age 17 and older. Each AmeriCorps member works a 10- to 12-month stint with a nonprofit group, public agency, or faith-based organization that participates in the AmeriCorps program. These entities range in size from small community groups to influential, nationally known federations. Among the tasks on which AmeriCorps members work are the following:
AmeriCorps members are paid workers, not volunteers. They may elect to serve either full or part time during their 10- to 12-month tours of duty; full-time members receive an allowance of approximately $11,800 per year. Moreover, upon completing their period of service they receive either an Education Award of up to $5,350 which can be used to pay for college or to pay off student loans, or $1,200 in cash.
Financed by the federal government, AmeriCorps funnels taxpayer dollars into the coffers of selected nonprofit organizations, which in turn use that money to pay the young people who register for a term of service with them. The recipients of AmeriCorps grants tend to be organizations whose politics fall on the left side of the spectrum, and whose efforts are focused on such projects as environmental activism, social-welfare programs, legal-aid assistance, political activism, teacher-education programs, community-organizer training, public health initiatives, childcare services, and ethnic-identity politics. Among the more notable recipients of AmeriCorps funding is the National Council of La Raza.
As Newsmax.com’s Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler has observed, AmeriCorps volunteers have traditionally “been put to work to promote the causes of Democrats, such as lobbying against the ‘three-strikes’ anti-crime legislation in California or for expanding housing subsidies and rent control.”
AmeriCorps consists of three main programs: AmeriCorps National and State, AmeriCorps VISTA, and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC):
As of mid-2009, AmeriCorps had nearly 75,000 active members. In fiscal year 2006, the organization’s budget, funded by U.S. taxpayers, was $525.6 million. Beyond that, AmeriCorps leverages more than $200 million annually in matching funds from non-government sources to support its activities.
In March 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 321 to 105 in favor of a $6 billion piece of legislation to more than triple the size of the AmeriCorps program — from 75,000 positions to 250,000 — over an eight-year period. Also in March, the Senate voted 74 to 14 in favor of a similar, $5.7 billion bill co-sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy and Orrin Hatch. President Barack Obama signed a compromise measure into law in April 2009. The new legislation increased the value of the AmeriCorps Education Award from $4,725 to $5,350.
Noting that with the passage of the foregoing bill “the federal civilian workforce is being increased by more than 13 percent,” Ronald Kessler wrote:
Republican Senator Jim DeMint, chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, said: “We’re talking about a government program that will hire a quarter of a million, supposedly as volunteers that we pay. That will be the 14th largest employer in the country, assuming the federal government can actually manage this thing.”
In April 2009, Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota said:
Matthew Spalding, director of the Center of American Studies at the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank), says: “We need to separate voluntary service — which we strongly support — and service that is sponsored and instituted by the government. That’s something very different and something that, in our opinion, we need to oppose.”
AmeriCorps has a history of fiscal chaos. In 2003 the organization lost track of how many people it had enlisted into its program, and of how much money was available to finance the stipends its members had been promised. During a Committee on Appropriations hearing that spring, Democrat Senator Barbara Mikulski referred to AmeriCorps as the “Enron of nonprofits.” In June of that year, AmeriCorps announced that it had only enough funds to pay half of its members.
AmeriCorps has longstanding ties to ACORN. According to a congressional report, “AmeriCorps members of [ACORN Housing Corporation] raised funds for ACORN, performed voter registration activities [for ACORN], and gave partisan speeches. In one instance, an AmeriCorps member was directed by ACORN staff to assist the [Clinton] White House in preparing a press conference in support of legislation.”