Funding for AmeriCorps may end

Sun Herald
by Nicole Dow

Government funding for AmeriCorps, a national community service program that provided recovery aid to the Coast following Katrina, may end as Congress approves budgetary decisions for fiscal year 2011.

Recent legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives eliminated all government spending for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency which includes AmeriCorps. If the proposed budget is finalized, AmeriCorps would lack the financial support needed to provide disaster response services across the nation.

“I know that at the federal level, they’re making tough decisions and having to cut dollars, but (the AmeriCorps program) is probably one of the best returns on investment,” said David Mallery, executive director of the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service.

Among their contributions to the state, AmeriCorps service members have completed approximately 1 million service hours and 400 projects, coordinated 44,200 volunteers, built 505 new homes, renovated 1,400 existing homes and served 337,000 meals in Mississippi since 2000.

Gov. Haley Barbour recognized the work of AmeriCorps when accepting the Voices for National Service’s State Leadership Award on Feb. 15. “As many of you know, much of the work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, fell on the shoulders of volunteers and AmeriCorps members from the state of Mississippi as well as from around the nation,” Barbour said.

Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Don Scott, the founding director of AmeriCorps National Community Civilian Corps, said AmeriCorps NCCC has continuously proven its worth when responding to communities affected by hurricanes, floods, forest fires and other disasters.

“They’ve proven their work in doing this in Hurricane Katrina,” Scott said.

AmeriCorps is separated into three divisions: AmeriCorps National Community Civilian Corps, AmeriCorps VISTA and AmeriCorps State and National. Scott is among a group of former AmeriCorps NCCC directors that petitioned to Congress to restore funding to AmeriCorps.

“This is not just funding a program,” Mallery said. “This is an investment in communities.”

The program also improves the lives of those who serve, he said.

Austin Sabbatini, volunteer services manager for Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is a product of AmeriCorps National. She said the program has been beneficial in her life and also improves the organization for which she now works.

Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast has nine AmeriCorps National members on staff and 10 AmeriCorps NCCC members who are serving on a two-month basis.

“We’re able to have more people on staff without having to pay a full salary,” she said. “That helps us out so much.”

AmeriCorps members are provided with a stipend through the program while they complete their service work.

“This program is extremely needed for this area,” Sabbatini said.

Martha Bergmark, president of the Mississippi Center for Justice in Jackson, said without funding for AmeriCorps, her organization would be at a loss.

The Mississippi Center for Justice currently employs two AmeriCorps legal fellows at a low cost, Bergmark said. One is helping low-income residents get legal assistance with the oil spill claims process. The other AmeriCorps legal fellow specializes in foreclosure prevention and has saved 33 Mississippi families from foreclosure in the past year.