AmeriCorps volunteers up 50 percent after Bush makes call to action

Posted 5:49 p.m. March 13

by Jamie Meltzer

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – The number of college-age volunteers involved with AmeriCorps has jumped 50 percent since President George W. Bush announced a plan to increase funding of the federal volunteer program by 56 percent during his State of the Union Address on Jan. 29.

Bush called for 25,000 new volunteers in 2003 to “rebuild our communities” and prevent more terrorist attacks.

According to a statement released by AmeriCorps this month, the organization’s Web site has had a 95 percent increase in the number of visitors since the speech.

Deputy Secretary of Education William D. Hansen announced his support for Bush’s budget proposal earlier this month.

“We firmly believe that many of the 15 million students enrolled in colleges across the country are prepared to answer the president’s call to service and will carry with them a renewed sense of responsibility, service, and citizen,” Hansen said at a spring student financial assistance conference.

But some political analysts are leery of the president’s plan, citing a history of poor management within the organization.

Brian Riedl, senior budget analyst for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said AmeriCorps has a poor track record. Riedl said mismanagement by the organization and the nature of volunteer work should prevent the government from subsidizing AmeriCorps.

“It is expensive,” Riedl said, “and America has a proud history of (volunteering) without government assistance.”

A better allocation of government funds would be to offer direct financial assistance to AmeriCorps members, Riedl said. For the price of one AmeriCorps volunteer, the government could issue eight Pell Grants, Riedl said.

Pell Grants are given to students who have not received a bachelor’s degree yet. The maximum amount given during the 2000-01 academic year was $3,300. This grant, unlike some other forms of financial aid, does not need to be repaid, making it a foundation for financial assistance.

AmeriCorps was created in 1994 to improve American communities through a variety of programs. Members tutor children, build and renovate homes, provide immunizations, preserve parklands respond to disasters and help meet other “critical needs.”

To receive AmeriCorps funding, community-based organizations can apply for a grant and receive financial assistance for up to five years.

Money also is given to individual AmeriCorps members. An average of $24,000 spent on each volunteer in return for 1,700 hours of service with the program.

According to Brian Miller, an AmeriCorps member at George Washington University, of these 1,700 service hours only 900 are “direct service.” The other 800 of Miller’s hours were spent in paperwork, travel times and other areas.

Miller said considering the substantial increase in funding for Americorps, there should be added “provisions for accountability.”

“There should be a definite benefit to the community for the amount of money spent. You shouldn’t spend more money than the need actually requires,” Miller said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.