- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

AmeriCorps, the national Peace Corps-like program initiated by the Clinton administration in 1993, has temporarily frozen enrollment of volunteers because of a lack of government funding.
The freeze was imposed Nov. 22 when AmeriCorps' parent agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), found that the money needed to fully support all of the program's 50,000 new members was not available since Congress has not yet approved a federal budget.
"The pause in enrollments is a temporary measure to ensure there are sufficient funds in the education trust to cover further AmeriCorps enrollments," said Leslie Lenkowsky, CNCS chief executive officer, in a written statement. "We are taking this preventative step because of the higher and faster level of AmeriCorps enrollment this year, which reduced the balances in the education trust."
AmeriCorps has enrolled about 50,000 members this year, an 80 percent increase over applications last year.
The agency must wait until Congress, in recess until next month, approves a budget that sets aside enough money to fund the program, Mr. Lenkowsky said.
President Bush has proposed expanding the program from 50,000 to 75,000 members and increasing its funding by $273 million to facilitate that. His proposal was included in the Citizens Service Act, which was approved by both Republicans and Democrats on the House Education and Workforce Committee.
"Fifty-thousand members is the maximum number of members we can enroll at this time," Mr. Lenkowsky said in the statement. "We do look forward to enrolling more members going forward, but until new funds are available in the program's National Service Trust to support further enrollments, we will need to continue the pause put in place last month."
The freeze has had a significant effect in many states, including Maine, where 150 positions half of the state's AmeriCorps positions approved for the federal fiscal year were slated to be filled, including those at the state's Conservation Corps, which rehabilitates trails and works with erosion control.
"All of us are in this waiting game," said Maryalice Crofton, a director with the Maine Commission for Community Service. "We won't be able to do the work that we planned to do in January or February. The earliest we'll probably start is in the spring. This is not a good place be in right now."
Under the national program, full-time members work for 2,000 nonprofit organizations that provide services ranging from child care to building low-income housing. In return, they get a stipend of $9,300 a year. Part-time members get a $4,924 stipend a year.
Higher education benefits also are provided after a year of service. Full-time members receive a college award of $4,725 and health care. Part-time members receive a $2,330 college award.
The freeze also comes at an inconvenient time for Mr. Bush, who since September 11 has repeatedly called on Americans to perform community service.
White House deputy spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that Mr. Bush remains committed to calling Americans to conduct public service.
"This is a reminder for the need for Congress, when it returns, to act on passing a federal budget as quickly as possible," he said.

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