- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

A key House panel yesterday approved a scaled-back version of the president's proposal to expand and strengthen national volunteer programs, including AmeriCorps, but some Republicans continue to be frustrated with the effort.

The bill, approved on a voice vote by the House Education and the Workforce Committee, falls about $122 million short of President Bush's 2003 request of $1.035 billion for several federal volunteer programs, including AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Learn and Serve America and Volunteers in Service to America. The House measure crafted by Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan and Democratic Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana would authorize about $913 million for the programs.

Bill supporters were quick to note that authorization levels are simply recommendations and that actual funding levels will be decided by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

The White House supports the Hoekstra-Roemer bill. "It's a great bill," said White House spokeswoman Anne Womack. "It's the largest annual increase in the history of the AmeriCorps program. We'll continue to push for the level of funding the president requested, but overall it's a great bill and we support it."

But some Republicans are critical of the effort to expand these type of programs.

"I'm terribly disappointed; I'm horribly disappointed," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and a member of the panel. "We pay people to volunteer. That's bogus. It's a sham, it's a fake, it's idiotic, it's hypocritical."

In January, Mr. Bush called for all Americans to dedicate at least two years or 4,000 hours over the course of their lives to community service and laid out policies for encouraging even more volunteerism. The Hoekstra-Roemer bill is based on the president's principles.

"We'll take a look at the legislation," said Greg Crist, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican and outspoken AmeriCorps critic. "There are a lot of members in our conference that have concerns over some elements."

Mr. Tancredo said between efforts to boost the Clinton-era AmeriCorps program and the passage of a massive education overhaul bill, signed into law early this year, "we keep stealing plays out of the Democrat playbook and eventually that makes you a Democrat."

But other Republicans who had concerns about the effort to expand federal volunteer programs say many of those concerns are addressed by provisions in the bill including increased accountability for AmeriCorps and other volunteer programs and more state and local control over the federal dollars they receive.

"Right now I have a pretty high comfort factor," said Rep. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican.

Mr. Hoekstra said he expects a "good majority" of the Republican caucus will support the bill.

The measure also would limit the annual amount AmeriCorps can spend on each participant to $16,000, prohibit national service funds from being used to hand out contraceptives in schools, require any HIV-prevention education program to be age-appropriate and include arguments for abstinence, and clarify that an AmeriCorps program may not be set up for the sole purpose of enrolling people in state or federal assistance programs, like welfare.

"This [AmeriCorps] program is not going to disappear," said Leslie Lenkowsky, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the independent federal agency that administers the volunteer programs under the bill. "What I say to conservatives is, 'If you really want to make it better, now is our chance. [AmeriCorps] is not going to go away.'"

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