- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Supporters of AmeriCorps yesterday pleaded with Congress to provide the beleaguered program with an extra $100 million this year after House appropriators rejected a proposal to do so Monday.

The talk among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, however, was that AmeriCorps will end up getting some of the extra money.

“That’s what I hear,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, who sits on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees AmeriCorps. “I hear the White House is going to weigh in and put back some of the money.”

Rep. Tom Osborne, Nebraska Republican, agreed there is “an undercurrent that there’s a fair chance” AmeriCorps will wind up receiving some of the $100 million.

“We’re hoping that the White House will get involved and keep the money in,” Mr. Osborne said.

The Senate added the AmeriCorps money to an emergency supplemental bill requested by the White House, which was attached to the legislative branch spending bill and passed by the Senate, 85-7. The White House had not requested the extra AmeriCorps money, and the House Appropriations Committee on Monday rejected an effort to add the $100 million to its version of the supplemental bill.

The Clinton-era AmeriCorps program has come under fire for mismanaging the money Congress gave it last year by hiring many more volunteers than Congress allowed.

The $100 million would allow AmeriCorps to accept an additional 20,000 volunteers on top of its planned 30,000.

The president has requested a boost in AmeriCorps funding for fiscal 2004, but supporters say without the $100 million extra this year, community programs will lose desperately needed volunteers in the fall.

White House spokesman Claire Buchan said AmeriCorps “is a high priority of the president,” which is why he requested funding increases for the program. However, she said, the president requested the supplemental spending for emergencies.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. C.W. Bill Young said there is a split between the White House and House Republicans over the issue.

“There are two forces at work,” said Mr. Young, Florida Republican. “The president supports AmeriCorps. There are many in the Republican conference that do not, and we have to work through that. I really can’t tell you what the outcome will be.”

Conservatives have long complained that the AmeriCorps program pays volunteers an education stipend at the end of their service. They say the government shouldn’t pay people to “volunteer.”

“I’ve never been a fan of it, and I think the fact that it couldn’t manage itself makes it even worse,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.

“They’re the highest-paid volunteers in the world,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican.

Other Republicans defended the problem, pointing to vital community services its volunteers provide — from tutoring children to helping build houses.

“Because some people have screwed it up, we’re going to kill the program?” said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican. “I don’t think so.”

Mr. Young, who opposes the extra funding, conceded there is a lot of support in the overall House for it, but said he will have to work it out with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.

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