Tuesday, February 22, 2011

BTCS goes political, briefly.

Some of you may know that there is currently some legislation in Congress that proposes a number of budget cuts, including the elimination of funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the umbrella organization over Americorps, of which I am a member. With the hope that with more awareness will come more action against such legislation, I wanted to share a letter the CEO of the organization I work for will be sending to all of our supporters:

"Dear Friends,

We need your help to Save Service. The United States Congress is considering legislation to eliminate funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) from the budget, jeopardizing thousands of service initiatives around the country, including our own. Contact your Member of Congress today to get involved in the conversation and sign up for “Save Service District Day” at the link below.

With CNCS programs like AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve and Senior Corps at risk, our communities could potentially lose the support of organizations providing needed services like Teach For America, Admission Possible, Foster Grandparents, Habitat for Humanity, Public Allies, City Year, YouthBuild and many other local organizations, jeopardizing services in education, youth development, elderly services, healthcare and nutrition. At our organization in this year alone, 72 AmeriCorps and VISTA members provide college access and success services to 7,400 low-income students, and we hope to continue to grow in those communities and others nationwide.

These competitive CNCS grant programs are some of the strongest levers of public investment, each requiring private sector matching dollars and demanding results-based reporting. The federal investment made in faith based and community organizations through CNCS leverages nearly $800 million in matching funds from companies, foundations and other sources. At our organization, every dollar in AmeriCorps investment is matched by four private sector dollars. Additionally, these national service programs provide needed full-time and part-time career opportunities for Americans in today’s economy.

Congress is debating this bill now, and they'll be looking to their constituents to see how much -- or how little -- the American people support these cuts.

We need your help. Tell Congress that we cannot afford to lose the critical services these programs provide in our communities. Contact your Member of Congress today, and sign up today at www.saveservice.org
for your local "Save Service District Day.” Visit your representative’s local office on February 25th to make sure they hear your voice."

When I think of this legislation, I am almost silenced by how shocked I am that it exists. I consider myself a pretty reasonable and open minded person, and while I tend to fall on the liberal side of things politically, I pride myself in being able to understand the opinions of many conservatives (I owe that to my proud Republican father and, probably, my religion degree). However, I cannot, in any way, understand the reasoning behind cutting funding to CNCS.

Let's forget, for a moment, about the moral and social implications of such cuts- which would be unfathomable (can you imagine a society without these kinds of public service organizations?). Instead, let's think about money- because, after all, that's what this seems to boil down to. According to a less than perfectly trustworthy source (wikipedia), more than 85,000 people currently serve with Americorps (plus thousands more serving through other CNCS programs). We don't make a salary, we are awarded a living stipend of around $11,000 for a year of service. Based on the number of hours we end up working at my organization, that evens out to about $3 and hour- not even close to minimum wage. This means that there are more than 85,000 government slaves working for our country right now. Or, as a colleague of mine said in a slightly less abrasive way: "we're the cheapest labor out there!" I understand that the government is in need of money right now, but at this point, if nothing else, Americorps is keeping some 85,000 work eligible people at bay and paying them practically nothing to do some of the toughest jobs in our society! How is it in any way logical to cut funding for these programs, releasing these employees out into the world only to become unemployed because of the terrible job market?

So, if you're reading this and are thinking about pressuring your local politicians to oppose this legislation, I encourage you to do so! Do it for the students I'm trying to get into college, or the families moving into their first real home, or the students being helped with their reading so they can succeed in school, or simply because it makes the most financial sense- whatever your reason, I hope you'll support continuing funding to CNCS.

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