March 28, 2017

Trump plan to cut AmeriCorps would hit South Sound nonprofits

AmeriCorps members in the South Sound tutor schoolchildren, fill backpacks with food for hungry families, help veterans navigate college and build homes for low-income families.

Their supporters say those services would be lost or drastically curtailed as a result of budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration this month.

As part of a $54 billion cut of non-defense programs, the proposed budget eliminates the Corporation for National Community Service, which provides $32 million to operate AmeriCorps in Washington.

“The impact would be huge,” said Debbie Schuffenhauer, the executive director of Serve Washington, a state commission that manages AmeriCorps funds.

In 2016, the state program also relied on roughly $24 million in private funds from sources including businesses and foundations, but organizers say those funds would likely dry up if AmeriCorps is disbanded.

Nationally, more than 75,000 AmeriCorps participants per year work in disaster relief, financial advice and employment assistance, education, environmental preservation, health care education and assistance, and veteran assistance.

Jason Gauthier, the director of operations for Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity, said the nonprofit’s 20 AmeriCorps participants helped put nearly 3,000 volunteers through orientation over the past two years.

The loss of AmeriCorps members would mean the loss of a huge portion of volunteers.

“It’s our lifeblood, honestly,” Gauthier said.

In 2016, 136 AmeriCorps participants worked throughout Pierce County in 62 locations including city of Tacoma offices, 19 schools, 17 nonprofits, two churches and seven veterans services offices in colleges.

Mari Bingham is an AmeriCorps participant who tutors students in reading at Mary Lyon Elementary School in Tacoma.

She moves from grade to grade throughout the day to read with children and help them with coursework in addition to participating in extracurricular morning and after-school reading programs. She worries that “a lot of kids will kind of go through the cracks” without AmeriCorps’ help.

Anita Roth, the principal of Mary Lyon Elementary School, said teachers would take up the slack if the school loses Bingham, but they would be without the critical support she provides. AmeriCorps participants, Roth said, are “an additional set of hands to help our kids read.”

Among the other possible impacts: the help AmeriCorps participants provide St. Leo Food Connection in Tacoma to make sure school children have enough to eat after school, on the weekends and during the summer. Veterans headed to University of Washington Tacoma could no longer count on Andrew Flanagan’s help with career coaching, Veterans Affairs paperwork and GI Bill benefits.

The participants themselves also stand to lose. AmeriCorps members receive an end-of-service education award in addition to their $12,000 annual stipend. Many participants rely on it to attend college. They also use the experience they gain through the program as a stepping stone for future employment.

“I have a job lined up for after I serve and would not have been qualified for that job if I hadn’t done AmeriCorps,” said Michaela Todd, an AmeriCorps participant who works with Habitat for Humanity.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, says he’ll fight to save the program.

“The reality is, AmeriCorps is less than one half of 1 percent of the federal budget,” Kilmer said. “It punches above its weight.”

Source: The News Tribune