Hillary Clinton Proposes Huge AmeriCorps Expansion

by CASEY QUINLAN –

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As part of Hillary Clinton’s college affordability plan, or New College Compact, she announced she will expand the number of AmeriCorps members to 250,000. There are currently a little over 75,000 AmeriCorps members, and the number hasn’t increased for years.

For members who finish two years of full-time AmeriCorps service and complete a year of public service, they will be able to receive more than $23,000 through the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award compared to the current maximum award of $11,550. The awards would also be made tax-free.

Shirley Sagawa, a senior visiting fellow at the Center for American Progress who played a crucial role in drafting the legislation that created the CNCS in 1994, said Clinton’s plan will make it much easier for college students to participate in AmeriCorps.

“AmeriCorps has always been intended as a way to offset the cost of college and it’s certainly not operating at scale and the fact that the education award is taxable has made it not as valuable as it might be so I think the Clinton plan addressing these challenges in a really important way,” Sagawa said.

Sagawa said that it has made a difference for a lot of students who either want to make connections in their chosen career early or high school students who don’t know what they want to do yet and hope to find the answer at AmeriCorps.

“AmeriCorps really is the workforce development system for the nonprofit sector,” she said. “It’s how a lot of people get skills and connections for future careers in that area. We just don’t invest in that as a country except for through these programs … Some young people haven’t even graduated from high school and they need to get their diploma and get back on track, so everyone from the college graduate looking for start in their career or maybe someone who doesn’t know what to do next can benefit.”

The program was started under President Bill Clinton in 1994. AmeriCorps members help low-income homeowners, help with disaster relief, assist veterans, and provide support to schools. The Edward Kennedy Serve America Act, which was signed into law in 2009, aimed to increase the number of AmeriCorps members to 250,000 by 2017 but Congress has not provided the necessary funding.

“It’s really sad, because AmeriCorps is a really powerful, cost-effective solution to some of our nation’s most pressing issues. Our AmeriCorp members are fighting wildfires in Washington state now,” said Samantha Jo Warfield, press secretary at Corporation for National Community Service. “They’re in Ferguson and Baltimore helping those communities rebuild … and for every dollar we put in, it’s matched by several private-sector dollars. It’s not as if it’s a huge government program and it’s also investing in what we know works at a local level.”

A 2016 fiscal year appropriations bill being considered by the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee would cut funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which includes AmeriCorps, by 42 percent and would only fund 50,000 members. It would defund the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps that allow 2,000 members to do work in states such as California, Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, and Mississippi. Clinton’s plan, which costs $20 billion in the next decade, would be paid for through capping itemized tax deductions, like other parts of her college affordability plan.

The amount of money AmeriCorps members live on can be so meager that they have to live on public assistance, said Alex Aloi, 27, who worked for the Cortland County’s office of the county historian as part of AmeriCorps, which is located in Upstate New York. Aloi doesn’t remember the exact amount but guesses the biweekly stipend was around $270 and the education reward was in the ballpark of $2,000 to $3,000. The money AmeriCorps members receive varies greatly from program to program.

“I really couldn’t afford rent so I did a stint at my parents, which at 22 or 23 is about as horrible as it sounds. I know plenty of other people who go on the public dole – food stamps, etc,” Aloi said. “They apply for Section 8 housing and the like … In order to be part of AmeriCorps and away from home it takes a lot of public assistance. AmeriCorps encouraged us to make use of those programs and provided us information on how.”

He said it was a good experience in general, however, and helped him get a job working at the Vermont state curators department as a curatorial assistant in Montpelier. He started a new position there last week as a statehouse tours coordinator.

“My post was actually great. I got to work with wonderful folks and it was really enjoyable,” Aloi said. “As a history major, it was hard to find a job in that field … I would say that the experience helped me in a very direct way to obtain a job here at the statehouse.”

“The model of AmeriCorps is a year of sacrifice. It’s not a glamorous gig … so we talk about AmeriCorps as one thing, but it’s an umbrella organization and there are many programs that allow for second jobs and things like that as well,” Warfield said. “We don’t know it’s not a glamorous gig and we want to provide these opportunities to as many Americans as possible, but it’s always been a year of sacrifice and that’s important to the model of AmeriCorps. You’re giving up a year of your life to this country.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress 

 

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