August 28, 2003 - Buffalo News: RPCV James Walsh, a long time supporter of Americorps, says he won't support bailout
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August 28, 2003 - Buffalo News: RPCV James Walsh, a long time supporter of Americorps, says he won't support bailout
RPCV James Walsh, a long time supporter of Americorps, says he won't support bailout
Read and comment on this story from the Buffalo News on Nepal RPCV and Congressman James Walsh and his views on Americorps. In Washington, even some AmeriCorps supporters say Congress has no choice but to deny the program extra money to cover its mistakes, even though some of those who overspent are no longer with the program. A little tough love, they say, might be just what the beleaguered domestic Peace Corps really needs.
"They're running out of money, they can't put on the volunteers they wanted to put on, but the fact is that they promised to fill 20,000 positions that they didn't have the money for," said Rep. Jim Walsh, the Syracuse Republican who heads the House subcommittee responsible for AmeriCorps' funding. "That's not Congress' fault. That's management's fault." Walsh, a former Peace Corps volunteer who for years fought to fund AmeriCorps over the objections of House conservatives, remains a strong supporter of the program - but not of any bailout."They're in violation of the law," Walsh said, and he doesn't want that violation to be rewarded. Read the story at:
The unkindest cut*
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The unkindest cut
Congress seems set on not bailing out AmeriCorps, threatening reductions in a program that does a great deal of good nationwide
By JERRY ZREMSKI
News Washington Bureau
DENNIS C. ENSER/Buffalo News
AmeriCorps workers Thomas Earley and Stephanie Zajac on Wednesday were painting the house of Dorothy Weiss, who said she couldn't afford to pay for such work.
A program overseen by D.C. bureaucrats who broke the law by overspending and who then gave themselves bonuses came to Dorothy Weiss' doorstep this week. And she couldn't be happier about it.
"This is like a gift from heaven," the disabled 76-year-old woman said as a crew of AmeriCorps volunteers finished painting her South Buffalo home. "I could never afford to get this done on my own."
To members of Congress, though, AmeriCorps is anything but a gift from heaven.
Instead, it's a moral dilemma. The question: Should the federal government throw money at a program that does a great deal of good but is in a financial pinch because of blunders at the top?
So far, it seems the answer is no.
AmeriCorps' operations for the coming year stand to be drastically reduced, thanks to Congress' likely refusal to give the troubled agency another $100 million.
In Buffalo, that could mean fewer volunteers aiding the elderly, fewer tutors in schools, fewer people to make deliveries to food pantries. About 371 people signed up as AmeriCorps volunteers in the area last year, agreeing to do good works in exchange for college benefits and, for some, a small stipend. As their yearlong commitments expire, they won't be replaced unless more funding comes through.
In Washington, even some AmeriCorps supporters say Congress has no choice but to deny the program extra money to cover its mistakes, even though some of those who overspent are no longer with the program. A little tough love, they say, might be just what the beleaguered domestic Peace Corps really needs.
"They're running out of money, they can't put on the volunteers they wanted to put on, but the fact is that they promised to fill 20,000 positions that they didn't have the money for," said Rep. Jim Walsh, the Syracuse Republican who heads the House subcommittee responsible for AmeriCorps' funding. "That's not Congress' fault. That's management's fault."
Walsh, a former Peace Corps volunteer who for years fought to fund AmeriCorps over the objections of House conservatives, remains a strong supporter of the program - but not of any bailout.
"They're in violation of the law," Walsh said, and he doesn't want that violation to be rewarded.
Indeed, a recent inspector general's report found that AmeriCorps violated a law that bars agencies from spending money they don't have. AmeriCorps miscalculated and added an extra 20,000 volunteers. As a result, the program's trust fund ended up $64 million in the hole.
The Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs AmeriCorps, "had no effective system for monitoring AmeriCorps' member enrollment and comparing enrollment to trust funding levels," the report said.
And as a result, much-praised programs such as West Seneca AmeriCorps stand to suffer.
Fewer people will get help
"People who don't want us to succeed see the corporation as unable to fix its problems," said Mark Lazzara, director of the West Seneca AmeriCorps program. "But the only people who will be hurt in the end are the people in the field, and the faith-based organizations and schools and people who rely on us for help."
In other words, fewer people like Dorothy Weiss will get their houses painted for free.
And fewer people like Stephanie Zajac, who had dropped out of high school, will get the fresh start that AmeriCorps often gives young people.
"I was sitting home, doing nothing," said Zajac, 17, of Cheektowaga. "AmeriCorps actually got me out doing something."
This week, for instance, Zajac helped paint Weiss' house. Moreover, Zajac said, AmeriCorps helped her get her high school equivalency diploma. Now she plans to go to Erie Community College and eventually get a bachelor's degree.
AmeriCorps also made a big change in Daytuan Antonetti's life. A former assistant produce manager at Wegmans, Antonetti joined AmeriCorps as a tutor a year ago and now wants to get a master's degree and become a teacher.
"AmeriCorps gave me the opportunity to see if teaching is what I want to do with my life, and I do," said Antonetti, 28.
Principals in Buffalo schools happily welcome AmeriCorps tutors.
"They were wonderful," said Gilbert Hargrave, principal of Buffalo's School 44, which had two AmeriCorps tutors last year. "They had a big impact and really helped our kids. We're really going to feel a loss."
So will schools throughout Buffalo. While some of last year's 249 AmeriCorps tutors worked in the suburbs, the vast majority served city schools. About 150 of those tutors remain, but the number could dwindle to zero by January without additional funding, Lazzara said.
Advocates push for funding
To try to prevent that from happening, Lazzara has helped lead a coalition of AmeriCorps advocates who have already traveled to Washington twice to press their case.
Next week, they'll travel to the capital again for a weeklong series of events dubbed "Voices for AmeriCorps."
"Certainly there have been some problems at AmeriCorps, but I can't help but look at just about every weapons program; they all come in with cost overruns," said Chuck Massey, a professor of education at Houghton College who recruits students to join the program. "And Congress always puts up the additional money. But in this instance, the concern doesn't seem to be very great."
The concern does appear to be greatest in the Senate, which in July voted, 71-21, to allocate the extra $100 million. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton helped push for the additional money.
The House, however, has refused to consider adding that $100 million to an emergency spending bill, despite the efforts of Reps. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, and Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, to get the money set aside.
The reasons for that refusal transcend AmeriCorps' current troubles. Founded as President Bill Clinton's effort to increase volunteerism, AmeriCorps has never been popular among House conservatives who say there's no need for a program that essentially pays people to do good deeds. In fact, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, once called AmeriCorps "a welfare program for aspiring yuppies."
Bonuses fuel opposition
The program's enemies found new ammunition this month when the Washington Post reported that AmeriCorps' parent agency awarded $411,655 in bonuses to 265 of its employees. Bonuses even went to several top managers whom the inspector general named as responsible for the agency's financial troubles.
AmeriCorps' biggest Senate backer, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., termed the bonuses "outrageous and unacceptable," and Walsh said they made it even more unlikely that Congress would rescue the program.
A spokesman for the Corporation for National and Community Service, Sandy Scott, said such bonuses are routinely given to most federal employees. Besides, he said, they were rewards for good work done in 2002, before the agency's troubles surfaced.
Scott said AmeriCorps is well on its way to fixing its problems.
Leslie Lenkowsky, the chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service, resigned this summer. Congress passed legislation to tighten AmeriCorps' accounting practices, and the agency has beefed up its internal controls.
Nevertheless, unless Congress allocates more aid, some of the grass-roots work will stop, although not permanently.
"Many good programs that have been funded in the past will not be funded," Scott said.
Lazzara said many AmeriCorps programs likely will shut down, only to be started up again in the second half of next year when the agency gets its fiscal 2004 funding allocation from Congress.
Program may expand
But the program probably will be bigger than ever next year.
President Bush has suggested increasing the number of AmeriCorps volunteers to 75,000, and Walsh's subcommittee has set aside funds for a smaller increase, to 55,000.
This year, though, it appears that Sister Johnice Rzadkiewicz won't be able to rely on AmeriCorps volunteers to bring boxes from the food bank to the food pantry she runs on the East Side. Most likely, she'll have to go pick up the food herself.
But she said she's more concerned about the young people who will lose the chance to do some good in the community and earn money for college.
"My gripe is that all we're looking at is the money," Rzadkiewicz said. "We're not looking at the way people's lives will be affected."
Dorothy Weiss agreed. She had hoped that her neighbors would be able to paint her house for her, but they didn't have time to finish the job. But then Erie County Legislator Mark J.F. Schroeder told her about AmeriCorps, and before long the work crew arrived.
"I couldn't believe it when he told me they would do it for free," Weiss said. "People need a program like this. They shouldn't cut it."
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