Monday, July 14, 2003

AmeriCorps braces for cuts


If bill fails, some nonprofit groups might slash services

By Andrea Uhde
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Many of Ohio's nonprofit organizations are facing a sharp cut in the number of workers available to carry out their services.

Unless Congress passes a $100 million supplemental bill to save the troubled AmeriCorps, Ohio may get only half the $5.2 million it expected for the national service program. That means some of the state's nonprofit organizations that rely on AmeriCorps for workers could be forced to slash services.

Instead of 605 AmeriCorps positions, Ohio will have 329 positions, and funding will drop to $2.6 million, said John Poole, communications director for the Ohio Community Service Council, which oversees the state's AmeriCorps grants.

"It would drastically hurt what we've been trying to do in communities in Ohio during the last 10 years," Poole said.

He predicts the consequences could include.

• 5,850 fewer Ohio students tutored.

• 5,025 fewer Ohio children and adults prompted to receive immunizations and health screenings.

• 191 fewer housing units built, remodeled or repaired by AmeriCorps members.

AmeriCorps pays $4,725 for each year of full-time service, and there is a two-year maximum. Nationwide, about 30,000 workers will be in the program for its next fiscal year, beginning in August. That would be down about 20,000 from the year before.

"There will not be people delivering services in some very needy communities," said Dayle Deardurff, executive director for Public Allies Cincinnati, which supplies 28 AmeriCorps workers to local service programs.

For AmeriCorps' next fiscal year, which begins in August, Public Allies is expecting to have fewer AmeriCorps slots.

"It means that there will be kids in communities where they need literacy programs who won't get them," Deardurff said.

At the Friendship Reading Center in Mount Auburn two AmeriCorps members teach 30or so elementary school children how to spell and read during after-school tutoring sessions. The center's monthly family reading night, held at Taft Elementary School, has grown to attract about 140 parents and students per session.

The workers for these services came to the center through Public Allies.

"We'll figure out a way to make it work without Public Allies, but it would be a far less productive program," said Mary Jo McClain, the center's director.

Amid the plush pillows, games and books in the three-room center, 12-year-old Martez McDaniel of Mt. Auburn wrote his first movie script based on a book he read.

"Without (the center), it would be devastating," said Martez's grandmother, Joyce Hughley, of Mt. Auburn. "It really does help children learn that reading is essential."

McClain said she can't afford to hire regular workers; the center is so small that she has a hard time attracting any money donors.

A bill in the House this week could restore 20,000 volunteer positions nationwide, which would bring the program back to its normal level. The Senate approved the supplemental bill by a vote of 71 to 21 Friday.

Ohio's two Republican senators were split: Sen. Mike DeWine voted for it and Sen. George Voinovich voted against it.

Some AmeriCorps affiliated groups speculate the bill may have a harder time passing the House.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-N.Y., who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls AmeriCorps' budget, said Thursday that he opposed the extra money because of the agency's "poor management and weak financial oversight.''

Despite its budget troubles, the program has been so popular that nationwide, thousands of people interested in joining AmeriCorps are being turned away.

In Cincinnati, the Urban Appalachian Council's Project ACE, which works in predominately Appalachian neighborhoods with high school dropout rates, has "applications coming out our ears" from people wanting to help them through AmeriCorps, said Ariel Miller, program coordinator.

The organization relies heavily on AmeriCorps workers.

The Urban Appalachian Council provides two AmeriCorps workers to Whittier Elementary in East Price Hill, where the workers tutor children in reading and math. With AmeriCorps' lack of money, "we only feel safe putting one tutor there, which means we will only help 30 children at the site" instead of 60 children, Miller said.

The Sisters of Notre Dame, which has been in Cincinnati since 1840, is expecting to have eight or nine AmeriCorps members in Cincinnati, compared to its usual 17.

"It's devastating," said Sister Katherine Corr, the executive director of the Sisters of Notre Dame mission volunteers.

"We've been able to do wonderful things reaching out to these children. It takes away the good work we've been able to do."

AmeriCorps at a glance

AmeriCorps is a group of national service programs that match more than 50,000 people with nonprofits, public agencies and faith-based organizations each year. AmeriCorps members can be tutors and mentors, build affordable housing, clean parks and help communities respond to disasters.

Created in 1993, AmeriCorps is part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which also oversees Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America.

AmeriCorps members in Cincinnati include the Urban Appalachian Council, the Red Cross, Sisters of Notre Dame and Public Allies Cincinnati.

To learn more about AmeriCorps, go to www.americorps.org or call (800) 942-2677 or (TTY 800-833-3722).

Source: www.americorps.org/whoweare

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The Associated Press contributed to this story. E-mail auhde@enquirer.com




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