AmeriCorps cuts hit nonprofit programs hard

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) AmeriCorps programs cuts announced last week have left four Alaska nonprofit programs searching for ways to continue services.

The cuts could eliminate all 116 AmeriCorps volunteer positions in Alaska.

''It's just hugely disappointing that this is the way it's gone,'' said Joe Parrish, executive director of the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Guidance Association.

AmeriCorps is a federally funded service organization created by President Clinton in 1993. It's made up of three programs: AmeriCorps State and National, Volunteers in Service to America and the National Civilian Community Corps.

The cuts primarily affect the state competitive program, said AmeriCorps spokesman Sandy Scott.

In the program, nonprofit organizations compete to receive an endorsement from their state's community service commission for funding from AmeriCorps. Projects approved by each state commission then compete in a selection process in the national AmeriCorps organization.

In the round of grants distributed by AmeriCorps on June 18, every AmeriCorps State and National position in the state was cut, said Shannon Planchon, program coordinator for the Alaska State Community Service Commission. The funding cuts total $1.5 million.

SAGA, based in Juneau, could lose funding for 58 AmeriCorps volunteers teenagers and young adults from Alaska or Outside who spend three, six or 12 months in Alaska serving needy communities.

''It's a huge impact,'' Parrish said. ''Everybody's kind of devastated.''

In addition to SAGA, AmeriCorps volunteers in Alaska work with the Anchorage-based Rural Community Action Program and two programs under Nine Star Enterprises, a work training program based in Anchorage, Planchon said.

''The biggest thing that we get done with having these people working is ... we get somebody who is giving their undivided attention, 40 hours per week, to serving the community,'' Planchon said.

In exchange for their service, AmeriCorps volunteers receive an educational award of $4,725 they can use to pay off student loans for future educational endeavors. That money is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Part of the reason state programs will suffer cuts next year is because the corporation allowed more AmeriCorps volunteers to enroll in the program than the fund could cover with educational awards.

''We made a mistake,'' Scott said. ''We approved more positions than we should have last year, and we've taken responsibility, we've fixed it, and we're moving forward.''

Congress passed the Strengthen AmeriCorps Program Act last week. Scott said the law should eliminate future mistakes in the fund's administration.

The cuts also reflect a 50,000-volunteer cap Congress imposed on AmeriCorps. Because AmeriCorps had an excess of volunteers from last year, fewer positions can be offered this year to ensure the organization stays below the cap.

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