AmeriCorps funding debated on Capitol Hill

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has joined with a bi-partisan group of the nation’s governors to urge the Bush administration and Congress to restore money for the AmeriCorps program.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) This is expected to be a critical week for the future of AmeriCorps because Congress is scheduled to take up its supplemental budget bill. Included in the bill is an additional $100 million to help keep AmeriCorps in solid financial shape until the beginning of the new federal fiscal year.

The program is under fire because of accounting problems associated with its past managerial staff. Last week President Bush appointed a new AmeriCorps director to help straighten things out.

Currently Vermont has roughly 130 AmeriCorps members who work at a variety of nonprofit organizations, ranging from substance abuse centers to programs that provide services to elderly people in rural parts of the state. If Congress doesn’t restore the funds, about 100 AmeriCorps positions will be eliminated in Vermont. That’s why Douglas has joined with 39 other governors to fight for this program:

(Douglas) “AmeriCorps has done a wonderful job for a lot of people giving them opportunities to serve and it’s also done a great deal for organizations that have been the beneficiaries of the work of the AmeriCorps volunteers. I had the opportunity to greet a group from around the country who had been working at the Vermont Foodbank and also will be doing some work at a park in Winooski very soon. So this is a wonderful win-win program. It’s one that the president has supported in the past and I believe ought to be continued.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s confident that under new leadership AmeriCorps can be remain as an effective program:

(Douglas) “I guess there have been some accounting problems and I understand the need to resolve them. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. This is a relatively inexpensive way to encourage people to get involved, to pay them a modest stipend for some very important work. The unemployment rate is quite high around the country now. It’s a little higher in Vermont than it’s been in the last couple of years. So I really think this is a program that works.”

(Kinzel) The U.S. Senate has voted to restore the funds for AmeriCorps but the plan is meeting with some opposition in the U.S. House. Congressional conferees meeting on the supplemental budget are expected to consider this issue as part of their overall review of the bill.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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