National Service: A Solution for Local Communities and Our Country

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Courtesy / Elliot Haney (City Year)

AmeriCorps member Daniel tutors students at Martin Luther King Academy.

In its recently released budget blueprint for fiscal year 2018, the White House proposes to eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service, which would defund beloved service programs like AmeriCorps and cripple numerous local nonprofits who rely on AmeriCorps members to provide essential services to their communities.

This is the wrong decision for our country. If this administration is looking to invest taxpayer dollars in programs that work to strengthen local communities and create jobs, they should seek to expand, not eliminate, national service.

Over the past 23 years, more than 1 million Americans have served their country through the federal AmeriCorps program, providing more than 1.4 billion hours of service to communities and earning $3.3 billion in scholarships to pay for college.

Here in San Antonio, hundreds of Americans engaged in national service currently serve through respected organizations like Habitat for Humanity, City Year, Catholic Charities, and Teach For America, working every day to improve the lives of thousands of Texas residents.

Programs like City Year, which is fueled by AmeriCorps, help prepare our future workforce and strengthen our communities by providing students with academic and social-emotional support that helps them stay in school and on track to graduate from high school. This is why I helped bring City Year to San Antonio in 1995 and served as its founding executive director. Today, City Year AmeriCorps members serve 6,000 students in seven San Antonio schools, partnering closely with teachers and principals to help our students succeed.

At a time when so many Americans need jobs, AmeriCorps programs like City Year also prepare young people for the workforce and helps the unemployed find work. A recent survey found that participation in community service by unemployed Americans increases by 26% the likelihood that they will obtain employment. Eight out of 10 AmeriCorps alumni say their service experience benefited and advanced their career paths, largely because of the professional skills they developed, making them more competitive when applying for jobs.

National service is a wise investment, as it requires programs to match federal support with private sector dollars. For every $10 in federal money appropriated, another $15 is separately raised from private sources to fund AmeriCorps partnerships with local and faith-based organizations across the country. Studies show that national service programs generate a two-to-one return for the taxpayer and a nearly four-to-one return for society in terms of higher earnings, increased output and other community-wide benefits.

It’s true that Congress will be under pressure to cut federal spending. But our investment in national service, at just 0.03% of the federal budget, is not driving the federal deficit, and it should not be considered for elimination.

Fortunately, national service has support from across the political spectrum. A recent poll shows that 83% of voters – include 78% of Republicans, 84% of Independents, and 90% of Democrats – want the nation’s leaders to maintain or increase the federal investment in national service.

Our political leaders have also demonstrated support for national service, including every president for the past eight decades. Locally, U.S. Reps. Joaquín Castro (D-20) and Lloyd Doggett (D-35) sent letters to the House Appropriations Committee in support of AmeriCorps funding, and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-23) was recently honored by Voices for National Service for elevating national service as a first term legislative priority.

I’m thankful to these leaders, and I’m counting on the administration and our Texas Congressional delegation to continue this commitment to national service as we move forward in the budgeting process. It is my hope that leaders from all sides will agree that national service offers a cost-effective solution for many of the challenges our communities face, and that its programs should be protected, not eliminated.

 

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