WASHINGTON -- Hobbled by management and money problems, the AmeriCorps national service program stands to get a huge funding boost from Congress that could swell its ranks of volunteers next year.
Rolled into the $373 billion spending bill worked out by congressional and White House negotiators this week was $444 million for AmeriCorps -- an increase of more than 50 percent over the past fiscal year. It's also about $10 million more than the amount requested by President Bush for the struggling program.
And while the deal hasn't been sealed, the nonprofits and other groups that rely on AmeriCorps money are optimistic that the cash infusion could put them back on sound footing after deep cuts to their programs over the past year.
"I'm very excited," said Alan Khazei, cofounder and chief executive officer of the Boston-based City Year program. "If these funds are used to restore last year's cuts in programs and services, then this is a big victory for congressional bipartisanship, for President Bush's call to service, for tens of thousands of idealistic men and women who stand ready and waiting to serve their country."
Khazei's group recruits and trains young volunteers to teach and mentor children, build playgrounds, and paint schools. Its funding from AmeriCorps was cut 45 percent in the last fiscal year, which Khazei says left 250 would-be corps members jobless.
Kyle Caldwell, executive director of the Michigan Community Service Commission in Lansing also was upbeat about the potential for more federal funds.
"We're delighted," said Caldwell. He added that the additional funding would "help stave off some of the pain that we're suffering right now." Caldwell's commission administers AmeriCorps funds to local programs, which saw 60 percent cuts across the board. Some 400 corps members saw their positions disappear.
The federal agency that runs AmeriCorps -- the Corporation for National and Community Service -- has been plagued by mismanagement and financial troubles.
It slashed payments this year to many of the more than 2,000 groups it supports, resulting in the loss of community service positions for thousands of corps members.
Some Republicans balked when AmeriCorps supporters urged Congress over the summer to approve $100 million in emergency money. Critics argued AmeriCorps was riddled with management woes and had caused its own problems.