As the school year begins, AmeriCorps volunteers begin their assignments. However, due to the drastic funding cutbacks earlier this year, thousands of volunteers will not be reporting to their first day on the job.
In June, AmeriCorps announced that it would be downsizing its largest section of volunteers.
By the end of July, the news got worse for many AmeriCorps programs: The House of Representatives denied the program $100 million. The Washington Post reported that without that money, more than 20,000 of its 50,000 volunteer positions would not be filled.
Peter Rumsey Jr., director of Habitat for Humanity International North Carolina, said that the cutbacks have made it very difficult to plan and prepare in many cities. “The rug got pulled out from under us,” Rumsey said. “We didn’t even get clarity of when we would start the programs until early August.”
In North Carolina, Rumsey’s programs were granted a total of 55 positions. “There is a need and demand for 75 (positions). Initially, we submitted a request for 75 AmeriCorps volunteers,” he said. “As the financial crisis emerged, it became clear that this was not the time to ask for an increase.”
Rumsey said that cutbacks have affected other states more dramatically. In South Carolina, the program had 15 slots last year and was hoping to grow to 21 this year based on its success in 2002. Instead, the program dropped to 10 slots.
Virginia had a similar experience. Awarded 22 slots last year, the Virginia program only received 10 for this year.
“The fixed cost of running an AmeriCorps program does not change from 10 to 20 members,” Rumsey said. “As you reduce from 22 to 10, the fixed cost stays the same, but your cost to the affiliate goes up dramatically.” The affiliate, in this instance, is the locally organized, independent non-profit organization that is associated with Habitat for Humanity International, Rumsey said.
Referring to the program in South Carolina, Rumsey said, that reducing the slots to 10 created a situation in which each affiliate would have to pay $9,000. “That’s a large financial investment for a small affiliate to make,” Rumsey said.
Fortunately, the program found ways to reduce the cost to $7,500 per member, though still a drastic increase from the $4,200 cost last year.
“There are fewer cities hosting members because smaller affiliates cannot afford it,” Rumsey said. It’s hard to justify having smaller programs for higher costs, he said.
However, for those affiliates who believe the end justifies the means, “It’s really testament to the value of the program for affiliates to see spending this much,” Rumsey said.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.