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About Senior Corps 
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Hurricane Volunteer Support Fund
In the wake of the recent hurricanes, the Corporation is coordinating volunteers to assist with repair and relief efforts in areas affected by this devastating storm. Your donation will support volunteers in providing food and shelter, managing donations, helping victims get necessary assistance, and long-term rebuilding efforts.
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USA Freedom Corps Partnering to Answer the President’s Call to Service
 
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Office of the CEO

   

Written Testimony Before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies

 

Chairman Regula, Representative Obey, and other Members of the Subcommittee,

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Fiscal Year 2006 budget proposal for the Corporation for National and Community Service, as well as the critical role that our programs play in meeting local needs and in fostering a culture of citizenship, service, and responsibility in America.

This is National Volunteer Week, a time set aside each year to pay tribute to one of our Nation’s most valuable assets – the tens of million of Americans who volunteer their time and talents each day to support our communities, strengthen our democracy, and improve people’s lives. As President Bush has said, “The great strength of the nation lies in the hearts and souls of our citizens. … I truly believe that’s one of the wonderful strengths of America – that we’ve got armies of compassion all across our country.”

The programs of the Corporation – Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America – act as a supply line to America’s armies of compassion, delivering on the President’s promise to make government “an effective partner for those bringing help to harsh places.” Last year, our Foster Grandparents gave nearly 30 million hours of service to over 263,000 children with special needs at schools, hospitals, drug treatment centers, and other locations. Over 16,000 Senior Companions gave almost 14 million hours of service to fellow seniors to help them remain independent in their own homes. We supported more than 70,000 AmeriCorps members to tutor and mentor youth, build affordable housing, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, direct after-school programs, respond to disasters, and helping nonprofits train, recruit, and make more effective use of community volunteers. More than 1.1 million students from every state – including more than 440,000 disadvantaged youth – participated in Learn and Serve America programs in 2004, contributing about 40 million hours of service to their communities while enhancing their educational experience. In all, national service participants contributed more than 200 million hours of service.

The Corporation’s programs empower charities, grassroots and faith-based organizations, communities, and other vital engines of civil society by providing them with volunteers to meet local needs in a way that furthers those organizations’ priorities. In doing so, we provide Americans of all ages and backgrounds with opportunities for lifelong service – a goal that President Bush has strongly supported because he recognizes the importance of active citizenship to the long-term social, political, and economic health of our democracy. Especially since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have been looking for meaningful and effective ways to give back to the Nation. When they participate in national and community service programs, they express their patriotism and citizenship while addressing critical local needs.

Participants in Corporation programs touch the lives of millions of their fellow Americans each year. Among other activities, they:

  • Tutor hundreds of thousands of below-grade-level K-12 students.
  • Mentor hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged youth, including more than 12,000 children of prisoners.
  • Enable tens of thousands of elderly seniors to remain independent in their own homes.
  • Restore thousands of miles of trails, river banks, and beaches in national, state, and local parks.
  • Recruit, train, and manage one million community volunteers through the AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America programs.
  • Provide emergency assistance that allows hundreds of thousands of people to get on with their lives following disasters.

The vital role of national service was illustrated poignantly in the response to last fall’s string of hurricanes in Florida. After the storms hit, Volunteer Florida – one of the 53 Governor-appointed state service commissions – organized what FEMA has called the largest volunteer mobilization movement in our Nation’s history: more than 150,000 volunteers coming to the aid of their neighbors. Helping manage these efforts were more than 3,500 participants in our AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, NCCC, VISTA, and Learn and Serve America programs. They put tarps on damaged roofs, distributed food and water, conducted house-to-house assessments of the needs of isolated seniors, and enlisted additional volunteers in the recovery effort.

To continue this important work, the President is requesting $921 million for Fiscal Year 2006 for the Corporation and its programs. The funds will provide service opportunities for an estimated half million Senior Corps participants; support 75,000 AmeriCorps members, a number that includes all AmeriCorps*State and National, NCCC, and VISTA members; and engage one million students in service-learning activities through Learn and Serve America.

Our Programs and Initiatives

We are grateful for this Committee’s long history of bipartisan support for our three Senior Corps programs: RSVP, which enables more than 450,000 Americans over the age of 55 to meet a wide variety of community needs each year; the Foster Grandparent Program, in which low-income seniors provide one-on-one mentoring to disadvantaged children; and the Senior Companion Program, in which low-income seniors help the frail elderly remain independent in their own homes. This committee has also strongly supported VISTA, which for 40 years has been working to help low-income individuals and communities rise out of poverty.

VISTA today is part of AmeriCorps, a 10-year-old program that encourages individuals 17 and older to make an intensive commitment to service in return for a chance to further their education. In addition to VISTA, AmeriCorps includes:

  • AmeriCorps* State and National, a competitive grantmaking program rooted in the states that has created a dynamic network of more than 1,000 national and local nonprofit grantees that meet critical needs in education, the environment, public safety, and other areas; and
     
  • The National Civilian Community Corps, or NCCC, our team-based residential program for young adults that combines the best aspects of military and civilian service and that allows for rapid response to emergency situations. This year, we will be preparing an assessment of NCCC using the Administration’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART).

The other major program new to this committee is Learn and Serve America, which provides an “on ramp” to a lifetime of civic engagement. More than a million young people each year participate in Learn and Serve-supported service-learning programs that link community service with academic instruction in thousands of schools, colleges, and community-based agencies, with a special emphasis on underserved youth.

A number of smaller existing Corporation grant programs also are new to this committee. They include Next Generation Grants, which provide seed money to help new and startup organizations; Challenge Grants, a “matching grant” program designed to help nonprofit organizations secure previously untapped sources of private funds in order to build sustainable service and volunteer programs; Disability Grants, which support service by people with disabilities; MLK Day of Service Grants, which provide funds to local organizations to sponsor community service projects to honor Dr. King’s legacy; and the Presidential Freedom Scholarship program, which provides scholarships to high school students who have demonstrated exemplary leadership in community service. When taken together, the Corporation’s programs serve as a key catalyst for strengthening communities, meeting needs, and increasing overall levels of volunteering and civic engagement in America.

Guiding Principles

Consistent with the principles of Executive Order 13331 on National and Community Service, in which President Bush last February directed our programs to support and encourage greater engagement of citizens in volunteering, make Federal funds more responsive to State and local needs, make Federal support more accountable and effective, and provide greater assistance to secular and faith-based community organizations, the Corporation has focused its recent efforts on:

  • Strengthening volunteering and civic participation in America. In addition to the nearly 1.6 million people who serve through our programs, we also help nonprofit groups recruit, train, and leverage an additional 1 million community volunteers each year. Corporation programs are the single largest source of support for America’s volunteer connector organizations – the National Volunteer Center Network, the Points of Light Foundation, the Hands On Network, and others. For America’s largest national volunteer-based organizations, like Habitat for Humanity and the American Red Cross, Corporation programs offer the resources and manpower to expand volunteer outreach and to maximize volunteer results. The Corporation is working closely with the Nation’s institutions of higher education to get them to focus more attention and resources on building engaged and active citizens. And through The President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, which presents the President’s Volunteer Service Award to citizens of all ages and backgrounds who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to service, the Corporation is leading the effort to get all Americans to answer the President’s call to service.
     
  • Producing significant benefits for service participants. Some benefits are obvious: Volunteering, especially among seniors, has been shown to have significant mental and physical health benefits, and AmeriCorps members have earned over $1 billion in AmeriCorps Education Awards since 1994 to further their educational and career dreams. In addition, the Corporation is helping all sectors of our society – especially the business and education worlds – to value highly the commitment to service demonstrated by job and university applicants.
     
  • Leveraging effective public-private partnerships to get the most value for the Federal dollar. For the years 2000 through 2003, Corporation grantees collectively raised nearly $1.5 billion in non-Corporation funds as a match to their grants. That amounts to about $360 million a year – 40 percent of our annual appropriation – an extraordinary testament to the value that our programs and grantees are providing to their communities.
     
  • Encouraging participation of diverse organizations, including faith-based and other community organizations. In keeping with the President’s desire to remove barriers to faith-based groups, in Fiscal Year 2004, these organizations received $70.5 million in Corporation resources. In addition, all our programs are reaching out to faith-based groups and congregations as sources of volunteers in such areas as mentoring children of prisoners and helping ex-offenders re-enter their communities. For example, with support from VISTA and Senior Corps, the Amachi Initiative has gone from serving 300 children of prisoners in Philadelphia to serving 2,300 such children in 85 locations. AmeriCorps*VISTA members have also worked closely with Ohio Governor Taft’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative, and similar initiatives in other states, to build capacity. These members build the infrastructure for programs that include helping low-income people save for the future and assisting ex-offenders to successfully re-enter society.

Management Reforms

When I became CEO of the Corporation in December 2003, I stated that my three priorities for the agency were: 1) to rebuild trust and credibility; 2) to manage to accountability; and 3) to focus on our “customers” – that is, the people who participate in our programs and the grantees who run them. Since then, thanks in large part to the active involvement of President Bush and the First Lady, the Congress, our own Board of Directors, and our dedicated staff, we have made significant progress in each of these areas by:

  • Creating higher standards of fiscal, management, and operational integrity by institutionalizing the changes made by the Strengthen AmeriCorps Program Act and implementing other controls to the National Service Trust, which pays AmeriCorps members’ education awards;
  • Strengthening grantee performance measures;
  • Improving all aspects of our grant review process;
  • Improving communications and outreach to all audiences – including Congress, our grantees, program participants, and prospective grantees and participants;
  • Developing new metrics, including setting challenging goals, strategies, and measures for the performance of every office in Corporation, and implementing a results-driven management system for our managers that ties compensation to performance; and
  • Engaging in a year-long rulemaking process to bring a greater degree of predictability, reliability, and long-term sustainability to AmeriCorps while also increasing the leveraging power of Federal funds.

We also continue to work with the National Academy of Public Administration to bolster our management strengths and address our weaknesses, and with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu to improve our business and management processes.

For the past year, however, the Corporation has been operating at the limit of current staffing levels. To maintain the progress we have made in grants oversight and monitoring, information management, and customer service, it is critically important that several key positions that were eliminated in Fiscal Year 2005 be restored. Funding for these positions is included in the President’s Fiscal Year 2006 budget proposal.

2006 Budget Proposal

The Corporation’s Fiscal Year 2006 budget proposal for $921 million is focused primarily on better leveraging our resources to: maintain current levels of participation in our programs; strengthen management, oversight, monitoring, and evaluation of our programs; and strengthen service and volunteering in America.

The requested funding level is approximately $6 million (0.6 percent) below the Fiscal Year 2005 enacted level. In his February 2nd State of the Union Address, the President underscored the need to restrain spending in order to reduce the federal deficit and sustain our economic prosperity. As part of this restraint, it is important that total discretionary and non-security spending be held to levels proposed in the Fiscal Year 2006 Budget. The savings and reforms in the Budget are important components of achieving the President’s goal of cutting the budget deficit in half by 2009, and we urge the Congress to support them.

For Fiscal Year 2006 we are requesting:

  • $219.7 million for our three Senior Corps programs. Senior Corps for many years has demonstrated that America’s seniors are a huge resource to our nation. Some 77 million aging baby boomers represent a vast potential resource of talented, active, and caring volunteers, capable of successfully addressing a wide range of societal needs through service and volunteering. With more than 30 years of experience in recruiting and placing senior volunteers, Senior Corps is on the cutting edge of finding effective ways to capture this huge potential asset. We must start now to find new and better ways to tap their skills – including development of new recruitment strategies for our Senior Corps programs. To that end, the Corporation will target about $925,000 in Senior Corps funds to more effectively engage the growing population of retiring baby boomers in volunteering.

    By program, the request for Senior Corps is as follows:
     
    • $60.3 million for RSVP. The most flexible and largest of the Senior Corps programs in terms of the numbers of volunteers, RSVP provides a wide range of opportunities for senior service. It also can be a key point of entry for baby boomers, especially since it is the only Senior Corps program currently open to those 55 to 59, and the only one without an income-eligibility requirement. We anticipate that this level of funding will enable us to support more than 450,000 RSVP volunteers.
       
    • $112 million for the Foster Grandparent Program. Foster Grandparents are a key factor in addressing a critical challenge facing our Nation: mentoring disadvantaged children, including the two million children of incarcerated parents.
       
    • $47.4 million for the Senior Companion Program. Because of the aging of America, the number of people who need long-term care is expected to increase by 30 percent over the next 10 to 15 years – and then even more dramatically as the baby boomers live out their longer life spans. We know that Senior Companions is an effective model for dealing with this population. A recent evaluation study, for example, found that Senior Companion Program clients had a significantly higher level of life satisfaction and lower level of depression rates than did comparison groups, and that Senior Companions improved family caregivers’ ability to cope with the responsibility of caring for frail senior family members.
       
  • For our three AmeriCorps programs, we are requesting from this Committee $542.9 million to support a total of 75,000 members in service to their communities. AmeriCorps plays a critical role in strengthening the nonprofit and volunteer infrastructure, and effectively builds in its participants a lifelong commitment to volunteering and civic engagement. Our request for AmeriCorps funding includes:
     
    • $275 million for AmeriCorps*State and National Grants. AmeriCorps*State and National, the largest of the three AmeriCorps programs, was intentionally set up as a largely “devolved” system of Federal aid, with roughly three-quarters of all funding awarded to local groups to meet locally determined needs through Governor-appointed state service commissions. The remainder of the funds is distributed through competition directly by the Corporation to national nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. State and National grantees, not the Federal government, choose and oversee the members who will serve with them. We believe that this is an effective way of driving decision making down to the local level, where organizations best know the needs of their communities. Of the 75,000 AmeriCorps members that this budget will support, approximately 67,400 will be part of the AmeriCorps*State and National program.
       
    • $96.4 million for VISTA. With 40 years of experience, VISTA remains on the leading edge of volunteer mobilization and other efforts to build the capacity of organizations to provide needed services and become self sustaining, especially in the poorest American communities. It is also at the forefront of our efforts to reach out to faith-based groups, and to work collaboratively with other Corporation programs. The requested funds will allow VISTA to support more than 6,500 members, who will provide 11.8 million service hours at more than 1,400 anti-poverty projects across the country.
       
    • $25.5 million for NCCC. AmeriCorps*NCCC members, based at one of five regional campuses located across the country, typically are deployed in teams to projects in their regions lasting 6-8 weeks. Trained in First Aid and CPR, these members provide especially valuable assistance during hurricanes, floods, fires, and other natural disasters. The funding level will enable NCCC to support 1,050 members who can be deployed on a moment’s notice to disaster sites and will also pay for $500,000 in campus repairs and other upgrades needed to ensure member health and safety.
       
    • $146 million for the National Service Trust. Each AmeriCorps member who completes his or her term of service is entitled to receive an education award that can be used to pay for their college education or to pay back qualified student loans. For a year of full-time service, the award is $4,725, with lesser awards for part-time service. Trust funds requested for Fiscal Year 2006 will help to open the doors to educational opportunity to 73,200 AmeriCorps members. VISTA members who opt to take an end-of- service stipend instead of the education award make up the remaining 1,800 of our member goal. Most AmeriCorps graduates will use the funds to start at a community or four-year college, or to pay down debt they have already accumulated. Since AmeriCorps was launched in 1994, members have earned more than $1 billion in education awards.
       
  • $40 million for Learn and Serve America. This level will enable us to support approximately 125 K-12, higher education, and community-based grantees – translating into 1,800 local sub-grantees – which will in turn support one million Learn and Serve America students in service-learning activities. Service-learning brings together many youth development strategies – including character education, civic education, career education, and citizenship building – that schools and other youth-serving organizations use to help young people navigate childhood. As research by the nonprofit coalition Independent Sector has shown, engaging in service in childhood is the single strongest predictor of adult volunteer service.

Conclusion

The Corporation’s programs complement other programs funded by this committee, helping to achieve national goals such as improving academic achievement, reaching out to the poor and needy, assisting disadvantaged youth, supporting health services for low-income Americans, meeting teacher shortages, and responding to natural and other emergencies. But the Corporation’s programs are unique in that they engage citizens directly in community problem-solving, which not only helps communities meet local needs, but also instills a lasting sense of civic responsibility in our programs’ participants.

That mission – building active and engaged citizens – has perhaps never been more relevant than it is today. When President Bush took office in 2001, he warned of the high levels of disaffection and civic disengagement in our Nation, and the divisions that set us apart. At the time, he called on all of us to be “citizens, not spectators” – in other words, to take responsibility for solving problems and ensuring the health and well-being of our communities.

The attacks of September 11, in a single terrible instant, brought us together in ways we had not experienced for many years, in part by making us appreciate the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship. At the time, the most common question people asked was: What can I do to help? The President took that opportunity to call on all Americans to serve their communities throughout their lifetimes in order to make our Nation stronger and better, and he created USA Freedom Corps to assist in this effort. Through our programs and initiatives, the Corporation provides opportunities for them to do so, while strengthening nonprofit groups, providing an infrastructure of service and volunteering, and increasing overall levels of volunteering and civic engagement.

Issues of citizenship, democracy, and our responsibility to those least fortunate and most at risk in our society have never carried more import than they do today. As our Nation looks ahead to meeting significant challenges, it is important that as many Americans as possible recognize the duties of citizenship and take responsibility for ensuring the well-being of their communities. The most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics about volunteering in America shows that we have experienced a multi-year climb in volunteering and other forms of civic engagement since September 11, 2001. The Corporation and its programs are a leading force behind this trend. If we can continue to build on this momentum, I believe that the Corporation can effectively open the door to a kind of connectedness and responsible citizenship that America hasn’t experienced for many decades.

 

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