Alaska could lose 116 volunteers

Cuts leave four nonprofit programs searching for ways to continue

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The AmeriCorps programs announced cuts last week that could eliminate all 116 AmeriCorps volunteer positions in Alaska next year, leaving four nonprofit programs in the state that use volunteers searching for ways to continue their services.

"It's just hugely disappointing that this is the way it's gone," said Joe Parrish, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association (SAGA).

The Juneau-based organization he runs could lose funding for 58 AmeriCorps volunteers - teenagers and young adults from Alaska or Outside who spend three, six or 12 months in Alaska serving the state's needy communities.

"It's a huge impact," he said. "Everybody's kind of devastated."

AmeriCorps, a federally funded service organization created by President Clinton in 1993, is made up of three programs: AmeriCorps State and National, Volunteers in Service to America and the National Civilian Community Corps.

The cuts primarily affect the AmeriCorps state competitive program, said Sandy Scott, a spokesman for AmeriCorps. In the program, nonprofit organizations in each state compete to receive an endorsement from that state's community service commission for funding from AmeriCorps.

The projects approved by each state commission then compete in a selection process in the national AmeriCorps organization.

In the round of grants distributed by AmeriCorps on June 18, every AmeriCorps State and National position in the state was cut, said Shannon Planchon, program coordinator for the Alaska State Community Service Commission. The funding cuts total $1.5 million.

In addition to SAGA, AmeriCorps volunteers in Alaska work with the Anchorage-based Rural Community Action Program and two programs under Nine Star Enterprises, a work training program based in Anchorage, Planchon said.

"The biggest thing that we get done with having these people working is ... we get somebody who is giving their undivided attention, 40 hours per week, to serving the community," she said.

In exchange for their service, all AmeriCorps volunteers receive an educational award of $4,725 they can use to pay off student loans for future educational endeavors. That money comes from a National Service Trust, which is administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Part of the reason the state programs will suffer such a drastic cut next year is because the Corporation for National and Community Service allowed more AmeriCorps volunteers to enroll in the program than the fund could cover with educational awards.

"We made a mistake," said Scott. "We approved more positions than we should have last year, and we've taken responsibility, we've fixed it, and we're moving forward."

Congress passed the Strengthen AmeriCorps Program Act last week regulating the use of the National Service Trust, and Scott said the bill should eliminate future mistakes in the fund's administration.

The cuts also reflect a 50,000-volunteer cap Congress imposed on AmeriCorps for next year. Because AmeriCorps had an excess of volunteers from last year, fewer positions can be offered this year to ensure the organization stays below the cap.

But Alaska's AmeriCorps fate for next year is not yet sealed, Scott said.

The grants announced last week, which reflect an 80 percent cut in the number of volunteers in the AmeriCorps State and National Program, will be followed by a second round of grants, he said.

"We already know that there will be some good programs that deserve funding that won't be funded," Scott said. "We're working day and night to maximize the number of people we can support."

He was unable to say when the second round of grants will be distributed.

Volunteers in Service to America positions in the state still will be available, but those volunteers will feel the blow of the National Service Trust mishap as well. Instead of being able to choose between the $4,725 educational award and a $1,200 cash award, VISTA volunteers will receive only the cash award.

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