For the third consecutive year, President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal, released Monday, would eliminate the federal agency tasked with leading service and volunteering programs like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
Trump is the first president who has sought to get rid of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) since the agency’s inception in 1993. According to the coalition group Voices for National Service, which spoke to officials at the agency about this year’s budget, the elimination falls under the president’s proposed $2.7 trillion in cuts to non-defense spending over the next 10 years.
CNCS, which operates on a $1.08 billion budget, mobilizes millions of volunteers and delivers grants to nonprofit organizations to address critical community needs, such as tutoring and mentoring, disaster relief, and opioid addiction support.
“I don’t really know the thinking that went into this,” AnnMaura Connolly, the president of Voices for National Service, told ThinkProgress. “I think that the Corporation for National and Community Services is probably getting swept up into a broader debate about fiscal priorities.”
Connolly pointed out that CNCS also requires private sector investment, funding which would be lost if Trump’s budget advances.
“Over a billion dollars in non-federal private source funding is leveraged by the funding that the corporation invests in nonprofits to run these programs and all of that would also disappear,” Connolly added. “So communities would be losing not only the federal investment, but all of the non-federal investment, the private donations and funding.”
Despite Trump’s repeated attempts to eliminate CNCS, the agency enjoys broad bipartisan support across Congress. Last year, Congress ended up increasing funding to the agency by nearly $19 million.
Still, Connolly says advocates are concerned.
“It is a challenge for a couple reasons. One, because sequestration is back and unless they arrive at a budget deal, non-defense discretionary programs are going to take a very big hit across the board,” she said. “But also, in these times, when there are so many messages and so much noise, we have to make sure that our folks on the ground are communicating with their members of Congress.”
“We can never take for granted that somehow, miraculously, this will all come out okay in the wash,” she added.
And there’s a lot at stake. AmeriCorps invests in such nonprofits as the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and Teach for America. Members also assist veterans with seeking employment and help rebuild communities after natural disasters. Senior Corps volunteers tutor and mentor students, assist the elderly, and provide support during disasters.
“Hundreds of thousands of kids would go without tutors and mentors and role models and folks making sure that they are succeeding in school,” Connolly said. “There would be lots of folks suffering from the opioid addiction crisis who would not be getting the services they need to be able to turn things around …I shudder to think what will happen if there’s a natural disaster and the first boots on the ground are often AmeriCorps members.”
Trump’s move to do away with the agency is a break with tradition from past presidents who have elevated service and volunteer programs to address “all sorts of things from generational poverty to natural disasters to the opioid epidemic,” Connolly said. Former president Richard Nixon created Senior Corps, Bill Clinton helped bring AmeriCorps to fruition, and Jimmy Carter established Habitat for Humanity.
Furthermore, eliminating CNCS would hurt not only the communities that benefit from service work, but also those doing the work. For instance, many AmeriCorps members rely on the program to help pay for higher education, as AmeriCorps offers students nearly $5,000 in aid for one year of service.
It is unlikely that Congress will advance this provision of Trump’s budget, but Connolly said advocates are still “taking this threat seriously.”
“I think there’s a lot at stake here,” she said. “I’m not discounting this budget. I think we do that at our peril.”