Since 1994, more than 1 million Americans have provided more than 1 billion hours of service through AmeriCorps, helping millions of our most vulnerable citizens. Their contributions to America’s cities and towns are invaluable, yet the White House has proposed to cut all funding for national service programs including AmeriCorps and Senior Corps in its recently released budget blueprint.
Elimination of these essential national service programs would have a devastating impact on our state. Youth and education organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, Louisiana Delta Service Corps, Teach For America, and City Year are fueled by AmeriCorps, recruiting diverse young adults to help improve student outcomes across Louisiana. In this school year alone, AmeriCorps members serve more than 18,600 students in the Greater Baton Rouge area through Teach For America and City Year. AmeriCorps members have also been indispensable in the aftermath of natural disasters, like the August flooding in Baton Rouge, often arriving on day one and staying for the long-haul as residents continue efforts to rebuild devastated communities.
AmeriCorps members not only make an impact on our communities during their years of service, but they go on to successful careers in a wide range of fields. Since 1994, close to 20,000 AmeriCorps members have served in 14 programs across Louisiana, including Teach For America and City Year. Many of these alumni have stayed in education as teachers and principals, fulfilling a need for educators in Baton Rouge as well as some of the more rural communities in south Louisiana. Others now work in many fields that impact public education like law, medicine, and the nonprofit sector, providing critical support to those working to give children an excellent education from inside the classroom.
National service delivers a triple bottom line — helping not only communities but also benefiting the young men and women serving in AmeriCorps and other national service programs, while also strengthening our economy, security and society.
National service is a smart investment. A recent study from economists at Columbia University found that for every dollar the federal government invests in AmeriCorps, nearly $4 is generated in returns to society, through higher earnings, increased productivity and other community benefits.
The total funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers AmeriCorps and other national service programs, is 0.03 percent of the overall federal budget. Unlike most federal grant programs, AmeriCorps requires grantees to leverage the federal investment to secure matching support from private, philanthropic, and local sources. In the case of both Teach For America and City Year, for example, for every dollar in federal funds received, at least $3 is raised from corporate and private philanthropies and the school districts served.
National service offers yet another benefit that should matter to leaders in Louisiana: workforce development. Not only do AmeriCorps programs help attract talent to our state, but they also provide young adults with benefits that prepare them for success in the workforce.
AmeriCorps members also receive an education award of $5,800 upon completion of a year of service, to be used for college tuition or to help pay back student loans — an increasingly important benefit for young people who face soaring costs for higher education.
There will be tremendous pressure on Congress to cut federal spending, but national service is not the place to do it.
Fortunately, national service has overwhelming bipartisan public support. A recent poll shows that 83 percent of voters want the nation’s leaders to maintain or increase the federal investment in national service. It also enjoys strong bipartisan legislative support at both the national — including every president for the past eight decades — and state levels.
When many communities are struggling to fulfill unmet needs, AmeriCorps and other national service programs are low-cost, high-yield solutions that develop the American workforce, build stronger neighborhoods and communities, and empower people to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on the government in the long run. It’s our hope that U.S.Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, along with other members of the Louisiana congressional delegation, offer their support for continued federal investment in service programs that work for Baton Rouge and Louisiana.
Cordell Haymon is the board chair for Teach For America-South Louisiana and the senior vice president of SGS Petroleum Service Corporation. Laura C. Poché is the board chair of City Year Baton Rouge and attorney specializing in estate planning.