Congress Misses AmeriCorps’ 20th Birthday

AmeriCorps turned 20 on September 12th. To celebrate, the agency had an immensely successful Thunderclap campaign that reached over 51 million people on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. It was the 4th most popular Thunderclap campaign so far.

Now I’m an old dog still learning new social media tricks so I didn’t know what a Thunderclap campaign was until even I participated with a tweet and a political commentary:

Happy Birthday AmeriCorps! Thanks for 20 years #GettingThingsDone. Time Congress funded more of you! #AmeriCorps20

Congress, however, did nothing.

Hopefully, theThunderclap campaign was just a warm-up for a 2015 commemoration of 50 years of national service to fight poverty in America since the founding in 1965 of VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America. In 1993, VISTA was incorporated into the AmeriCorps network of programs by the Clinton administration. During the Carter years, VISTA and the Peace Corps were part of the ACTION network.

In the late '70s, I had the opportunity to direct a three-year national VISTA grant. We may have been the last contract in the first year of the Reagan administration with 60 VISTAs deployed in 26 communities across the country. When it became apparent that VISTA would no longer get the same level of support, let alone be approved for community development assignments, a few of our VISTAs started to organize their farewell with T-shirts printed: VISTAs Are Not Lost. They’re Missing in ACTION.


On August 31st, The New York Times Editorial Board called the funding change Broken Promises on National Service:

“… as the nation’s main public service program in those two decades, it has benefited numerous communities and given 900,000 Americans a chance to help people. Unfortunately, that milestone is also a reminder of Washington’s broken promise to expand substantially the number of full- and part-time AmeriCorps members, who receive minimal living expenses and a modest education stipend—now $5,645 a year for full-time service….This year, fewer than 80,000 positions were funded; the goal is 200,000.”

A week later, on September 7th, a New York Times article by Jonathan Weisman, “Light Pre-Election Schedule in Congress Matches Legislative Goals,” noted: “Discounting the days with a late start or an early ending, Congress may have just four full workdays over the next nine weeks.”

Every day AmeriCorps volunteers make a powerful impact on the most critical issues facing our nation. Congress? Not so much.

While celebrating AmeriCorps' 20th birthday and successes, we should reflect on the 50 years of fighting poverty that is even more essential today, yet remains another unsatisfied promise by a Congress lost in its own dysfunction.


Photo: FEMA/Patsy Lynch 

Ted Wysocki is CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs-USA and founder of U2Cando Consulting. Previously, Ted was CEO of the Local Economic & Employment Development Council, now North Branch Works, and CEO of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations (CANDO). Ted is also a director emeritus of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.


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