Volunteer groups rally to save grants

A coalition of volunteer service groups has banded together to fight House-approved budget cuts to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

Groups including the American Red Cross, City Year and Teach for America plan to have their volunteers and former members flood Senate offices with phone calls Tuesday against the House Republicans’ budget plan for the rest of fiscal 2011. That plan would have cut $61 billion and eliminated funding for the CNCS. 

The government agency is the largest source of federal grant dollars for volunteer service. If the CNCS were to end, the groups say, many organizations would have to cut back on their services, if not close their doors, leading to job losses across the country.

The coalition behind the lobbying effort, SaveService in America, is made up of three smaller service group coalitions — America Forward, Service Nation and Voices for National Service. The larger coalition formed earlier this month as group leaders realized that the new Congress was likely to reduce or eliminate CNCS funding. 

“A lot of us started to put our heads together on strategy. We realized that we needed to come together,” said 

AnnMaura Connolly, president of Voices for National Service.

Connolly, who is serving as campaign director for the SaveService coalition, said lawmakers have a mistaken impression of what volunteer service groups do and fail to realize how important they are to their constituents.

“It’s not a bunch of government bureaucrats running around in T-shirts. It’s really ordinary citizens diving in to solve the most pressing problems in their communities,” Connolly said. “We thought if we joined forces, we can get that message across to the lawmakers.”

In the House Republicans’ legislation, the CNCS would see its funding cut by $1.15 billion this year. That would essentially eliminate the government agency.

The Corporation has been under fire since Republicans took control of the House. In a spending plan announced in January, the Republican Study Committee, the conservative GOP House caucus, included cuts to the CNCS in its proposal in order to reduce $2.5 trillion in government spending over the next 10 years.

The House GOP spending plan failed to move forward in the Senate last week. Senate Democrats’ own plan included funding for the CNCS, but that also failed to pass, leading to another impasse on funding the government.

The Service groups have ramped up their lobbying efforts since CNCS’s funding landed on the chopping block.

By Monday morning, Connolly said the coalition had almost 1,000 pledges from people to call into congressional offices Tuesday to lobby against the budget cuts, and she expected participation to grow. 

In addition, more than 100 mayors are sending a letter to all lawmakers Tuesday opposing cuts to the government agency. Prominent executives such as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are expected to sign the letter.

That follows a letter last week from private-sector CEOs who likewise support funding for the agency. In their letter to lawmakers, they said if the CNCS were eliminated, close to 150,000 jobs could be lost, as well as almost 5 million volunteer positions.

Connolly said she expected university presidents would weigh in before the end of this week with a similar letter in support of the CNCS. 

“A lot of new folks who are still getting the lay of land, I think they will be surprised by what groups they will be hurting with these cuts,” Connolly said. Volunteerism is “like a Swiss army knife. It solves problems, builds skills and creates jobs.”

- This article was corrected at 10:09 a.m. to reflect that the American Red Cross is a member of the SaveService in America coalition. Another service group was inaccurately listed as a member in the original story.