Among the recommendations in the Trump administration’s first budget is a proposal to shut down the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps and Senior Corps and provides vital funding, research and guidance for thousands of state and local programs, including Habitat for Humanity, City Year, Jumpstart, Minnesota Reading Corps, Meals on Wheels, and many more across the country.
Over the last two decades, CNCS has enabled hundreds of thousands of Americans to provide crucial support to literally millions of their fellow citizens. Shuttering it today would be not only fiscally unsound but socially irresponsible.
From a sheer “dollars and cents” perspective, CNCS is one of the best bargains in the federal government. Its entire allocation is about .0004 percent of the total federal budget — but it leverages far more.
One major Columbia University study demonstrated that for every federal dollar invested in national service, Americans see nearly four times the return in higher earnings, increased output, and other community-wide benefits. In 2015 alone, CNCS leveraged more than $1.3 billion in additional funding to support vital local programs. To put that in perspective: For every dollar we give CNCS, it gives us back $1.25.
Unfortunately, our personal experience, and that of many others, suggests that many of those advocating for the department’s closure are actually unaware of what it does; that so many programs and services in their home states and districts are actually funded and/or run by CNCS. Many times over, members of Congress have been surprised to learn that so many of the local service programs that are essential to the fabric of their communities are actually a part of the CNCS portfolio.
Whether it be Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers, who called AmeriCorps “an indispensable resource,” New Jersey Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenBottom line Republican lobbying firms riding high despite uncertainty of 2020 race Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm MORE, who spent a portion of the most recent Martin Luther King Day at a Retired Senior Volunteer Program in his District, or many others, all too often those members most moved by what they see are unaware of the vital role CNCS plays.
Ask the hundreds of thousands of students in underserved, rural and urban schools that benefit from additional teaching resources, both full-time (through programs like Teach for America) and part-time (through Jumpstart, City Year, and many more). Ask the hundreds of thousands of disaster survivors who have witnessed the huge teams of AmeriCorps ”second responders” who arrive in the immediate aftermath to repair their homes and rebuild their communities. Ask the thousands of low-income seniors who received free tax preparation support from AmeriCorps members and saved an estimated $100 million as a result.
Better yet, just take one hour to visit any of the thousands of schools or community centers across the nation benefitting from CNCS programs. There, you will see, and you will feel, the outsized impact of this tiny federal agency.
Those impressions will mirror those of almost every one of their colleagues, from both parties. People such as Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor and RNC Chairman, who has repeatedly and emotionally described the ways AmeriCorps helped “rebuild a stronger and better Mississippi” in the aftermath of Katrina.
The proposal to shut down CNCS and all of its programs comes at a uniquely terrible time. Extensive research, much of it pioneered by Harvard’s Robert Putnam (author of “Bowling Alone”) and repeatedly buttressed by other studies, conclusively demonstrates that service greatly enhances one’s propensity to civic engagement.
Given the frightening levels of vitriol and division across the nation, has there ever been a time when it has been more important to do all we can to foster more lifelong civic engagement and enhanced civility? Has there ever been a time when we need to support programs that bring together people from vastly different backgrounds, cultures, and age groups? Has there ever been a time when failing to do so would be more irresponsible?
To those who say this is not the government’s job: You are misguided and mistaken. It is very much the job of the government to set the tone, to lead the way, to send the right messages. Moreover, it is very much the job of government to "walk the talk;" to promote and support initiatives that strengthen our democracy and our communities. It is very much the job of government to help unite us all, regardless of race, gender, or political persuasion, around a common purpose.
Shutting down CNCS now will send just the opposite signal. And any way you cut it that is the wrong message at the wrong time.
Stan Soloway, CEO of Celero Strategies, served on the bipartisan Board of Directors of CNCS from 2007 to 2012 and is a former deputy undersecretary of defense; Sonya Soloway directs a university-based literacy program.
The views of the contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.