Government Shutdown Will Impact Millions of Service Volunteers

Print Share on LinkedIn More

 FundingLapse FeatureWell 1

October 2, 2013; KTVN


The Corporation for National and Community Service engages millions of Americans in service through national service initiatives, and the government shutdown is putting many of these programs and AmeriCorps members in limbo—leaving members unsure of when they will receive living stipends or when CNCS will be able to provide assistance to organization grantees.

CNN has published a thorough breakdown of the impact on all federal programs. The entry for the Corporation for National and Community Service states:

Its core programs are Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and the Social Innovation Fund. Previously awarded grants and cooperative agreements will not be affected by the absence of current appropriations. However, no new grants will be awarded during this period and program and grants staff will not be available to provide assistance to grantees.

The AmeriCorps website, which members use to monitor their service, send in requests for reimbursement on student loan interest, and to process the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award received at the end of their service, is currently down. Any members looking to use their education award or to pay off loan interest will most likely need to wait until the website is back up and fully functioning again.

KTVN spoke with AmeriCorps volunteer Ray Eliot, who is a VISTA member with the Reno Bike Project in Nevada. “There’s been some frustration and a lot of vistas are in a similar situation, where we don’t have a lot of money,” Eliot said. “A lot of us are living day-by-day, paycheck-by-paycheck, and if there’s an interruption in that, that can really screw a lot of us over.” VISTA AmeriCorps members are given stipends that accrue to $11,490 a year and are not allowed to have another job during their year of service. Program Director Tony Wadas also said Eliot’s position ends in a month, and the process of hiring a new AmeriCorps member may be delayed, since applications for VISTA projects are handled through CNCS offices.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a nonprofit called Our House relies on AmeriCorps VISTA members to coordinate 77,000 meals a year, as well as assisting with volunteer services, children’s programs and their adult education center. Our House is reaching out to the community for help so AmeriCorps members can continue their hard work, asking if “people will donate gas cards or grocery store cards or make a financial donation that we can pass along to help these young people who they themselves are here to help.”

CNCS’s “Plan for Agency Operations in the Absence of Appropriations,” indicates that 95 percent of staff will be furloughed—but all FEMA Corps, AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, and AmeriCorps VISTA members will continue serving with organizations and accumulate living stipends during the gap in funding. AmeriCorps NCCC is also scheduled to have a new round of members sent to Denver and Sacramento bases to begin their service training the second week in October. The action plan also states that NCCC “members will receive lodging and subsistence but will not be deployed to perform new service projects.”

Social Capital Inc. is also beginning to feel the impact from the shutdown. Social Capital is a Massachusetts nonprofit that places AmeriCorps members with host sites serving low-income communities across Eastern Massachusetts. The program has been given preliminary approval to be awarded two extra AmeriCorps slots by the Massachusetts Service Alliance and has already interviewed and accepted applicants, yet the final step to amend the grant at the federal CNCS level cannot happen until the government agency is running again. NPQ spoke with David Crowley, the president and founder of the organization, who said, “This is one small but significant example of the impact the shutdown has. We have two people eager to serve their community through AmeriCorps, but will not be able to do so until this is resolved. Chances are if this continues to drag on, these individuals will need to try to find other opportunities.”

On their website, AmeriCorps states the program “engages more than 80,000 Americans in intensive service each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies, and community and faith-based groups across the country.” AmeriCorps members serving with organizations are highly valued, as any other staff member is. If the government shutdown continues, it will be detrimental to hundreds of nonprofits across the nation that depend on these volunteers to function.—Aine Creedon