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This week AmeriCorps supporters are rallying in Washington to get taxpayer’s money for the Clinton-created “volunteer” program that pays college students for community service. They are planning 100 hours of non-stop testimony detailing how AmeriCorps “volunteers” are rebuilding communities, assisting the elderly, mentoring children, and rekindling a sense of patriotism—and how none of this good work will happen if they don’t get $100 million more from Congress.
But all this good work will continue if Congress is brave enough to ignore the howls of those crying for more money—and not because AmeriCorps is getting $355 million already this year. Community service existed long before Clinton created AmeriCorps, and will continue long after the government stops funding the program.
AmeriCorps has been plagued by mismanagement and scandal, including a four-day “community service conference” at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for 115 of its highest-paid employees and 27 consultants. But even if it were well-run, it is founded on faulty principles. Supporters assume the federal government is capable of helping those in need. But, the embarrassing track record of welfare, which in the past 30 years has cost over $8.3 trillion, yet left 33 million people still living in poverty, suggests otherwise. Supporters of AmeriCorps, with Clinton-esque arrogance, also believe the government program is necessary to teach young people the value of national service. What it really teaches is the expectation of getting paid to help others. It teaches that charity comes from the government, not from the heart.
Luckily, AmeriCorps wasn’t around to teach today’s adults, who are the most generous people on earth, this perverse version of morality. While AmeriCorps pays college students to “volunteer” to help the needy, millions of others, driven by a sense of duty and compassion, rather than a dollar-wrapped carrot and government-held stick, quietly give their time and money to improve the lives of others. Eighty-five percent of adult Americans gave $212 billion to charity in 2000—with no expectation of reward or recognition, and no training from AmeriCorps on the value of service. Fifty percent of adult Americans performed 15.5 billion hours of volunteer work valued at $239 billion—again, with no training from AmeriCorps. And that doesn’t even count informal help to family and neighbors.
That’s $451 billion per year given to charity. Still, AmeriCorps supporters berate us with their arrogant claim that, if they don’t get $100 million to pay college students to “volunteer” then community service in America will be dealt a deadly blow.
Many AmeriCorps members work in schools, and we are told these schools will have to go without important and necessary help if AmeriCorps isn’t given the extra loot. Since when can schools only properly function when supplied with federally paid college students from a separate federal organization?
Many founders and presidents of community service organizations who get government-paid workers through AmeriCorps are telling Congress that their groups will suffer terribly if the bucks don’t roll in to AmeriCorps. This is no surprise—they’ve tasted the sweet nectar of effortless government money, and want more, more, more.
We are also told that, without more money for AmeriCorps, many young people looking for outlets for their desires to help others will have no place to turn. Assuming that this is accurate, which means no one has ever heard of the Boy’s Club, or Big Brother/Big Sister, or the YMCA or knows where to find a church, synagogue, or mosque, the government could provide the contact information to private organizations for a lot less than the $355 million AmeriCorps costs by simply setting up a web site.
Although, VolunteerMatch.org, with no government money, 25,410 registered organizations, a search-by-zip-code option, 30,009 current opportunities, and 1,266,622 referrals since 1998, already does this.
AmeriCorps supporters are right that more money would enable more to be done to help the needy—but that money should go directly from the generous givers to the charities of their choice, not though Washington, via the IRS.
Rather than coming to Washington to beg for money, the passionate, and compassionate but misguided supporters of AmeriCorps should come to Washington to demand that the government-erected barriers to private giving be torn down. At no cost to the taxpayer, nor to the government, Congress could provide a substantial boost to charities by making giving—and helping—hassle-free. Getting rid of the red tape that increases money spent on administration would immediately free up more money to be spent directly on those in need. That would be a national service.