AmeriCorps is a government-funded public-service network that was formally launched when President Bill Clinton signed the 1993 National and Community Service Trust Act, thereby establishing the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). CNCS administers AmeriCorps and seeks “to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.” From its inception, AmeriCorps incorporated two existing national service programs: the VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program that President Lyndon Johnson established in 1964, and the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), a volunteer network engaging in environmental and social-welfare projects.
Membership in AmeriCorps is open to all U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents age 17 and older. Each AmeriCorps member works a 10- to 12-month stint with a nonprofit group, public agency, or faith-based organization that participates in the AmeriCorps program. These entities range in size from small community groups to influential, nationally known federations. Among the tasks on which AmeriCorps members work are the following:
AmeriCorps members are paid workers, not volunteers. They may elect to serve either full or part time during their 10- to 12-month tours of duty; full-time members receive an allowance of approximately $11,800 per year. Moreover, upon completing their period of service they receive either an Education Award of up to $5,350 which can be used to pay for college or to pay off student loans, or $1,200 in cash.
Financed by the federal government, AmeriCorps funnels taxpayer dollars into the coffers of selected nonprofit organizations, which in turn use that money to pay the young people who register for a term of service with them. The recipients of AmeriCorps grants tend to be organizations whose politics fall on the left side of the spectrum, and whose efforts are focused on such projects as environmental activism, social-welfare programs, legal-aid assistance, political activism, teacher-education programs, community-organizer training, public health initiatives, childcare services, and ethnic-identity politics. Among the more notable recipients of AmeriCorps funding is the National Council of La Raza.
As Newsmax.com’s Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler has observed, AmeriCorps members have traditionally “been put to work to promote the causes of Democrats, such as lobbying against the ‘three-strikes’ anti-crime legislation in California or for expanding housing subsidies and rent control.”
AmeriCorps consists of three main programs: AmeriCorps National and State, AmeriCorps VISTA, and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC):
As of mid-2009, AmeriCorps had nearly 75,000 active members. In fiscal year 2006, the organization’s budget, funded by U.S. taxpayers, was $525.6 million. Beyond that, AmeriCorps leverages more than $200 million annually in matching funds from non-government sources to support its activities.
In March 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 321 to 105 in favor of a $6 billion piece of legislation to more than triple the size of the AmeriCorps program — from 75,000 positions to 250,000 — over an eight-year period. Also in March, the Senate voted 74 to 14 in favor of a similar, $5.7 billion bill co-sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy and Orrin Hatch. President Barack Obama signed a compromise measure into law in April 2009. The new legislation increased the value of the AmeriCorps Education Award from $4,725 to $5,350.
Noting that with the passage of the foregoing bill “the federal civilian workforce is being increased by more than 13 percent,” Ronald Kessler wrote:
“Under the guise of promoting volunteerism, President Obama and congressional Democrats have created a massive government program that will push their agenda…. [C]ontrary to Obama’s claim that the program will promote volunteerism, it is in fact another massive government employment program…. By putting a vast army of young people on the government payroll, the Democrats are expanding their reach by teaching the young that government is the answer to every problem. Instead of giving young people an incentive to help others through the free enterprise system or though genuine charity work, Obama and congressional Democrats are creating a make-work boondoggle that will further their control over the political process.”
Republican Senator Jim DeMint, chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, said: “We’re talking about a government program that will hire a quarter of a million, supposedly as volunteers that we pay. That will be the 14th largest employer in the country, assuming the federal government can actually manage this thing.”
In April 2009, Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota said:
“It’s under the guise of — quote — volunteerism. But it’s not volunteers at all. It’s paying people to do work on behalf of government…. I believe that there is a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concern is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums.”
Matthew Spalding, director of the Center of American Studies at the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank), says: “We need to separate voluntary service — which we strongly support — and service that is sponsored and instituted by the government. That’s something very different and something that, in our opinion, we need to oppose.”
AmeriCorps has a history of fiscal chaos. In 2003 the organization lost track of how many people it had enlisted into its program, and of how much money was available to finance the stipends its members had been promised. During a Committee on Appropriations hearing that spring, Democrat Senator Barbara Mikulski referred to AmeriCorps as the “Enron of nonprofits.” In June of that year, AmeriCorps announced that it had only enough funds to pay half of its members.
AmeriCorps’ financial improprieties brought immense disrepute to the organization in June 2009, when the Barack Obama White House fired AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin. The firing occurred in response to the fact that top executives inside the Corporation for National and Community Service — the organization that runs AmeriCorps — were angry about Walpin’s recent probe into the misuse of AmeriCorps funds. Specifically, Walpin had discovered that the “Saint Hope” program headed by Sacramento, California mayor Kevin Johnson — a prominent supporter of President Obama — had failed to use AmeriCorps federal grant money for its intended purposes; in some cases, the funds had been used to pay for such things as “driving [Johnson] to personal appointments, washing his car, and running personal errands.” Based upon these findings, Walpin recommended that Johnson and Saint Hope be barred from receiving any further federal grants. Moreover, Walpin had just completed an investigation into extensive misuse of AmeriCorps money by the organization’s largest program, located at the City University of New York. Walpin’s firing was in violation of a law that is supposed to protect the inspector general from influence by political appointees and the White House.
In early 2011, the federal gvernment actively recruited AmeriCorps VISTA workers to help as many people as possible apply for, and receive, federal food-stamp benefits. These workers were instructed, for example, to train church members to apply for food stamps after religious services; to encourage eligible families to enroll their children in government-subsidized school-meal programs; to encourage organizations that operate day-care or after-school programs to pursue reimbursement for meals and snacks through the Child and Adult Care Food Program, a federally funded, state-run welfare program; and to urge churches to serve as feeding sites for the Summer Food Service Program, also a federally funded, state-run welfare project.
AmeriCorps has longstanding ties to ACORN. According to a congressional report, “AmeriCorps members of [ACORN Housing Corporation] raised funds for ACORN, performed voter registration activities [for ACORN], and gave partisan speeches. In one instance, an AmeriCorps member was directed by ACORN staff to assist the [Clinton] White House in preparing a press conference in support of legislation.”
In March 2013 it was reported that AmeriCorps’ VISTA program — geared towards high school students “in schools and districts serving low-income families” — had published a series of suggestions designed to raise white students’ awareness of the many “privileges” they enjoyed as a result of being white in a profoundly racist society. Among those suggestions were the following: