Committee Democrats Stand Up to Attacks on Community Service, Volunteers

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing in the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development on the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which administers the AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps programs. Since 1994, more than one million individuals have served the nation through AmeriCorps, and earned more than $3 billion in scholarships to help pay for college or pay back student loans.

Since its founding, CNCS has engaged millions of volunteers in national and community service,” said Rep. Susan Davis (CA-53), ranking member of the subcommittee.These volunteers have taught students, been mentors, helped local communities recover from natural disasters, and helped our nation's veterans adjust to civilian life. Beyond that, CNCS has taught generations of Americans about the importance of national service. National service is the only way to ensure an informed, empathetic citizenry and healthy nation. And that is exactly what these volunteers do. In fact, the local partnerships that CNCS supports are so successful that they leverage 15 private dollars for every 10 federal dollars that we invest.”

Last year, 325,000 Americans serving through AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps invested more than 155 million hours of service to their communities at more than 50,000 locations across the nation.

CNCS provides opportunities for individuals to respond to some of the most pressing challenges facing our nation’s communities. Whether it was after Hurricane Katrina, the tornado in Joplin, Missouri, Superstorm Sandy, or the Flint Water Crisis – since its inception, CNCS programs have provided critical support to millions of Americans affected by disaster.

CNCS has a proven monitoring system that works and continues to strengthen its oversight of national service programs. When faced with members who engaged in potentially prohibited activity, CNCS responded quickly and with deliberative action. Rather than focus on the great work that CNCS is doing to build stronger communities across the nation, the Republicans used this hearing to focus on this one incident.

The Majority called this hearing today because of ten total service hours performed by six AmeriCorps members,” added Rep. Davis.That’s 10 hours out of the 155 million hours of service performed last year. CNCS funding last year was $1.01 billion, which means taxpayers gave CNCS $6.51 per hour of service performed. So, the Majority is holding a hearing because THEY believe $65.10 was mismanaged.”

Elizabeth Darling, President and CEO of the Texas OneStar Foundation and OneStar National Service Commission, testified before the Committee about CNCS’ critically important work and the accountability structures within its programs.

Over the past 8 years the sophistication and integrity of OneStar’s grant-making and oversight has matured along with that of CNCS,” Darling said.Many private Texas funders look to OneStar’s portfolio of programs to inform their own grant decisions. They know our grant-making is rigorous from our intensive pre-award vetting and risk assessment to the subsequent monitoring of performance throughout the lifecycle of our grants. With CNCS’ guidance and resources we are engaged in continuous improvement, never satisfied with the status quo. State service commissions truly are the first line of defense in ensuring accountability and good stewardship of these taxpayer dollars.”

Darling also highlighted the impact that Texas OnStar has made on vulnerable populations across the state.

We are named in our state disaster response plan as the point of contact for national service and the coordination of spontaneous volunteers,” she continued.Last year 1,600 AmeriCorps members recruited, trained and managed almost 11,000 volunteers who responded to a series of disasters and are assisting still in ongoing recovery projects including Southeast Texas Flooding, Wimberley Flooding, Memorial Day Flooding, the Hidden Pines Wildfire, Halloween Flooding, North Texas Tornados, the 2015 Van Tornados and the 2013 West Fertilizer explosion. These are not just names of unfortunate events, these are now threads in the fabric of Texas’ history. Texas will soon be home-base to the first RV Senior Corps program deploying Senior Corp volunteers in their motor homes in response to disasters within our 254 county region. Over the past 5 years, the Corporation has mobilized thousands of Senior Corps volunteers and AmeriCorps members throughout the country in response to more than 200 declared disasters, some in your home states and districts.”

This is the important work that CNCS is engaged in nationwide.

There were nearly 75,000 AmeriCorps volunteers across the country, who served nearly 82 million hours at more than 21,000 sites in 2015 – the timeframe Committee Republicans chose to concentrate on. Focusing taxpayer dollars on six volunteers accused of potentially prohibited activity at the community health centers underscores the Majority’s misguided priorities. There is no evidence that volunteers engaging in questionable or prohibited activities is a widespread problem in the AmeriCorps program.

Committee resources should be used to focus on proposals that increase opportunities to serve our communities in meaningful ways – not partisan stunts that provide no effective oversight of the agencies within its jurisdiction.

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