Obama, Congress Flunk National-Service Test

President brags about “boldest expansion” of a program that hasn’t grown (thanks mostly to the GOP).

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) presents the first pen to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) after signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act at an event at The SEED Public Charter School April 21, 2009 in Washington, DC. The bill intends to more than triple the AmeriCorp volunteers to over 250,000 in the United States costing taxpayers roughly a billion dollars a year, over the next five years.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
April 21, 2014, 12:27 p.m.

With the au­da­city to over­reach, Pres­id­ent Obama com­mem­or­ated the fifth an­niversary of the bi­par­tis­an Ed­ward M. Kennedy Serve Amer­ica Act on Monday by call­ing it “the bold­est ex­pan­sion of op­por­tun­it­ies to serve our com­munit­ies and our coun­try since the cre­ation of Ameri­Corps.”

He’s wrong. Na­tion­al-ser­vice ad­voc­ates, in­clud­ing Demo­crats oth­er­wise loy­al to Obama, say the law has got­ten little more than lip ser­vice from the White House — and far less than that from House Re­pub­lic­ans.

In fact, both the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and Con­gress re­ceived fail­ing grades Monday in a re­port by Ser­vi­ceNa­tion and Voices for Na­tion­al Ser­vice, two groups ad­voc­at­ing for pro­grams that sup­port vo­lun­teer­ism and com­munity ser­vice.

This must be what Obama con­siders to be bold and ex­pan­ded:

  • From 2010 to 2013, the num­ber of people serving the na­tion through Ameri­Corps de­clined by nearly 18,000 be­cause of a lack of fund­ing from Wash­ing­ton, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.
  • This year, des­pite soar­ing num­ber of ap­plic­ants for Ameri­Corps po­s­i­tions, few­er than 80,000 na­tion­al-ser­vice mem­bers are serving. That is 120,000 short of the law’s goal for 2014.

The 2009 act au­thor­ized the growth of Ameri­Corps from 75,000 po­s­i­tions in 2008 to 250,000 by 2017. That pledge ap­pears un­at­tain­able, giv­en the res­ist­ance of Re­pub­lic­ans to sup­port na­tion­al ser­vice and Obama’s in­ab­il­ity to over­come the GOP.

“As we cel­eb­rate this an­niversary,” Obama wrote in a let­ter to na­tion­al-ser­vice ad­voc­ates Monday, “let us re­com­mit to ful­filling its prom­ise.” One re­cip­i­ent, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied, emailed me a copy of the let­ter and scoffed, “You can’t re­com­mit to something that’s nev­er been com­mit­ted to.”

Za­ck Maur­in, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Ser­vi­ceNa­tion, put it more dip­lo­mat­ic­ally. “Con­gress and the White House need to make good on their prom­ise,” he said. “The mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion is des­per­ate for op­por­tun­it­ies to work and gain ex­per­i­ence, while com­munit­ies across the coun­try need help tu­tor­ing and ment­or­ing strug­gling stu­dents, re­build­ing after nat­ur­al dis­asters, and help­ing people climb out of poverty.”

The law, named in hon­or of Sen. Ed­ward Kennedy, an ad­voc­ate for na­tion­al ser­vice who died in 2009, builds upon the legacies of Pres­id­ents John­son, Nix­on, George H.W. and George W. Bush, and Clin­ton, each of whom played a role in de­vel­op­ing the mod­ern-day na­tion­al-ser­vice sys­tem. While Obama’s im­me­di­ate pre­de­cessor grew Ameri­Corps by 50 per­cent, the pro­gram has flat­lined un­der the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The re­port lays most of the blame on Re­pub­lic­ans, not­ing that House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an has called re­peatedly for the elim­in­a­tion of na­tion­al-ser­vice fund­ing. But it also cri­ti­cizes Obama for fin­ess­ing the num­bers in an at­tempt to dis­guise the lack of pro­gress.

I’ve writ­ten pre­vi­ously about the many Demo­crats who be­lieve the pres­id­ent has not fought Re­pub­lic­ans hard enough on be­half of Ameri­Corps. In their re­port re­leased Monday, the two ad­vocacy groups is­sued a re­port card grad­ing Wash­ing­ton’s lead­ers, with an “A” awar­ded in three areas: fo­cus­ing na­tion­al ser­vice to­ward the na­tion’s greatest needs; de­vel­op­ing in­ter­agency part­ner­ships that take ad­vant­age of na­tion­al-ser­vice pro­grams; and steer­ing ser­vice mem­bers to­ward na­tion­al dis­aster re­lief.

In ad­di­tion to the fail­ure to ex­pand the pro­gram, an “F” grade was is­sued against the goals of in­creas­ing ser­vice op­por­tun­it­ies for older Amer­ic­ans and en­han­cing ser­vice-lead­ing op­por­tun­it­ies for the young.

“This re­port high­lights a lead­er­ship op­por­tun­ity for Con­gress and the ad­min­is­tra­tion to step up and make good on the prom­ise made five years ago to ex­pand and strengthen na­tion­al ser­vice,” said An­nMaura Con­nolly, pres­id­ent of Voices for Na­tion­al Ser­vice.

(Cour­tesy of Ser­vi­ceNa­tion)

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