How Federal Funding Cuts Could Impact Milwaukee's School Volunteer Community

Mar 16, 2017

There’s a lot of talk coming out of Washington these days, about what will change under the new presidential administration -- immigration, health care and international trade, to name a few. 

But many smaller programs also face imminent change – including domestic projects that rely on federal funds.

One of those projects is AmeriCorps, a public service work program for young people. The national initiative provides opportunities for nonprofit and community-based organizations to "employ" service members in areas of work throughout their local communities. Nonprofits apply to the federal government to contract registered AmeriCorps members for a specific term of service.  

Recent reports say the Trump administration has considered cutting AmeriCorps' funding from the national budget.

That could impact the reach of some service organizations right here in Milwaukee. The city is home to a number of active -- and growing -- volunteer groups, including Teach for America, City Year and College Possible

"This [funding] is really crucial for how our program works," says College Possible Milwaukee program director Kelly Schaer. "Is it possible that it would really create some major gaps for agencies? Absolutely."

The nonprofit College Possible pairs academic “coaches” with low-income students hoping to get to and through college. The organization relies on AmeriCorps for much of the funding to fulfill its mission.

Through its national AmeriCorps grant, College Possible receives funding to go toward each 'Corps member's living stipend -- about $12,000 per member. Grant money also funds an "education award" -- approximately $5,000 in federal money given to each member upon successful completion of his or her term of service. Members often use that award to pay off student loans, or put toward continuing education opportunities.

"That can be a huge benefit...and it really speaks a lot about education, and how important it is for everyone to continue developing themselves," Schaer adds. 

Schaer says College Possible has contingency plans in place, should the feds pull the plug on AmeriCorps funding. But she's aware that not all organizations are in the same boat.

"I think AmeriCorps is a wonderful opportunity to have that first job...and also have that opportunity to give back to your community."

"I'm not sure what that [loss] would do for others," she says, "but I can speak to College Possible. We know, no matter what, we're going to continue serving our students."

Ben Rangel is an AmeriCorps member serving his second 10-month "term of service," as a College Possible coach at Milwaukee's Pulaski High School. 

Rangel had never heard of AmeriCorps before he applied to work with College Possible -- he wanted an opportunity to serve with the organization after meeting representatives as a college student at UW-Madison. And he says had AmeriCorps not been an option, his current position might never have been an option.

"After college, a lot of my peers were like, 'what do I do now?'" Rangel muses. "I think AmeriCorps is a wonderful opportunity to have that first job, that first experience after college graduation, and also have that opportunity to give back to your community." 

Nationwide, AmeriCorps engages more than 80,000 Americans in service positions each year. 

As a portion of federal spending, AmeriCorps is a relatively small line item. In 2017,  the feds allotted $1.1 billion to the Corporation for National and Community Service -- the federal agency that runs AmeriCorps. That accounts for less than one-third of a percent of the total $3.9 trillion national budget.