DEPARTMENTS OF VETERANS AFFAIRS AND HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT AND INDEPENDENT AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2004-CONTINUED
Mr. SANTORUM. Mr. President, today I rise to speak to an amendment to the VA-HUD, and Independent Agencies appropriations bill which increases the bill's funding for AmeriCorps up to the funding level requested by President Bush in this year's budget. The bill currently includes $340 million in a combined account for AmeriCorps grants, national and state grants, and education awards. My amendment would add $93 million to increase the total to $433 million, the President's budget request. The amendment is paid for by the necessary across-the-board reduction in the bill as a whole. As a part of the USA Freedom Corps initiative, President Bush is committed to providing resources for 75,000 AmeriCorps participants this coming year. Earlier this year, in July, the Senate supported an increase of $100 million in Fiscal Year 2003 funding. Unfortunately, the funding was not ultimately included in the supplemental spending bill to the detriment of many committed community service programs around the country and in Pennsylvania.
Major community service and volunteer programs funded by the Federal Government are authorized under two laws: the National and Community Service Act of 1990, NCSA, and the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, DVSA. The Corporation for National and Community Service, CNCS, an independent Federal agency, generally administers the programs authorized under these laws.
The NCSA and DVSA have not been reauthorized since 1993, with the passage of the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, P.L. 103-82). This measure established: No. 1, the AmeriCorps program; No. 2, CNCS to administer NCSA and DVSA programs; No. 3, a National Service Trust to fund educational awards to AmeriCorps and other community service participants; and No. 4, State commissions on national and community service to receive funding under NCSA. Although authorization for the appropriation of funds for NCSA and DVSA programs expired at the end of fiscal year 1996, funding for the programs has been maintained through annual appropriations legislation. Specifically, NCSA programs are funded through the Veterans Affairs, VA, and Housing and Urban Development, HUD, appropriations bill, while DVSA programs are funded through the Labor, Health and Human Services, HHS, and Education appropriations bill.
AmeriCorps funds are distributed through the following channels: State formula programs, State competitive programs, national grants, and set-asides for Indian tribes. One of the benefits eligible AmeriCorps participants receive is an education award of $4,725 at the end of their service term. As a result of accounting and management complications and reduced funding, the AmeriCorps program expects to fall short of funding the 50,000 available volunteer slots for 2003.
Significant progress continues to be made to improve and reform the AmeriCorps program. Under the leadership of former Senator Harris Wofford and some States, significant steps were taken to improve the management of the AmeriCorps program of the Corporation for National Service, CNS. Les Lenkowsky had a vision to continue that progress and a commitment to community service. I recognize the dedication and contributions of AmeriCorps participants. I also believe that more can be done to improve the effectiveness of AmeriCorps by expanding the opportunities for service and I have previously introduced legislation intended to further that effort. In August 2001, I introduced S. 1352, the AmeriCorps Reform and Charitable Expansion Act. The goal of this legislation was to expand service opportunities through the AmeriCorps program and better equip AmeriCorps volunteers to reach out and serve Americans in low-income communities. We must continue to focus our efforts on serving Americans in our society who are most in need of a helping hand. My bill would have enabled participants to focus their efforts on helping Americans who are often overlooked in our society and help bring about renewal in our low-income communities. The bill would have dramatically increased service opportunities in low-income communities through a voucher system, which would have encouraged AmeriCorps volunteers to choose locations predominantly serving low-income individuals. In addition to increasing the funding, I believe it is important to reauthorize the Corporation for National Service this Congress.
As a significant additional step, on June 18, 2003, Senator KIT BOND of Missouri introduced S. 1276, the Strengthen AmeriCorps Program Act. I cosponsored this bipartisan legislation, which allowed the CNCS to fund education award grants using "conservative estimates" of AmeriCorps volunteer awards. CNCS is expected to enroll nearly 50,000 volunteers in 2003. The bill also provides safeguards for the program by establishing a central reserve fund to guard the Corporation against overenrollment; requiring the Chief Executive Officer to certify that the National Service Trust Fund contains sufficient resources to meet education award liabilities; and requiring an independent audit of the corporation's funding formula. S. 1276 was passed unanimously by the Senate, with my strong support, and was subsequently passed by the House of Representatives the following day. Passage of this legislation was a positive step towards addressing the needs of the AmeriCorps program.
I am disappointed that additional AmeriCorps funds were not ultimately included in the supplemental this year. However, I am pleased that increased funding has been included in both the Senate and House fiscal year 2004 VA-HUD, and Independent Agencies appropriations bill. The House passed this legislation on July 21, and it contains $244 million for the aforementioned grants and education awards. President Bush requested $313.2 million for fiscal year 2004; the amount provided in fiscal year 2003 was $173.9 million.
Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to support this amendment to expand the number of AmeriCorps participants and fully fund the President's request. I also believe that Congress should refocus the program on poverty alleviation efforts, expanded service location options for participants, and placing a greater emphasis on serving charities and the needy communities they serve to enable an even more strategic contribution from this federally supported program for Americans in need.