This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on April 4, 2016.
Today, more than 3,500 mayors, county officials and tribal leaders, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico will participate in the fourth annual Mayor, County, and Tribal Recognition Day for National Service. In a refreshing and rock solid display of bipartisanship, these officials unite to acknowledge the impact national service participants have on their local communities through programs like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
Given the many critical problems facing communities — and the fiscal constraints facing government at all levels — cities and counties have increasingly turned to national service as a cost-effective strategy to meet local needs. Today, local leaders from large cities, small towns, rural areas, and tribal communities will hold events, issue proclamations, participate in service projects and use social media to thank AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers for their valuable impact on critical challenges in communities across the nation.
The Mayor and County Day of Recognition is sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the National League of Cities and Cities of Service. The occasion celebrates the more than five million Americans who serve at over 60,000 locations across the country, tutoring and mentoring struggling students, assisting communities as they recover from natural disasters, supporting military families, improving health and building economic opportunity.
The coordinated day of recognition not only presents a unique opportunity to highlight the key role that national service plays in solving community challenges, it highlights the unprecedented number of local leaders — from all walks of life and political affiliation — who rely on national service. And they’re hardly alone in their support.
A recent poll conducted by TargetPoint Consulting found that 83 percent of voters across nine presidential battleground states want Congress to maintain or increase federal spending on national service programs. This overwhelming support defies party lines, including 78 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Independents, and 90 percent of Democrats surveyed. Perhaps even more telling, this poll also found that almost 30 percent of self-identified “Tea Party” supporters want to see an increase in funding for national service, despite a strong belief in the need to scale back federal spending dramatically. Americans have seen the power of national service in their communities, and know it’s worth the modest federal investment.
So what’s the problem? Last year, Congress threatened to cut funding for CNCS — the small independent federal agency that oversees national service programs such as AmeriCorps and Senior Corps — by more than 30 percent. This would have scaled back AmeriCorps by up to 25,000 positions nationwide, threatened Senior Corps, and ultimately, forced many nonprofit organizations to radically reduce services in the communities that need them most.
Thankfully, the proposed cuts were rejected last year. Instead, Congress passed a significant $40 million increase in federal funding for CNCS, including an unprecedented increase of 15 percent for AmeriCorps.
CNCS programs are a smart investment, particularly because they are based on public-private partnerships that leverage the federal investment to cultivate matching support and maximize impact. Each year, CNCS, its grantees and project sponsors generate more than $1.2 billion in outside resources from businesses, foundations, and other local sources. CNCS programs like AmeriCorps prepare young people for the workforce, increase their employability, build strong neighborhoods and communities, and restore the American values of patriotism and civic duty. What’s more, national service helps tackle student debt, which is critical at at time when college costs are out-of-reach for so many students. (AmeriCorps members earn a college scholarship worth $5,775 in exchange for their service.)
Unfortunately, its groundhog day again on Capitol Hill. As Congress gears up to make decisions about fiscal year 2017 funding, lawmakers are once again threatening to jeopardize communities by cutting funding for CNCS. Just last month, the House Budget Committee once again ignored the overwhelming public support for national service funding and recommended zeroing-out CNCS altogether. Members of Congress should listen to their constituents — including their local mayors, county officials and tribal leaders — and expand national service, not cut it back. It makes good economic sense, good political sense, and good practical sense.