This post originally appeared in The Huffington Post on December 21, 2015.
Something important happened in Washington, D.C. last week. Our nation’s legislators reached across the aisle and passed a landmark budget bill that includes a significant expansion of national service programs that will directly benefit communities across the country.
The budget bill increases funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service by $40 million, including a significant increase of $51 million (or 15 percent) for AmeriCorps, maintains current funding for Senior Corps, and continues the vital work of the Social Innovation Fund to support creative, proven solutions to pressing challenges. This means we can continue to tap our nation’s most valuable resource – the talent and energy of our citizens – and put “boots on the ground” to strengthen education from preschool through college, help communities recover and rebuild after natural disasters, support veterans and military families, combat poverty, assist seniors in independent living, and build economic opportunity across the country.
Senators and Representatives from both parties played important roles in protecting, and in some cases expanding, funding for national service programs, underscoring the strong bipartisan support for the idea that citizens should be at the center of solving the pressing problems facing our communities. We’re grateful particularly to Labor-HHS Subcommittee Chairs Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Tom Cole and Ranking Members Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rosa DeLauro – as well as to the Appropriations Committee leadership who helped make this possible, including Senators Barbara Mikulski and Thad Cochran, and Representatives Hal Rogers and Nita Lowey. This would not have happened without them, or without the thousands of national service supporters who weighed in with their members of Congress.
In today’s climate, preserving funding levels is a big win – especially in light of the fact that just a few months ago, we faced a devastating 34 percent cut to national service programs. But we have work ahead to restore cuts to the Social Innovation Fund and put Senior Corps programs on a path toward growth again. That is our mission in 2016.
We must redouble our efforts to scale the investment in national service. We still have a long way to go to improve communities, impact lives, and unite the nation. Through a robust private-public framework, national service can achieve these goals.
We’ve always known that the case for investing in low-cost, high-yield national service programs through AmeriCorps and Senior Corps is something Americans can all agree on. Now we have concrete evidence to back it up. A poll released by Republican firm TargetPoint asked voters in nine battleground states about their views on national service and the response was overwhelming: 83% of voters, including 78% of Republicans, 84% of Independents, 78% of Tea Party, and 90% of Democrats, want Congress to maintain or increase the federal levels of spending and investment in national service.
Former Senator Judd Gregg and Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire recently said, “As representatives from opposite parties, we strongly believe in an issue that transcends politics and strongly reflects our core values: support for national service.” We’re thankful that so many in Congress agree.
As we head into the New Year, I’ve never been more confident about the strength of our movement, and the power of service to unite our country for the common good. But as we all know, 2016 is an election year and before long we’ll have someone new in the White House. So as we head into Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond, let’s challenge those running for President to commit to expanding national service – and Congress to ensure that we realize the potential for national service at scale to meet the pressing needs of the nation.