Dallas Morning News: Neil Bush: National service matters now more than ever

This op-ed was originally published on the Dallas Morning News on Saturday, January 20th, 2024. 

Congress must protect AmeriCorps to help communities in need

By Neil Bush and Jennifer Sirangelo

Communities across our country desperately need help. Some are recovering from natural disasters and require food, water and shelter. Many confront economic misfortune, forcing families to rely on services like food banks they never imagined they would need. In others, school attendance rates have dropped, and afterschool programs are struggling. Military veterans and their families, who may need assistance with benefits, mental health services or academic support, often have nowhere to turn.

Each day, any one of these situations is happening in American communities, and 200,000 AmeriCorps members step up to answer the call.

As a public-private partnership and catalyst for local engagement, AmeriCorps has bridged divides and repaired communities for 30 years. AmeriCorps deploys thousands of members and volunteers to community-run organizations from coast to coast, helping people improve education, strengthen health services, protect the environment, support military families and grow local economies. Last year, more than 17,000 AmeriCorps members helped Texas communities, including many who worked with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.

And yet the U.S. House of Representatives wants to cut AmeriCorps’ funding in half, to the lowest levels in the past three decades. If implemented, these cuts would eliminate more than 61,000 AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors positions. The Senate’s bill, though better, would still result in significant cuts to AmeriCorps.

We cannot afford for this to happen. From rural outposts to urban centers, AmeriCorps shows up to meet critical needs. Funding AmeriCorps is also an incredibly efficient use of taxpayer dollars, yielding more than $17 in community benefits for every $1 Congress invests.

Americans, especially young people, need more opportunities to both contribute their energy and skills and strengthen the social fabric of our nation. AmeriCorps provides those opportunities, and now more than ever, we must invest in it. The challenges our nation faces are immense, and we need more people to step up and say, “Yes, I can help.”

When my father, President George H.W. Bush, launched Points of Light and signed the 1990 National Service Act, he paved the way for service to be recognized and empowered as a core value of American life. His work set the stage for the creation of AmeriCorps. My brother George carried on this national service legacy during his presidency, bolstering AmeriCorps’ vital work. They knew that the government could not face our nation’s challenges alone. It would take nonprofits, businesses and citizens all working together, something AmeriCorps makes possible every day.

In the past 30 years, investments in national service have proven beneficial, especially in times of crisis. Those who serve have supported more than 245,000 veterans and military families. They are also in 9,500 schools nationwide, providing educational support and increasing high school graduation rates.

Wherever there is a need, AmeriCorps is there, and cutting funding would leave gaping holes in critical services that communities and families sorely need.

This summer, David Eisner and John Gomperts, former heads of AmeriCorps under my brother and President Barack Obama, respectively, published a paper titled “No Greater Mission. No Greater Means.” They thoughtfully explored how national service can advance bridge-building and how AmeriCorps members learn “civic CPR” — the basic mindset and skills to connect across differences, listen and collaborate. These crucial skills are at the heart of what both my father and brother paved the way for. People serving together increases understanding and communication to respect differences and helps foster trust and civility.

We implore Congress and the White House to invest in national service and reject shortsighted funding cuts to AmeriCorps. It not only supports communities across the country but also builds better citizens. Now is the time to lean into the values we hold dear and enable Americans to build bridges toward a stronger future.

Neil Bush is chairman of the board at Points of Light and at the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. Jennifer Sirangelo is president and CEO at Points of Light.

« Back to National Service in the News