How National Service Actually Saves Our Country Money

Posted by Morgan St. Jean on February 8, 2012

On Monday we published a blog about challenging the idea that AmeriCorps members are volunteers. The post was sparked by legislation introduced by Representative Stutzman (IN-03), titled the “Volunteer Freedom Act.” The bill would eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which oversees AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, the Social Innovation Fund and provides human resource power for many national and local organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, food banks, etc. – you get the idea.

AmeriCorps members serving in Joplin, MO

AmeriCorps is a public-private partnership. When it awards grants to organizations to hire national service members, the organization has to match the grant with other non-federal funds.  As such, federal funds catalyze others to invest that might not have otherwise. As a result, the programs have more capacity to create jobs that meet community needs.

Without a federal investment, less private resources would flow into these programs and far less need would be met. This would mean more citizens struggling and that means more cost for the federal government (see below). Last year, AmeriCorps leveraged $486 million in non-CNCS funds from business, foundations, and other sources. CNCS allows organizations to leverage what funds they do have, investing that money into the economy. It is a situation where 1 + 1 = 3.

It is also important to look at how CNCS funds are spent – on jobs dedicated to helping our countries neediest. Take what AmeriCorps members did in Joplin, Missouri. Just hours after a tornado hit, AmeriCorps members from 20 organizations and seven states arrived to help the city rebuild. The tornado killed 161 residents and destroyed more than 7,000 homes, churches, schools, and businesses. The AmeriCorps members mobilized and managed over 60,000 volunteers, who provided over 579,000 hours of service. This equals more than $17.7 million donated resources.

Now we are not trying to argue that without AmeriCorps people wouldn’t volunteer to help with disaster response.  They would.  But the federal investment in full-time service members enables a massive leverage effect of those traditional, unpaid volunteers. AmeriCorps members maximize the efficiency and impact of those volunteers by ensuring work projects are ready to go and volunteers are never turned away, all which works to speed up the recovery time.  The longer it takes to rebuild, the longer it takes before people are back to work, before businesses reopen, etc, which is bad for the local and national economy. The federal investment catalyzes the recovery process. Last year AmeriCorps members recruited, trained, and supervised more than 3.4 million community volunteers.

In addition to responding to natural disasters, national service members provide preventative services. In homes across the country, Senior Corps members are helping elderly Americans to live independently. When a person becomes unable to stay in ones home, one goes into a nursing facility paid for by Medicare. This is an expensive and demoralizing experience for the individual. Senior Corps members allow people to stay in their home by bringing them food, coordinating their doctor’s visits, and being a companion. The government saves hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by investing in Senior Corps rather than paying for Medicare expenses.

AmeriCorps and Senior Corps are not a waste of government funds; rather they are smart financial decision that invests in people and local communities to solve our most pressing social problems. Most politicians get this, because someone (or many people) took the time to educate them.

While we understand the need to fix our nation’s finances, cutting national service will only make things worse. As with financial investing and business, you have to spend money to make money. You may not think this is the role of the government, but cutting national service will cost the government more in the end.

A lot of people have been posting on Congressman Stutzman’s Facebook and Twitter account sharing their experience of how national service programs are a financial asset to their community. I encourage you to do the same. We at ServeNext would also love to hear your stories so we can share them with others. Leave them in the comment section below or on our Facebook wall.


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