I am delighted to support AmeriCorps Alums in their effort to eliminate taxation of the Eli Segal Education Award. As I know from first-hand experience, this change is long overdue.
In 2002, when I was privileged to be walking in Eli Segal's footsteps as CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, I briefed President Bush on a proposal -- later sent to Congress as the Citizen Service Act -- to re-authorize the agency and make some badly needed improvements in its programs. Of all the items we wanted to fix, the one that made the greatest impression on the President was our recommendation to exempt the Ed Award from taxation. He could scarcely believe that after giving a year or two of their lives to serving their country, AmeriCorps members had to pay taxes on the very modest gesture of appreciation they received from their nation. Not exactly a way to encourage the culture of citizenship and service the President had called for in his State of the Union address earlier that year!
Yet, despite this strong White House support, the Citizen Service Act did not become law, nor has a subsequent effort by my successor, David Eisner. As a result, the Ed Award continues to be reduced by the tax collector and its value to AmeriCorps members has continued to diminish.
To be honest, I doubt if many of the public-spirited people who are considering joining AmeriCorps will be deterred by the prospect of paying tax on their Ed Awards (if they even know they will have to do so). But taxing the Ed Award sends a message that is already too prevalent in our society: no matter what one does personally to accomplish the work of democracy, citizenship is mostly about paying taxes. What's more: taxing Ed Awards doesn't even raise much money!
It's time to stop.
Professor of Public Affairs and Philanthropic Studies
Director and CEO, Corporation for National and Community Service, 1994-2003