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Massachusetts AmeriCorps Programs In Jeopardy Of Being Cut

Monday, June 8, 2009   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Greg Heinrich
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BARNSTABLE — At a time when "service" is a buzzword at the federal level, AmeriCorps Cape Cod could end if the Massachusetts Senate fails to find money in a crippled state budget to administer the volunteer program.

The Massachusetts Service Alliance receives $900,000 each year from the state to oversee 22 AmeriCorps programs statewide. On Cape Cod, 26 AmeriCorps volunteers have worked since its creation in 1998 on a variety of natural resource management and disaster preparedness projects from Bourne to Provincetown.

That work, according to local officials, is a boon to towns, especially at a time when they are struggling with budget woes of their own.

While state Rep. Matthew Patrick, D-Falmouth, was able to get $750,000 for the alliance into the House budget, the Senate has yet to include any money for the programs in its spending plan.

"The chances of it getting into the final budget are going to be very tough," Patrick said last week. "When they start to realize what kind of cuts we have to make some of them are cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face."

The state money helps bring in $10 million in federal funding and an additional $10 million in contributions from the individual AmeriCorps programs, said Emily Haber, chief executive officer for the alliance.

Without the state funding there would be no organization to administer the federal and local financial resources, Haber said.

While the Cape program receives its federal funds through a competitive grant that is not technically tied to the service alliance, the umbrella organization helps prepare grant applications and provides technical support for the Barnstable County volunteers, said AmeriCorps Cape Cod program coordinator Mary Lawrence. Without the alliance's support it is unclear that the Cape program could survive, she said.

The budget for the Cape program is $500,000, which includes the federal grant and a 25 percent to 30 percent match from Barnstable County, Lawrence said.

Losing the Cape's AmeriCorps group would be a "big loss," Patrick said, noting the many environmental projects the group has been involved in over the years.

"We got it in the House budget," Patrick said. "Now it goes to conference committee."

The conference committee is where the Senate and the House reconcile their budgets. The Senate budget includes $1.5 billion less revenue, which probably accounts for the deeper cuts, Patrick said.

The difference in revenue figures is based on the timing of the budget processes. Because the House starts earlier, the Senate has more up-to-date figures, Patrick said.

State Sen. Robert O'Leary, D-Barnstable, made an unsuccessful attempt to include an amendment on the Senate side with $750,000 for the program.

"My fear is that when two numbers are different and we're in a tight financial situation, we go to the lower number typically," O'Leary said.

O'Leary hopes that somewhere in between might be possible, citing a figure of $350,000 as the minimum that could keep things afloat for the next year.

"We don't want to lose this for a lot of reasons," O'Leary said. "I'm just optimistic."

U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., also has pushed hard to save the program, O'Leary said.

Barnstable County Commissioner chairman Sheila Lyons said the Cape's AmeriCorps members put in thousands of hours of work across the region.

"It will be a huge loss for us in many ways," Lyons said. "They've been really invaluable."

In addition to the hard work many of the AmeriCorps alumni return to work on the Cape, bringing with them valuable experience and education, she said.

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