Few things bring people together like service to their country. The patriotism and idealism of the American people are unmatched. Some of the brightest moments in our history are when citizens come together from all walks of life to serve. From volunteering for duty overseas to responding to natural disasters like the tornadoes in Joplin, Americans do not hesitate to put aside their differences in service to the nation.
Service bridges the divides of politics, race, gender and socioeconomic status to bring people together in common purpose. As Congress considers President Donald Trump’s upcoming budget proposal, I hope they keep the power of service and unity in mind and reject any proposal that eliminates or cuts national service programs like AmeriCorps.
National service has the potential to teach a young person from Los Angeles what it is like to grow up in a small town in Kansas; it allows a Republican to serve alongside a Democrat, and a Christian to serve alongside Muslims and Jews. People from different backgrounds have an opportunity to team up in pursuit of solving some of the most pressing issues facing our country.
In Kansas, 7,800 AmeriCorps members have volunteered to serve more than 10 million hours with hundreds of nonprofits, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency that oversees AmeriCorps.
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When taxpayers fund AmeriCorps, it’s not just another big government program. It puts hardworking young Americans into communities with serious needs. Take Olivia, who chose to serve with FEMA Corps through AmeriCorps NCCC, traveling in a team of six young people to four communities across the country during her service year.
While serving in Kansas and Missouri over Christmas, Olivia and her team performed safety trainings and smoke alarm canvassing, worked with the Red Cross to host blood drives at a YMCA, teamed up with a recycling center the day after Christmas to sort through gift packaging recyclables and assisted the local Habitat for Humanity Restore team with sorting and repurposing donated items.
I’ve seen examples of this same ethic of service in countless communities. In Missouri, AmeriCorps members saved the state $17.7 million in disaster costs after the Joplin tornadoes. In Kentucky, they are helping unemployed coal miners with job training and placements. In Minnesota, these young people are part of the fight against the opioid crisis that is plaguing the state. And in West Virginia, they are assisting those impacted by the recent floods with home repairs and refurbishing.
National service is not only cost-effective — for every dollar invested in national service from the federal government, a dollar is matched from business and private philanthropy — but is also supported by 80 percent of bipartisan voters.
Cutting these critical programs would do little to help the budget — AmeriCorps makes up about .03 percent of federal spending — but our local communities that rely on these services would feel the immediate pain from cuts or elimination.
Kansas cannot afford cuts to national service, nor can the over 21,000 nonprofits, schools, and community and faith-based groups that enjoy the daily benefits of AmeriCorps members.
I urge Kansans to join me in reminding our members of Congress that if we want to build a brighter future for all Americans, we need to expand — not eliminate — opportunities for service.
Dan Glickman is a former congressman from Kansas and the former secretary of agriculture under President Bill Clinton.