Guest Commentary

National service like AmeriCorps is critical to the future of Kansas City

In this 2004 file photo, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, left, and Shelly Williams of St. Louis placed foam concrete forms while they helped construct a house for Kaw Valley Habitat for Humanity in Kansas City, Kansas.
In this 2004 file photo, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, left, and Shelly Williams of St. Louis placed foam concrete forms while they helped construct a house for Kaw Valley Habitat for Humanity in Kansas City, Kansas. Star file photo

For the third straight year, the Trump administration’s budget proposes the elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service or CNCS, the federal agency that administers national service programs such as AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.

National service is a tremendously popular concept that helps build stronger neighborhoods and communities. Through AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, young people and adults age 55 and older, respectively, tutor and mentor young people, connect veterans to jobs, care for seniors, fight the opioid epidemic and meet other critical community needs. National service prepares young people for the workforce and restores the important values of patriotism and civic duty. It empowers people to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on the government in the long run.

I experienced the tremendous value of AmeriCorps firsthand as a college undergraduate, when I participated in a summer service program at Don Bosco Community Center in Kansas City. Working in the immigrant, refugee and family services division, I helped Somali and Haitian refugees with employment counseling and housing placement. It was a powerful experience that instilled in me a call to public service and shaped the trajectory of my life.

Today, 376 AmeriCorps members serve in 129 sites throughout Kansas City. Likewise, 85 Senior Corps participants serve in 23 sites in Kansas City. Statewide, 1,300 AmeriCorps participants serve at 291 locations and 3,900 Senior Corps participants serve at 460 locations.

They participate in programs such as City Year Kansas City, where 58 AmeriCorps members in six high-poverty Kansas City schools work full time as near-peer role models, tutors and mentors. Focusing on the third through 10th grades, they provide high-impact student and classroom support in attendance, social-emotional learning and course performance to help our students stay in school and on track to graduate.

Likewise, Literacy Lab’s 45 Kansas City AmeriCorps members serve nearly 1,000 pre-K through third-grade students at 18 school sites across the city, providing daily, targeted early literacy interventions through individualized reading instruction to increase literacy and kindergarten readiness.

There is no question that these proven, cost-effective programs have contributed to our students’ success — just as they have helped seniors, at-risk youth and veterans throughout our state recover from natural disasters. Yet, as Congress’ 2020 fiscal year budget and appropriations process gets underway, the fate of these programs is in jeopardy.

Elimination of CNCS would almost certainly be the end of City Year Kansas City, Literacy Lab and many other nonprofit community and faith-based organizations that serve our city. Fortunately, Congress has consistently rejected the president’s plan. Despite the elimination of CNCS also proposed by the president in last year’s budget, Congress funded a $13 million increase for AmeriCorps and a $6 million increase for Senior Corps over the previous year’s levels. Just recently, the House Committee on Appropriations voted to reject the administration’s elimination plan and to provide CNCS with a slight increase over last year’s budget. This is indeed a positive development, but one that comes at the very early stages of the process.

Our own Sen. Roy Blunt serves as chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees funding for CNCS. He and his colleagues will be under tremendous pressure to cut federal spending, as they are every year, but national service is not the place to do it. It’s too important to our city, our state and our young people — who, after all, are our future.

City Councilman Kevin McManus represents Kansas City’s 6th District.

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