AmeriCorps funding cut could hurt Katrina recovery

WAVELAND, MS (WLOX) - "A huge mistake" is how the Director of Habitat Bay-Waveland describes a proposal to slash millions of dollars from the AmeriCorps Community Service Program.

As part of the federal government's attempt to reduce the national deficit, Congress has proposed cutting $23 million from AmeriCorps' yearly operating budget. So what would those cuts mean for people still needing help recovering from Katrina?

Since Katrina, AmeriCorps has logged more than 130,000 hours helping Habitat Bay-Waveland build homes.

"We are very dependant on AmeriCorps at Habitat Bay-Waveland, as is every Habitat affected by Katrina," said Wendy McDonald, Executive Director of Habitat Bay-Waveland.

McDonald said the 250 AmeriCorps volunteers who've come through the county have been invaluable. Without them recovery here will slow down.

"For the last six years, we've probably been averaging 14 AmeriCorps. And we've already been notified we may not get that many. We may only get some for one quarter. That's disturbing. We plan and build a construction schedule based on AmeriCorps," said McDonald.

AmeriCorps members receive a $12,000 a year stipend. After they complete the year long service program they receive a $5,000 scholarship to continue their education. Paige Wierikko said the program has worked for her.

"I'm not supposed to comment on the government and the cuts, but I fully have tons of confidence in this program. I've seen it change a lot of lives."

The lives of the AmeriCorps Service members and the people they help.

"We've done everything we've done working with the Salvation Army, providing Christmas assistance. We've worked in central Florida planting spartina, which is like a marsh grass. The variety of projects and the variety of people you get to meet is just like unlike any other experience," explained Wierikko.

Fellow AmeriCorps member Leroy Jemison Jr. agreed.

"We do so much great work for so many people. And I know a lot of people would not be happy if we weren't able to do what we do. I know that this program has changed my life for the better."

McDonald said cuts to AmeriCorps would adversely affect the entire nation.

"This should never be in jeopardy, in my opinion."

McDonald said the good news is a compromise in Congress rejected a proposal to kill the AmeriCorp Program all together. What the program will ultimately end up with in its budget is still being debated.

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