Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The Culture: Funding Volunteerism

AmeriCorps wants more money to, er, fund volunteerism:
Supporters of AmeriCorps yesterday pleaded with Congress to provide the beleaguered program with an extra $100 million this year after House appropriators rejected a proposal to do so Monday.

The talk among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, however, was that AmeriCorps will end up getting some of the extra money.

"That's what I hear," said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, who sits on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees AmeriCorps. "I hear the White House is going to weigh in and put back some of the money."
You may be wondering why the government needs money to fund volunteers. Under AmeriCorps, a creation of the Clinton administration, one doesn't volunteer for altruistic reasons so much as for money down-the-road. Specifically, an AmeriCorps "volunteer" receives a stipend at the end of their service to be used for education. In other words, AmeriCorps is a glorified scholarship program, and the participants are as much "volunteers" as college football players are amateur "student-athletes."

What gets me about AmeriCorps is not the fact the government is paying people to volunteer, but the fact that people would actually "volunteer" for AmeriCorps programs. It seems morally contradictory. On the one hand, you're preaching to others on the value of "giving back to the community" and so forth, while your real motive is getting the stipend at the end. After all, if you just wanted to volunteer for the sake of volunteering, there are plenty of opportunities to do so without going through a government intermediary.

Then you have the spectacle of charity groups lining up to demand AmeriCorps "volunteers." This completely distorts the marketplace for charitable services. After all, CAC could definitely use some volunteers to assist in our work, but since we're not plugged in to AmeriCorps, we don't enjoy the benefit of obtaining government-recruited and paid "volunteers." We have to persuade people the old-fashioned way to join our cause. Doesn't seem quite fair to me.

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