Clinton Urges AmeriCorps Support
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) _ President Clinton urged Congress on Wednesday to expand his AmeriCorps volunteerism program, saying young people deserve an opportunity to prove they are not ``a generation of cynics and slackers.″
In a rally at the University of Maryland, the president said the number of AmeriCorps volunteers could increase by 25 percent if his fiscal 2000 budget proposal is approved. He said he wants to expand the program every year until it has 100,000 participants by 2003.
AmeriCorps could then be a springboard for volunteerism at home, much like the Peace Corps was for service overseas a generation ago, Clinton said.
``America needs to think of itself as sort of a giant AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps at home, getting things done together,″ Clinton said. ``It may be your best chance to change the lives of others for the better and to enrich your own life in the process.″
The president, joined by dozens of AmeriCorps volunteers in gray sweatshirts, issued a national ``call to service″ to help the program begin recruiting additional volunteers.
``I ask you all to help me reach others ... to use this moment to prove that this generation of young people, far from being a generation of cynics and slackers, is instead a generation of doers and patriots,″ Clinton said.
Clinton chose to highlight the program in Maryland because the state’s high school students are required to perform volunteer work as a condition of graduation. ``We must be a passionate, engaged and concerned community,″ said Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening.
During the rally, the Corporation for National Service, which runs AmeriCorps, unveiled an MTV-produced public service announcement that shows hip-looking teens and young adults performing service projects, while voice-overs extol the virtues of the AmeriCorps experience while cool, pulsing music plays in the background.
``I’ve learned the rewards of service are greater than the size of your paycheck or salary,″ said Justin Ward, 23, a 1998 Maryland graduate who coordinates volunteers for Habitat for Humanity in Aberdeen, Md. He was one of four volunteers who spoke at the rally.
A national service program was an early priority of the Clinton administration. Since AmeriCorps was established four years ago, more than 100,000 people have volunteered as volunteers at schools, churches and nonprofit groups.
But AmeriCorps has not been popular with congressional Republicans, who have attempted several times to kill or severely curtail the program. One lawmaker suggested that AmeriCorps volunteers could be used as census takers.
Clinton is seeking $533 million for AmeriCorps in fiscal 2000, an increase of $106 million over last year. The increase would raise from 50,000 to 70,000 the number of high school- and college-age students who could participate next year.
Before Clinton’s rally, Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson circulated a statement spotlighting a plan ``hidden away in Bill Clinton’s budget″ to cut $4.6 billion from the student loan program. Nicholson called it a ``stingy, shortsighted proposal″ that would lead to higher student fees, slower loan approvals, fewer loan consolidations and higher interest rates.
The RNC sponsored its own forum across the street from Clinton’s event to discuss Republican complaints about the president’s education budget.