THE AMERICORPS SAGA

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FYI: The systemic problems that led to AmeriCorps’ financial troubles in recent years have not been fully corrected, says a General Accounting Office report completed in January but released last week. From November 2002 to March 2003, AmeriCorps, which gives education stipends to people who volunteer for nonprofits around the country, had to suspend new enrollment in order to balance its books. With Congress, the GAO and other independent auditors citing financial mismanagement, the program dropped the number of positions it funded from 70,000 in 2002 to 30,000 last year. Despite a pitched battle to draw emergency funds into the program, even its most ardent Congressional supporters refused to bail it out. The problem, the GAO said at the time, was that AmeriCorps had enrolled more members than it had money to pay for, because of errors in its intake system and dubious procedures for estimating how many participants it could afford. But for the 2004 budget year, with those problems presumably ironed out, Congress agreed to a record $170 million boost for the program. Now the GAO says that AmeriCorps’ intake system remains flawed. Its database includes people who have already finished the program, Social Security numbers that don’t exist or represent dead people, and a user’s manual that managers say is cumbersome and inaccurate. And while the program has adjusted its procedure for estimating how many volunteers it can afford, the GAO warns that the new system could actually be too rigid, making it difficult for participating nonprofits to fill positions in a timely way. Check out Paul Fain’s examination of AmeriCorps’ funding troubles in the City Limits magazine archives. [3/01/04]