I’m certainly not the first person to point out that the types of budget cuts the Trump Administration has proposed would pose serious problems for the nonprofit sector, particularly in New York City. Just to name a few examples: More than $6 billion in cuts from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), more than $1 billion in cuts from the Department of Education’s afterschool and summer programs, and the elimination of Community Development Block Grants altogether.
In assessing the damage it’s hard to figure out where to start. So let me single out one program that Trump’s budget would end that has meant a great deal to me personally, and that has been a godsend for nonprofits all around the country. Trump’s budget would eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
CNCS may not always get the recognition that other government programs do, but almost everyone should be familiar with the organizations that CNCS helps fund. CNCS provides grants to more than 3,000 organizations across the country, including United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs, Teach for America, and the nonprofit organization that I worked for, Rebuilding Together NYC (RT NYC). These grants have allowed more than 5,200 AmeriCorps members in New York alone to address some of New York’s most critical needs – education, Sandy recovery, housing, and support for veterans and their families, for example. What’s more, without CNCS, we would not have AmeriCorps, and I may not have the job I have today.
AmeriCorps began in 1994 as a program designed to bring young people into national service and is considered the domestic alternative to the Peace Corps. Over the years, the program has provided young people with the skills they need to advance their careers. And in many cases – including mine – the program led to a job and a career.
I applied for AmeriCorps while serving in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan for two years after graduating college. I was offered an assignment with Rebuilding Together in Dayton, Ohio and became impassioned about the right for every American to have a safe and healthy home. After my service, I moved to New York and worked in community and economic development, and was soon hired by Rebuilding Together NYC, an affiliate of Rebuilding Together that provides free home repairs and accessibility modifications for low income New Yorkers who cannot afford them.
It ended up being a perfect match and excellent timing. Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast a month after I was hired and the need for Rebuilding Together NYC’s services and my expertise and passion exploded. Had it not been for CNCS, Rebuilding Together NYC may not have had the experienced staff ready to respond to Hurricane Sandy and I may not have the career in affordable housing and homeownership that I have today.
I also helped Rebuilding Together NYC start a new program that is making a big difference in the lives of unemployed New Yorkers. In addition to providing free home repairs, Rebuilding Together NYC now has a workforce training program, which instructs New Yorkers who are looking to start careers in construction. They have graduated nearly 100 trainees from the program and in just one year, more than half of them have already secured jobs in construction.
Stories like mine are not uncommon. In New York City, the program has 250 corps members serving in 24 public schools with about 13,000 total students. In total, CNCS commits over $80 million in city communities each year. It’s simply a program we cannot afford to lose, because of the impact is has on communities and on AmeriCorps members themselves.
Consider this feedback: Four out of five AmeriCorps members say that their service was a defining professional experience, and nine out of ten say that AmeriCorps helped their ability to solve problems. Why give up on a program that has such clear tangible benefits for young people looking to get into service and for community organizations in need?
Budgeting discussions on the federal level easily veer into abstract figures and percentages because of the scale in which these programs are administered. But behind all of these statistics are people and organizations committed to improving their communities every day. It would be a shame to end a program that has meant so much for so many.
Jennifer Terry is former Program Manager at Rebuilding Together NYC and current Director of Neighborhood Redevelopment at NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania