WASHINGTON – The nation's fiscally ailing national service agency may be getting as much as an extra $100 million this year, despite a House committee vote to block it.
The House Appropriations Committee voted Monday to reject a Democratic effort to provide the added $100 million this year for AmeriCorps (search). The near party-line 34-24 vote underscored GOP dissatisfaction with what lawmakers of both parties say is widespread mismanagement at an agency that has had a penchant for signing up thousands of volunteers beyond its budgeted amounts.
"More than anything else, the administration of this program has damaged them," said Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the program.
The agency and its supporters say that without the extra funds, hundreds of community-run organizations staffed by AmeriCorps volunteers would have to shut down. The Senate voted to provide the extra $100 million on July 11 on a bipartisan 71-21 vote, and President Bush has proposed a significant increase in the agency's budget for next year.
Despite the subcommittee vote, Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., said during the meeting that "the president supports AmeriCorps" and hinted that an upcoming House-Senate compromise bill will provide some funds.
After the session, members of both parties said in private that they expected the final bill to include much if not all of the $100 million.
The money is technically for the remaining two months of the government's budget year, but lawmakers said the volunteer agency would be relying on the money for tutoring, home-building and other programs through next summer.
Rep. David Price (search), D-N.C., sponsor of the amendment, said denying the funds would only "punish" communities and families that rely on the services the volunteers provide.
The AmeriCorps money would be attached to a measure providing $2 billion for disaster assistance, wildfire expenses, the investigation of the Columbia space shuttle crash and other midyear expenses.
Despite its financial problems, AmeriCorps remains popular with many lawmakers. Accentuating that, Young's committee approved a separate bill that includes $480 million for AmeriCorps for next year, enough to boost its current level of 50,000 volunteers by 5,000.
That measure, with an overall $90 billion price tag, also finances veterans, housing, environment and science programs.
While debating that bill, the committee voted by voice to drop new fees Bush proposed charging some veterans. Those costs - a $250 annual enrollment fee for health services and an increase in the $7 co-payment for prescription drugs to $15 - would have been imposed on veterans without service injuries who earn more than $24,000 a year.
The committee voted that the $264 million those fees were to raise would come instead from reducing the Department of Veterans Affairs (search) administrative budget.
A Democratic amendment to drop the fees and instead slightly reduce recent tax cuts for the wealthy was defeated.