WASHINGTON – The Senate voted overwhelmingly Friday to give an extra $100 million this year to AmeriCorps (search), signaling strong bipartisan support for the government's financially troubled volunteer service program.
Senators voted 71-21 to defeat an attempt by Sen. Jeff Sessions (search), R-Ala., to strip the money from a spending bill. Advocates of AmeriCorps say that without the extra money, the program would have to leave unfilled up to 20,000 of its planned 50,000 volunteer slots.
AmeriCorps has struggled with severe cash problems since last year, when it signed up 20,000 more volunteers than it could afford. That has led the agency to come under withering bipartisan criticism in Congress for mismanagement and inefficiency.
On Friday Leslie Lenkowsky, chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service (search), which oversees AmeriCorps and other federal volunteer agencies, announced his resignation.
Despite the Senate's vote, the fate of the extra money is in doubt. Rep. Jim Walsh, R-N.Y., who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls AmeriCorps' budget, said Thursday he opposed the extra money because of the agency's "poor management and weak financial oversight."
Sessions cited those problems in his failed effort to kill the extra money. He and others said it was likely the money would not be spent until next year anyway.
"This is not an emergency. It's just one more typical bureaucratic failure," said Sessions.
But supporters said without the allocation, hundreds of volunteer programs from coast to coast would have to be shut down quickly.
"Who are we going to punish if we don't put out the money. Not the bureaucracy, ... but the volunteers in our communities," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who led the effort to win the extra $100 million.
AmeriCorps volunteers tutor children, repair houses and perform other work with nonprofit organizations. Each receives a $9,300 stipend for service to the corps and is eligible for a $4,725 college grant afterward. A volunteer serves up to a year.
The volunteer program has already gotten $275 million for the current federal budget year, which ends Oct. 1.
Mikulski demanded Lenkowsky's resignation last month. National service corporation spokesman Sandy Scott said that was not a factor in Lenkowsky's departure.
As his replacement, President Bush intends to name David Eisner, formerly vice president of corporate relations at AOL Time Warner.
The extra AmeriCorps money was included in a bill providing $2 billion this year for natural disasters, fighting forest fires and investigating the February crash of the Columbia space shuttle. It also had $2.5 billion for the Senate and other congressional operations next year.
The bill includes extra money for the Capitol Visitors' Center, an underground structure being built east of the Capitol that has run into big cost overruns. And senators added millions for clearing trees infested with beetles and repairing levees.
The overall bill was approved by 85-7.
In other spending action:
--A House subcommittee voted to provide $580 million next year for Amtrak, the national passenger rail line. The railroad has said $1.8 billion would be needed to maintain existing service; Bush requested $900 million.
--The Senate voted 91-0 to approve $9.2 billion for military construction projects next year, $1.5 billion below this year's level. Despite opposition by Bush, the bill cuts $1 billion from amounts he requested for projects overseas, largely in Germany and Korea, and would set up a commission to study Defense Department plans to reposition bases abroad.