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Cuts could hurt VISTA, AmeriCorps

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- AmeriCorps and VISTA programs in West Virginia could suffer if Congress does not reach a new budget agreement and eliminates the sequester.

"There would definitely be an impact, both in money we grant out and in administrative funding," said Stephanie Yu, executive director of Volunteer West Virginia, which runs AmeriCorps programs in the state.

"Our programs are looking at a 5 to 10 percent cut," Yu said. "We could have one less program of AmeriCorps members, involving at least 10 people -- maybe more. That would be one of our tutoring programs. That is not insignificant."

Programs like Step by Step, which helps low-income families in several area counties, are keeping a wary eye on the sequester.

"Right now there will be some cuts through sequestration," said Michael Tierney, Step by Step director. "How that will play out we're still not sure.

"It's an ongoing struggle, but we have some strong support," Tierney said. He noted that the VISTA program is 50 years old, and counts U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller as one of its earlier volunteers.

"It's a concern, but there's also some core support out there," Tierney said.

Yu said that AmeriCorps programs are basically run by states, although some are run by the federal government. "But only the feds run VISTA," she said. "All programs run by a federal agency are going to be affected and cut.

"Part of the reason we won't see a bigger cut in AmeriCorps is that West Virginia is already considered to be a small state and already has the minimum number of people.

"That does limit the amount they can cut from us. VISTA is run on a nationwide basis. Everyone can be cut," Yu said.

AmeriCorps programs in West Virginia have 1,034 people working on different projects, including projects for: the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, Communities Helping Communities, Citizen Conservation Corps of West Virginia, Education Alliance, Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action, Ohio-West Virginia YMCA Camp Horseshoe and the Prestera Center for Mental Health Service.

Kathleen Roedersheimer heads the Corporation for National and Community Service in West Virginia, which administers VISTA programs throughout the country.

Sequestration, Roedersheimer said, "will not affect the current year. The grant year we are in is financed by the last federal year's grant money. We will learn sometime between August and October what we can do going forward."

West Virginia has 133 VISTA volunteers working on 10 projects, according to national CNSC spokeswoman Samantha Jo Warfield. Federal funding for those programs is more than $2.1 million.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said, "Not even the most anti-government zealot can sequester the many positive educational, health and development benefits the VISTA and AmeriCorps programs have produced for our state and nation.

"These programs not only lift prospects for entire communities, they instill civic and community values in untold numbers of young people who remain dedicated to improving their nation long after their formal service in these programs is finished. Taking an across the board budget swipe at these community builders ultimately diminishes the nation," Rahall told the Gazette.

He believes Congress will continue working to resolve differences over deficits and sequestration.

"Reasonable members of both parties are already at work to reach a bipartisan accord on the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year and to provide additional guidance and assistance to the federal agencies in addressing the sequester. There is no reason why the Congress cannot get its job done," Rahall said.

Staff writer Jim Balow contributed to this report. Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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