Big increases envisioned in law never materialized
In April 2009, just three months after Barack Obama was sworn in as president, we gave a Promise Kept rating to a campaign promise he made regarding AmeriCorps, the federal agency that promotes national service. Obama had pledged during the 2008 presidential campaign to "expand and fund AmeriCorps from 75,000 slots today to 250,000,” including five new units, a Classroom Corps, a Health Corps, a Clean Energy Corps, a Veterans Corps and a Homeland Security Corps.
We based our Promise Kept on Obama's signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act on April 21, 2009. The law promised to pour nearly $6 billion over five years into efforts to expand volunteerism in the United States, establishing a framework to expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 positions to 250,000 by 2017.
At the time, we noted that Congress still needed to appropriate the money for several years running if the program was to meet the expansion goals promised by Obama. That hasn't happened.
According to budget documents from the Corporation for National and Community Service -- the parent agency of AmeriCorps -- there are roughly 77,000 AmeriCorps members. That's almost exactly the same number as Obama cited as the starting point for the promise. So there has been little net growth in the program -- certainly nothing remotely approaching the more than tripling Obama had promised.
As for the creation of five new units, AmeriCorps does currently include programs that address each of the five areas Obama cited -- Teach for America, a National Health Corps, an Energy Corps, new AmeriCorps grants for veterans, and a FEMA Corps. However, what these groups do amounts to a reallocation of personnel resources rather than an expansion of the program overall, as initially promised by Obama.
Neither the Corporation for National and Community Service nor the White House responded to inquiries from PolitiFact.
John M. Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, suggested that Obama's failure to find funding for the announced expansion "has less to do with any loss of interest on his part and is more a function of the ability of the loyal opposition to use the budget deficit as an effective tool to ‘starve the beast' (that is, government spending). If the president were to ask for the funds necessary to fund the full 250,000 slots, he would have to find some savings elsewhere, which is a very tough proposition these days and, even then, highly unlikely that Congress would agree.”
PolitiFact's policy is not to distinguish between a promise that is blocked and one that is withdrawn. In this case, Obama gets partial credit for ensuring that all five subject areas were covered under AmeriCorps by the end of his first term, but he falls well short of a Promise Kept because the large increase in personnel did not materialize. We rate it a Compromise.
Corporation for National and Community Service, fact sheet, accessed May 1, 2013
Corporation for National and Community Service, main index page for budget documents, accessed May 1, 2013
Corporation for National and Community Service, Congressional Budget Justification for fiscal year 2014
AmeriCorps, National Health Corps main web page, accessed May 1, 2013
AmeriCorps, Teach for America main web page, accessed May 1, 2013
AmeriCorps, Energy Corps main web page, accessed May 1, 2013
AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps grants for veterans, June 19, 2012
AmeriCorps, FEMA Corps main web page, accessed May 1, 2013
Email interview with John M. Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, April 29, 2013
Obama passes Serve America Act
In what has been called the most sweeping expansion of national service programs since the creation of AmeriCorps, President Barack Obama on April 21, 2009, signed legislation that promises to pour nearly $6 billion over five years into efforts to expand volunteerism in the United States.
Named in honor of Sen. Ted Kennedy, who helped shepherd the bill through Congress, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act establishes a framework to expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 positions to 250,000 by 2017.
Obama had pressed Congress to move quickly and in a bipartisan manner to pass the legislation. And it did. The Senate passed it 79-19 and the House of Representatives approved it 275-149.
In keeping Obama's promise, the AmeriCorps expansion puts out the call to young and old and will focus on service that includes education, health care, clean energy, energy efficiency, veterans and military families and economic opportunity.
"What this legislation does, then, is to help harness this patriotism and connect deeds to needs," Obama said at the signing on April 21, 2009. "It creates opportunities to serve for students, seniors, and everyone in between. It supports innovation and strengthens the nonprofit sector. And it is just the beginning of a sustained, collaborative and focused effort to involve our greatest resource — our citizens — in the work of remaking this nation."
More money is on its way to AmeriCorps. The economic stimulus bill passed in February included another $200 million for AmeriCorps, and the White House's proposed 2010 budget includes $1.1 billion toward the effort, a 25 percent increase over this year. Although Congress still must appropriate the 2010 money, the economic stimulus money will be getting to the program this year.
We should note that Congress must still appropriate the money, not only this year, but in subsequent years, if the program is to meet the expansion goals promised by Obama. We may revisit this one in the future, but we think the passage of the Kennedy bill and the money from the economic stimulus qualifies this one as a Promise Kept.
Corporation for National and Community Service, Highlights of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act , March 30, 2009
WhiteHouse.gov, Remarks of President Barack Obama, Address to Joint Session of Congress , Feb. 24, 2009
Committee on Education and Labor, The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act
CQ.com, Full text: Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act