Agencies overjoyed to learn about more cash for AmeriCorps programs

Billings Gazette

by Mike Ferguson

About $4.7 million in AmeriCorps funding will bolster that agency’s service in Montana, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Tuesday.

“We hear a lot of talk about making America great again, but talk is cheap,” said Tester, D-Mont., during a conference call along with Wendy Spencer, chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and Dan Ritter, executive director of Serve Montana. “AmeriCorps is an amazing organization that does great work across Montana and the rest of the country.”

The competitive grant program will provide about $2.7 million to support the 389 AmeriCorps members deployed across the state, including the Billings contingent, according to a news release from Gov. Steve Bullock.

Later this summer, more than $600,000 will be provided to the Montana Commission on Community Service to bring additional AmeriCorps members to Montana.

AmeriCorps members serve up to a year and are paid a small wage to help communities work on persistent problems among their residents, including hunger, illiteracy, disaster and veterans’ issues.

Spencer said the grants will strengthen existing AmeriCorps programs, which partner with local nonprofits, faith-based groups and community organizations “who reach out into the community with deep tentacles. No organization works well on the sidelines.”

The grants, she said, will help “everyone, who, as the president says, needs a ladder of opportunity.”

Five Montana organizations — Montana Conservation Corps, FoodCorps Montana, Big Sky Watershed Corps, Montana State Parks/AmeriCorps and Montana Legal Services — will receive about $2.7 million from the competitive grant program.

Their representatives and supporters cheered as the allotments were announced during Tuesday’s call.

“It’s great for Montana,” said Brenda Beckett, who oversees the AmeriCorps VISTA MVP program in Billings. “More people will be able to provide services to people in need.”

About $1.3 million will be made available to AmeriCorps participants at the completion of their service to pay off student loans or continue their education.

Since 1994, more than 9,000 Montana residents have served more than 8.8 million hours under the Corporation for National and Community Service.

On Oct. 7, Spencer said AmeriCorps expects to enroll its one millionth member. The program spans five decades.

With a nod to Tester, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Congress boosted AmeriCorps funding by $50 million this year, Spencer said.

“Jon has been an amazing champion for national service,” Spencer said.

“As a result of this funding, we can reach more corners of the state, increasing the impact on the Montanans we serve,” Ritter said. “National service has had a remarkable impact on our state.”