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AmeriCorps investigated over new enrollment freeze

©Associated Press
December 14, 2002

WASHINGTON -- AmeriCorps' decision last month to stop enrolling new participants because there's not enough money to pay for their education benefits has prompted two investigations.

The inspector general for the Corp. for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps' parent agency, is looking into what led the agency to freeze enrollment. Congress' General Accounting Office plans a separate investigation.

AmeriCorps officials clamped the freeze on new volunteers after determining there was not enough money to pay for the education grants they would earn for their service.

The inspector general began looking into AmeriCorps' spending at the agency's request, after senators on the subcommittee that oversees the program's budget raised questions.

Separately, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., asked the GAO to look into the agency's management of the National Service Trust, which doles out educational grants to the mostly college-age participants.

He said there was a sudden increase in enrollment after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The influx -- online applications jumped 86 percent in the year after Sept. 11 -- partly exhausted the education trust fund. AmeriCorps did not ask Congress for new funding in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2001, said corporation spokesman Sandy Scott.

The agency did request $57-million for the trust fund in the budget year that began Oct. 1, but that money never materialized because Congress did not complete new spending bills, voting instead to continue funding at 2002 levels.

Scott said the more than $200-million currently in the trust fund is sufficient to cover the education benefits for current participants, but not for any new ones.

Begun in 1993, AmeriCorps is a domestic Peace Corps that has grown to 50,000 participants. Volunteers work with nonprofit organizations on such projects as mentoring children, building houses and cleaning the environment. They receive stipends during their service and college awards a year later.

Fred Sangualiano, head of Volunteer Florida, which runs the state's AmeriCorps programs, said about a dozen programs scheduled to start in January might be delayed a few weeks. He called the problem "a minor bump in the road."

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