May 12, 2009
We’ve posted before about the Serve America Act (which, among other things, will open up AmeriCorps from 75,000 slots to 250,000 slots nationwide), and the potential for improvements to AmeriCorps for the purposes of fostering civil service in our country. Block grants, as I wrote before, would be a smart step to make sure the funding goes to programs that can put it to best use.
But service still isn’t a viable option for many young Americans – and that needs to change in order to develop a culture of broad civic volunteerism.
One of the most crucial would be to change federal guidelines on student loans. AmeriCorps members are typically just out of college and have racked up a great deal of student loans. Federal Stafford loans can, after a very complicated process, be deferred while a person is in AmeriCorps. Many private loans cannot. Considering that AmeriCorps members live on about $800 a month and have to pay for their own housing, debt can quickly become a problem. Moreover, many students from lower income households are unable to participate in AmeriCorps because the financial investment is so prohibitive.
The deferred Federal Stafford loans can be handled with more consideration as well. Most people leave AmeriCorps having saved no money (for the obvious reason that they’re paid so little). Their first payment on their student loans often comes due right as they’re leaving, when they are looking for a job. As a result, service often poses the wrong kind of sacrifice to volunteers: putting them at risk of insolvency.
If Congress is serious about getting more people involved in community service, one way to show it would be to work with private lenders to allow private loans to be deferred. Streamlining and extending the deferment process for Federal Stafford loans would be another big step forward. This is a way to ease volunteers’ transition back into the job market, and it will inevitably mean more people are able to take advantage of the opportunity to greater positive effect. And as opposed to the expenditures of the Serve America Act, these suggestions would cost little to nothing.
Posted by Matt Siemer at 3:54 PM