Government shutdown hurts AmeriCorps volunteers in Iowa - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Government shutdown hurts AmeriCorps volunteers in Iowa

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Volunteerism in the U.S. is taking a hit, thanks to the ongoing federal government shutdown.

Monday marks nearly a week since Washington came to a grinding halt, after lawmakers failed to pass a budget by Oct. 1.

Now, thousands of volunteers across the nation will not receive their living stipend this week, if the government remains closed for business.

AmeriCorps is a federal program, where adults volunteer to better communities nationwide, often just for a stipend that covers only basic living expenses. This week, many of them won't even get that.

Malia Dunn is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with an organization called Iowa Campus Compact. Through that, she's working for Project Concern in Dubuque, which helps people in need in the tri-state area.

"This is Malia. I work with Project Concern, and I'm returning your call in regards to needing rental assistance," Dunn said to a man on the phone while sitting at her desk Monday afternoon. "How can I help you?"

Dunn normally receives a stipend of just $365 every two weeks, but this Friday, she won't even get that, if the government remains closed. A federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service, funds her position.

"I look at what some of our clients are going through, and what I'm going through can't even compare," Dunn said. "I mean, I may be living off of a small subsidy, but they don't have any money but they're able to meet their needs."

Eric Dregne is vice president of strategic initiatives at the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, which hosts three AmeriCorps volunteers. Beyond that, however, the foundation works with many other entities throughout the greater Dubuque area that also employ the aid of AmeriCorps volunteers.

"They get a living stipend to help them with the basics of food and shelter, but that's about it," Dregne said, "so when they don't get that check, it's going to be a big deal."

He said the community has hundreds of AmeriCorps volunteers, between non-profit organizations, schools, government bodies and more.

"They expand our capacity, so we're able to do more than we'd ever be able to do without them," Dregne said.

Not all the volunteers, however, are affected by the government shutdown.

Many of the AmeriCorps positions throughout the US are funded through a grant or through a cost-sharing program between the federal government and, for example, a state or local organization.

For volunteers like Dunn, however, the shutdown is still a matter of uncertainty, concerning their living stipend.

"We'll get through this, just like anything else," Dunn said, adding some of the other VISTA volunteers she knows are in a situation worse than hers.

"I'm married, so my husband and I made some accommodations," Dunn said, "but he knows how passionate I am about what I do. I told them at the interview, I would've done this for free and essentially am doing it for free, but I'm glad to be at work every day, and just helping one client changes our community."

A memo called "Funding Lapse" on the Corporation for National and Community Service's website addresses the current situation with the government shutdown. It says those AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers who won't get their stipend checks during the shutdown will get back-paid once the government opens back up and the funds return.

"This plan was formulated to address a short-term temporary lapse in funding (up to two weeks)," the memo said. "In the event of a long-term or permanent lapse of funding the plan will be re-evaluated."

"No matter what side of the argument you're on, closing down the government and, in this case, the negative impact on people who have made a commitment to volunteer to their community, can't be viewed as good," Dregne said.

In Waterloo, the government shutdown forced a group of eight AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) volunteers to cancel their scheduled two weeks' worth of construction work for Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity.

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