AmeriCorps and youth education programs on the chopping block

On Thursday, President Trump plans to release his “skinny budget” with recommendations on how much money Congress should send to each agency, and how it should be spent. The White House will likely ask for a $54 billion cut to non-defense related spending. These across the board cuts are expected to have devastating effects on environmental protections and public health. But they also put at risk some very important, low-cost and effective programs that support service and learning opportunities in the outdoors for our children and youth.

According to a draft budget memo, AmeriCorps has been singled out for complete elimination by the President. AmeriCorps engages more than 80,000 young Americans in service opportunities. Since its founding, AmeriCorps members have contributed over 1.4 billion hours of service helping local communities struggling with poverty, hunger and natural disasters. AmeriCorps also supports opportunities for youth and young veterans to gain critical job skills and participate in career pathway programs stewarding America’s great outdoors, all while whittling away the billions of dollars worth of deferred maintenance projects that are overwhelming our parks and public lands. The entire Corporation for National and Community Service, which houses AmeriCorps and was established through legislation and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, is on the chopping block.

But it doesn’t end there. As the White House plans to slash the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 24 percent, an important program that prepares our children and youth to one day solve very complex environmental challenges is also at risk. The National Environmental Education Act (NEEA) programs at the EPA have also been placed on an elimination list. Another act signed into law by President Bush in 1990, NEEA directs the EPA to provide national leadership to empower citizens with the necessary skills to make informed decisions, protect their health, build strong communities and take responsible action. Environmental education grants are highly leveraged by matching funds from states and the private sector, making them an incredibly cost-effective way to prepare our children to solve some of our most pressing environmental challenges and to thrive in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Further budget cuts may put other important programs administered by our land and water management agencies at risk. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) and competitive education grants could get caught in the middle of large cuts at the agency. These programs provide students with hands-on learning to address regional watershed needs and to improve their performance in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), areas where America’s students have been lagging.

Today’s children and youth are spending less time outdoors than any generation in history. Low-cost programs across the federal government help ensure that today’s young people are equipped with the knowledge and experience they need to solve tomorrow’s most pressing societal and environmental challenges.

Not only would the elimination of these programs be devastating for our kids and the communities served, they would also hurt the economy in the long-run. Outdoor recreation contributes $646 billion annually to the U.S. economy and supports more than six million jobs from urban to rural America. Programs that engage youth in service and learning in the outdoors are critical contributors to this important economic sector. In the scheme of things, these programs cost next to nothing, and their elimination is short-sighted at best. As Congress prepares to receive the President’s budget, it’s up to all of us to let them know that we are counting on them to save AmeriCorps and other youth programs from elimination. Call your senators today to tell them to protect AmeriCorps and environmental education programs for youth and children: 1-855-980-2308.

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