AmeriCorps VISTA workers are worried about the future of their program on two fronts.
The first: President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget would eliminate almost all funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs a nationwide network of civic service programs, including AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA. Axing the corporation’s funding would effectively end those programs, which place temporary workers at nonprofit community organizations nationwide.
The second front, which, perhaps counterintuitively, worries VISTA workers more than the Trump proposal: the corporation itself is working on a reorganization that would shift VISTA and Senior Corps program oversight from 46 state offices to eight regional ones. It’s a move that VISTA workers in Minnesota fear would make it more difficult to justify and continue their work at a given spot because they’d have to go through staff at an office in Kansas City, Mo., instead of the program’s state headquarters in Minneapolis. It could also mean less support and fewer resources to go around, they worry.
“The reason why we are even here is because of the state office,” said Michelle Walton, a VISTA leader at the Northwest Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji. She is one of four such workers there who secure grants and administer some of the development center’s programs.
Walton and others worry that they’d be “just another number” to Kansas City staff.
“We haven’t established those relationships,” Walton said. “They’re not aware of the work or the context.”
Staff at the Minnesota headquarters have already gotten sort-of pink slips — “job abolishment courtesy notices” — as have other employees in state offices across the United States, according to AmeriCorps staff.
A spokesperson for the community service corporation said the reorganization plan has been in the works since 2016, but it was codified in a budget proposal they made at the behest of the Trump administration.
Some in Congress oppose the reorganization, including four members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota.
“It is our view that the hastily developed plan to eliminate state and territorial offices...will not contribute to the success of national service, but rather undermine support for AmeriCorps and Senior Corps grantees and volunteers,” Betty McCollum, Ilhan Omar, Collin Peterson Dean Philips and 32 other House members wrote to Barbara Stewart, the corporation’s CEO. “Strong local relationships have been forged over the last 25 years with state office staff being essential to understanding local needs, especially in underserved rural communities, tribal communities, and areas lacking consistent internet access.”
Members of the Democrat-controlled House Committee on Appropriations voted in May to increase the corporation’s funding by $55 million rather than effectively zero it out. Committee members also wrote that they were “disappointed” that the corporation is moving forward with the reorganization, and they directed it to cease implementation of the plan until corporation leaders engage with those impacted in a “meaningful” way and further study the effects moving to a regional model would have.
The reorganization is seen by some as a larger threat than the Trump plan to out-and-out close Corporation for National and Community Service because it’s a common occurrence for the president to “x-out” the corporation from his budget proposals, according to Eric Nesheim, the executive director of the Minnesota Literacy Council, which sponsors VISTA programs across the Minnesota. But, he said, Congress has routinely voted to keep the service corporation in business.
“The president deciding it’s not important often doesn’t end up meaning anything,” Nesheim said last week. “So while that’s a threat, I would say that’s not the biggest problem that we’re up against because nobody thinks that’s actually going to happen.”