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Salmon Corps Awaits Budget to Start Habitat Work

by Wil Phinney
Columbia Basin Bulletin - February 14, 2002

Salmon Corps, one of several national service programs under the AmeriCorps umbrella, is waiting on Congress to pass a budget that will allow Native American crews to begin work on salmon habitat in the Pacific Northwest.

Last year, 110 young adults from nine Indian nations and Portland, combined for more than 53,000 service hours, planting nearly 75,000 trees and shrubs, building 57 miles of fence and tagging 220,000 salmon.

But last fall, after new crews were recruited in November, a moratorium on hiring was instituted because the Corporation for National and Community Service had not secured funds required to provide education awards to all members. AmeriCorps had intended to provide full scholarships for 70,000 members, but the National Service Trust received funding to cover 50,000. More than 400 programs like Salmon Corps are affected by the moratorium.

"There's money in the budget, but not enough for all the AmeriCorps programs," said Scott Welch, director of Development for Salmon Corps.

Instead of squads working to enhance salmon habitat, the program has been pared to four people working in an office in Portland. All seven site managers - at six Indian reservations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, have been laid off.

"We have a skeleton staff to keep the doors open, but we're coming to the point where we won't have any money left," said Welch. "We've turned in all vehicles and we'll have to close the office because we have no money for the program this year."

Under Salmon Corps, an Earth Conservation Corps program that started in 1994, members commit to working 1,700 hours and can earn up to 15 college credits as cultural resource and fisheries technicians. Members also can receive assistance in obtaining a GED if needed and are awarded a $4,725 education scholarship upon graduation. Last year about 60 of the 110 members who started the January through September program graduated, which follows the AmeriCorps average of about 40 percent attrition.

The lion's share of $1.34 million in federal funds pays corps member stipends of $9,600 each, which totals about $980,000. The program's full budget is closer to $2.5 million, with Salmon Corps responsible for generating more than $1.5 million in non-federal grants.

Until the moratorium is lifted, Salmon Corps is unable to draw down federal funds to support the 2003 program year. Unfortunately, Welch said, Salmon Corps also has limited access to identified matching funds because they are restricted for specific activities or require a Corps to be in operation.

The corporation cannot legally authorize enrollment of members until additional funds are available in the National Service Trust, which especially impacts programs like Salmon Corps, which expected to start in January.

Last year, among other things, Salmon Corps members:

Salmon Corps and Earth Conservation Corps are components in AmeriCorps' network of national service programs that engage Americans in intensive service to meet needs in education, public safety, health and the environment. AmeriCorps members serve through more than 2,100 nonprofits, public agencies and faith-based organizations. They tutor and mentor youth, build affordable housing, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, run after-school programs and help communities respond to disasters.

Created in 1993, AmeriCorps is part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which also oversees Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America. Together these programs engage more than two million Americans of all ages and backgrounds in service each year.

Wil Phinney
Salmon Corps Awaits Budget to Start Habitat Work
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 14, 2003

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