News and analysis
March 13, 2012

White House Adds AmeriCorps Members to Help in Natural Disasters

The Obama administration announced today it had created a new program to train AmeriCorps members to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency respond to natural disasters.

The new “FEMA Corps” will add 1,600 people a year to the AmeriCorps rolls over five years, welcome news for a program that has faced spending cuts and freezes in recent years.

FEMA will transfer money to the Corporation for National and Community Service to pay for the additional members, which administration officials said would amount to about $54.4-million a year once the program is fully operational.

But they said the program would save taxpayers money—$60-million in an average disaster year—since using AmeriCorps members would be cheaper than calling on additional FEMA reserve members after disasters strike.

Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security, told a news conference the program would help FEMA respond to disasters quickly, give young people job skills, and encourage the “ethic of public service.”

Civilian Community Corps

The program will significantly bolster the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a full-time residential program for people ages 18 to 24 who receive $4,000, room and board, and a scholarship of about $5,550 for 10 months of service. Members work as teams to help nonprofits on projects like relief efforts following the tornadoes that hit several Midwestern states last week.

The new members will be added to the current Civilian Community Corps enrollment of 1,200 (out of a total of 82,500 AmeriCorps members of all kinds). About 480 will start to serve in August, with the number growing to 1,600 over 18 months, said Sandy Scott, a spokesman for the national-service agency.

Rich Serino, deputy FEMA administrator, told the news conference that corps members would work alongside FEMA employees and reservists to respond to disasters, then stay in communities to help them recover.

Robert Velasco, acting chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said the corporation has worked with FEMA for 17 years on disaster-response projects, but this formalizes and steps up the relationship, adding that it could be a model for other “formal partnerships” with federal agencies. “We do believe this is a new chapter in terms of how we can think of national service,” he said.