Getting Stung

By: Guest Authors

By: Kevin Hilliker

The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education act has been renamed, “the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, and Act to reauthorize and reform the national service laws.” The name alone stirs images of smiling citizens helping their fellow mankind. The expressed purpose of this bill is to expand volunteer efforts, improve education, and help the needy. It is being sold as a way to encourage people of all ages, from elementary aged children to retired senior citizens, to donate their time for the greater good. It all sounds remarkably noble. The packaging is beautiful. But once we unwrap the latest gift from D.C., we will find at best, an empty box and at worst, a hornet’s nest.

Many of the opponents to the GIVE/SERVE act see it as well intentioned, but misguided. I am not willing to give the authors of the bill so much credit. I see it as a premeditated power grab destined to fail. After taking a step back to look at the bill as a whole, I believe that it is bad for the American public on three fronts. It will be a disaster from a business standpoint, it will be used to further controversial social ideals, and odds are it won’t remain voluntary for long.

This bill is set up to spend six billion dollars in the first five years (we all know what a reliable job the federal government does of staying within a budget, so don’t get too attached to that figure). It will increase participation in AmeriCorps alone, to a quarter of a million workers . This creates a positively massive government entity. Here we have our first problem. Does anyone really believe that a bureaucracy can effectively run what would become one of the largest employers in the world? All we have to do is take a look at other areas the federal government has taken over. How about welfare? Only a fraction of the money that goes into welfare actually reaches its intended target. It gets sucked up by “distribution costs” and layers of red tape. How about the magic Washington worked on the banking industry and public schools? When congress can’t turn a profit in their own cafeteria, how can we trust them to effectively oversee all of these nonprofit groups? Maybe somewhere in the world there are a handful of people who could run an operation like this, but I doubt they are among are current government employees. What makes charities successful and an asset to society is that they must be efficient. They have limited resources and can only devote funds to programs that work. They don’t have the luxury of wasting their donors money on massive committees, oversight groups, and distribution costs. But once government gets involved, you had better believe that all those things come with the package. Soon these organizations will be as over-funded and under productive as any other Washington pet project. When the money has been exhausted, we all know what comes next. No politician is going to want to look like the bad guy who said no to charities. Instead of streamlining these operations we will hand over more tax payer money, and the cycle will begin anew.

Certainly, there are many wonderful charities. Most of us have a few to which we often donate. We find places that do the most for those who need it the most. Many of my favorites are run by the faith based community. They provide necessities such as food, clothing, or medical care. Most must rely on private funding, because their religious nature precludes them from any public funding. I have no problem with this. On the other hand, there are a large number of groups dedicated to pushing ideology that I just don’t like. As Americans, we have the right to pick and chose who gets to use our hard earned money. This brings us to the next problem. Who decided that these nonprofits are worth our money? Even though pro-abortion groups have been cut out of the funding(for now), there are still plenty of allotments to raise an eyebrow. Some of George Soros’s groups are set to get a pretty penny. Americorps, who has worked with groups like ACORN and lobbied against three-strike laws, is getting their money. A host of groups most of us can’t figure out like Clean Energy Corps, Social Innovation Fund, and Learn and Serve America have received their funding. Contrary to what we have been told about this kindhearted bill, there seem to be a lot of organizations that work more on social change and less on feeding the poor, that are getting a healthy chunk of the money. When considering the leftist slant of some of these groups, and the degree to which those who are involved with them will become dependent on future federal funding, it seems that the powers in Washington are attempting to create a permanent voter base. Sorry, I don’t like the idea of taxpayers funding groups that exist primarily to promote social change. Surely, I would not object to all of the programs in the bill under different circumstances. I do however, raise a loud objection to my money going to things that contradict my core beliefs and don’t help much of anyone.

Most of us do some research before donating either our money or our time. I have a feeling that a large number of us will research this bill and see that it is not worth our time, or our children’s time. Which brings us to our last problem, and the million dollar (or six billion dollar) question. Will the GIVE/SERVE act remain voluntary? Originally the bill(H.R. 1388) contained a portion dealing with mandatory service, starting with children. I quote “a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people.” Many of us were shocked by this brazen suggestion. This section was later removed from the bill, due to the public outcry. I can’t help but wonder why it was in there in the first place. My guess would be that a lot of people will not be interested in this type of service and the politicians know it. There will be a lot of us who will not participate in this project. Charitable contributions have fallen due to the economy and looming tax hikes. Many of us will try to focus our resources on saving the charities we believe in. That means less volunteers for GIVE/SERVE. When congress sees their baby understaffed, inefficient, and bankrupt they will step in. After all of the hype about restoring America and taking care of our neighbors, I fear this project will be “too big to fail”. I don’t think our government is quite bold enough to draft our youth into service at this time. There are however, many other ways to pressure citizens into the program. If our leaders so desired , they could make it just about impossible for the average person to afford college, work in the public sector, or get a home loan without “donating” some time. One section states this act will “support institutions of higher education that engage students in community service activities, provide service-learning courses, and encourage or assist graduates to pursue careers in public service in the nonprofit or government sector.” This could mean funding for universities that get on board and none for those that don’t. Most schools already have community service incentives. The difference is students are allowed to choose where they volunteer. With education costs soaring, it will be increasingly difficult to afford enrollment in any insititution that doesn’t require students to SERVE where the government chooses. If I sound paranoid consider this, after the mandatory service section disappeared from H.R.1388, another bill(H.R. 1444)was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott. Under section 4b6 it states: “Whether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation and overcome civic challenges by bringing together people from diverse economic, ethnic, and educational backgrounds.” Sound familiar? Since congress could only restrain themselves for about a week before trying to reintroduce this idea, I don’t think it is going away anytime soon. We need to keep our eyes and ears open. There are a million ways to implement some sort of mandatory participation, and we can’t anticipate the exact vehicle in which it could arrive.

I wish that I honestly believed this was a showing of incompetence. The deceptive packaging and the lightening fast passage of the bill, seem to point towards a carefully orchestrated plan. At this point, we need to be informed and vocal about any abuses or expansion of this legislation. It might be too late to return the box, but we don’t have to let the hornets out.

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