WASHINGTON -- With several Baltimore-area participants cheering him, President Clinton yesterday ushered in the second year of his cherished national-service program with a pointed appeal to the Republican-led Congress that wants to kill it.
Mr. Clinton trumpeted the accomplishments of the AmeriCorps program, an initiative he promoted as a candidate in 1992, when it often evoked rousing applause.
"I'm so grateful for all the things that they've done," he said, referring to first-year members.
"They've fought forest fires in Idaho, they've helped people after floods in Houston, they've built homes in Miami, they've helped to raise reading scores dramatically in Kentucky, they've helped to prevent lead poisoning in Portland, they've helped troubled youths and cared for people in nursing homes in Boston, and they certainly came to the rescue after Oklahoma City in some truly remarkable ways."
Mr. Clinton refers to the $577 million AmeriCorps program as a "domestic Peace Corps." This year, 25,000 participants will work full time for a year, serving 400 communities around the country. Members receive minimum wage and $4,725 to help pay for college or other educational expenses.
Fred Doughty, 18, of Baltimore became an AmeriCorps member yesterday. An honors graduate of Edmondson-Westside High School, Mr. Doughty will serve as tutor and mentor in some of the same East Baltimore schools he attended.
"I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile -- giving something back," he said.
Mr. Doughty will tutor through Civic Works, one of Baltimore AmeriCorps programs. He will receive minimum wage and a sum of $4,725 to defray expenses at Coppin State University.
In the stately setting of the White House East Room, 40 new AmeriCorps members -- six from Maryland, including three Baltimore natives -- were sworn in. Wearing matching black AmeriCorps caps and gray T-shirts, the new members cheered and high-fived the president as he entered and then when he left.
Despite the jubilation of the event, the long-term future of AmeriCorps is in doubt.
The House and Senate recently eliminated funding for AmeriCorps for the year beginning October 1996, with Republican critics labeling the program as costly and laden with bureaucracy. The White House has said if Congress cuts off funding for AmeriCorps, the president likely would use the veto to sustain the program.
"As we work to set spending priorities and balance the federal budget, there is no room for a program that burdens taxpayers with big bureaucracy and excessive costs like AmeriCorps," Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and longtime critic of AmeriCorps, said in a statement.
Marilyn Smith, who coordinates the Maryland program, said she had no doubts AmeriCorps would survive.
"I know the program inside and out and am sure that when people take a good, hard look, they'll find it has a rational and good outcome," she said.