After Abortion Controversy, AmeriCorps’ Health Program Is Shutting Down


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Community HealthCorps has
trained thousands of health care workers

Corporation for National and Community Service

ID: 9070105

AmeriCorps, the federal public service program, is ending its
biggest effort to train health care workers after two decades
of sending volunteers to help poor health clinics. The beloved
program’s shuttering has been whispered about since April, when
it was dragged into a political fight over abortion.

Best known for training teacher volunteers in underserved
schools,
AmeriCorps has also trained more than 7,300 members at
health clinics nationwide as part of the Community
HealthCorps program run by the National Association of Community Health
Centers (NACHC) nonprofit based in Bethesda, Maryland. They
give HIV tests, educate asthma and diabetes patients, remind
the elderly to take medicine, and perform a myriad of other
tasks now at more than 200 thinly staffed health
clinics in 17 states and Washington D.C.

But that ends this year. On Thursday, BuzzFeed News has
learned, the Corporation for National and
Community Service (CNCS), the $1 billion federal agency
that runs AmeriCorps, will announce the program’s closure.

Community HealthCorps “was our longest-running health care
program,” CNCS spokesperson Samantha Warfield told BuzzFeed
News, confirming that NACHC failed to secure renewal of its
grant this year. The grant has given $30 million to the
nonprofit over the last five years.

More than 400 AmeriCorps volunteers,
who receive a small stipend and student loan forgiveness in
return for their service, are still in Community HealthCorps
and will be able to finish out their term at clinics, Warfield
said.

In April, an Inspector General report
concluded that Community HealthCorps members had provided
emotional support and doula care to abortion patients at three
New York City clinics, in violation of federal law. It also
found that allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse in the
program had been ignored.

Following the report, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who heads the
Congressional spending committee with oversight of AmeriCorps,
called for
suspending the health clinic program. “I am outraged by the
terrible misuse of taxpayer dollars,” he said at the time.
AmeriCorps indeed suspended the program.

Warfield said that Americorps is not renewing the Community
HealthCorps grant mostly because of inadequate proposed
measurements of effectiveness in the grant application made in
2015. She said it had nothing to do with the investigation or
the members who had aided in abortion procedures.

Claudia Gibson, the spokesperson for NACHC, the nonprofit that
runs the health clinic program, told BuzzFeed News that she
couldn’t comment until June 30. “I can tell you, however, that
we are no longer accepting applications,” Gibson said by email.
A similar embargo has barred clinics and AmeriCorps members
from discussing the program’s closing.

Community HealthCorps and other long-running programs have been
in jeopardy for most of the last decade. A 2009 federal law
required that AmeriCorps programs prove they are good financial
investments for federal dollars, something hard to quantify for
widely dispersed community service programs started under the
earlier, looser rules.

“They really put older programs at a disadvantage against
smaller programs that are more explicitly targeted at these new
[payoff] requirements,” former AmeriCorps director Shirley
Sagawa told BuzzFeed News.

Overall, AmeriCorps enrolls about 80,000 trainees every year,
and the 2009 law called for increasing that number to 250,000.
But the increase
hasn’t happened. Sagawa noted that despite rare bipartisan
support for AmeriCorps, its budget has been mostly flat during
the Obama Administration, making the competition more fierce
between schools, clinics, and other proposals to help strapped
communities.

“The pendulum has really swung in favor of programs showing a
national benefit, instead of ones tailored to local benefits,”
said Sagawa, who was deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton
when she was first lady. “It might be time for it to swing
back.”



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