Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Before I get to my present day griping, I would like to begin with a short history of Peace Corps funding. Since its inception, funding for the Peace Corps has steadily risen. However, when adjusted for inflation, funding remained the same for the first 40-odd years of the existence of Peace Corps. The first significant increase to Peace Corps funding was ushered in by President Bush and continued by President Obama. Between 2008 and 2010, funding rose from $330 million to $400 million. This was the largest increase in Peace Corps history. It was meant to help expand the agency and put more volunteers on the ground. Specifically, the goal was to double the number of currently serving volunteers in time for the agency's fiftieth anniversary in 2011. Indeed, the number of volunteers has risen since 2008, though not quite so far. It was set to grow even more with President Obama's $40 million increase in the Peace Corps budget for 2011. However, that did not come to pass. Congress not only eliminated the proposed increase, but slashed $25 million from the previous year's budget. Peace Corps was expecting $440 million and received $375 million. I am all for fiscal responsibility, but this is insane.

While Congress was busy squabbling they funded government agencies through a series of continuing resolutions. These resolutions authorized the Peace Corps to continue spending at 2010 levels. Thus, the agency operated with a budget of $400 million for 7 and a half months while Congress took their sweet time passing the federal budget. Now there are only 5 and half months left in the fiscal year and suddenly Peace Corps is expected to make $25 million worth of cuts. All budget cuts are painful to some degree, but this one is being greatly exacerbated by the limited time frame and a lack of foresight.

Some cost-saving measures have no impact on me, such as a large reduction in the number of new volunteers. This will save Peace Corps substantially on stipends and medical expenses in the long-run, as well as reduce training costs in the short-term. However, reducing the size of incoming cohorts has not been enough to close the budget gap and other measures have trickled all the way from Washington to my hovel in Loopeng. When Congress told Peace Corps to cut $25 million from their budget, headquarters passed some of the burden on to their regional offices with the result that South Africa is expected to cut $150 000 from their budget. The cuts have hit home.

My close of service conference, where my cohort gets together for the last time to reflect on our service and prepare, mentally and medically, for repatriation has been cancelled.

The volunteer travel allowance has been slashed from R1345 to R250, an 80% decrease that is a significant reduction in take-home pay.

All committee meetings are cancelled.

I would love to talk to a Congressperson right now. I have a few questions:

1) Where did they think an organization that funds over eight-thousand volunteers living on stipends would find $25 million in 5.5 months?

2) How will pinching pennies from the Peace Corps address the $1.6 trillion deficit?

3) The next time they decide to be more fiscally "responsible", will they consider taking the budget cuts out of their own pocket instead of mine? Or even better, address the money-sucking herd of elephants in the room, the wars in the Middle East?

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