Thursday, May 28
NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON — A group of local Peace Corps veterans has joined a nationwide push for significantly more funding for the volunteer service program.

The program has a pronounced Vermont connection with Sen. Patrick Leahy, who serves as chairman of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee dealing with state and foreign operations. Leahy's subcommittee, along with its counterpart in the U.S. House, will determine how much funding the Peace Corps will receive in the federal budget this year.

"The idea, kind of following in the words of Obama, was to double the budget for the Peace Corps ... and make the opportunity of the Peace Corps available to more Americans," said Kevin Bubriski, of Shaftsbury, who served as a drinking water engineer in Nepal from 1977 to 1978. "There had been a lot of talk about the Peace Corps and about the idea of ramping it up. It was a talking point, as I recall, during the campaign."

President Barack Obama is seeking $373 million, though. Bubriski and Bennington resident Sarah Poggi, as well as countless other Peace Corps supporters, are seeking $450 million.

"If that were to happen that would be wonderful. That's what we're looking for. We feel that it's important to be as active as we can in Vermont right now because of Patrick Leahy's role," he said.

Leahy spokesman David Carle said it is too soon to say if the $450 million being sought by supporters of the program is possible. Subcommittees are given a cap to fund the programs under their jurisdiction, he said, so if funding is added to one program, it must be cut from another. Leahy's subcommittee has not yet received its allocation, "so it would be premature to speculate on what funding level will be possible," Carle said.

Bubriski and others are not waiting around, however. He is hosting a gathering next weekend for local Peace Corps veterans and supporters. Attendees are supposed to bring a letter to Leahy expressing support for the additional funding.

"We want to keep him busy opening our mail and let him know how essentially important Peace Corps is," Bubriski said.

At less than half a billion dollars, the Peace Corps budget is a small fraction of the federal budget, he said. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent in the federal budget every year that do not produce "such specific, tangible results," he said. Additional funding will allow the program to expand into more countries and allow more volunteers the opportunity to serve.

"In many ways it's becoming a very precarious and dangerous place, but on the other hand it's becoming a smaller and more connected place," he said. "The Peace Corps experience is so different. It's a wonderful way to give Americans access to another world."

Bubriski said he and other veterans of the program who are passionate about what the program can do plan to continue pushing until more funding is secured.

"It's really a whole new time for America. There are these possibilities and opportunities, and why not go for it?" Bubriski said. "We're trying to get all of these quiet Peace Corps veterans to come out and remember what it's all about."

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com