NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- The Senate Appropriations Committee has agreed to increase funding for the Peace Corps, but by far less than many Peace Corps veterans were seeking.
A nationwide push by Peace Corps supporters seeking $450 million in funding for the 2010 fiscal year budget appears to be coming up short. The Senate Appropriations Committee agreed Thursday to fund the program at $373.4 million, the amount proposed by the Obama administration and $33.4 million more than the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
The committee’s funding recommendation for the Peace Corps is the largest percentage increase in the program’s budget since 1993.
In its report, the Appropriations Committee said it "strongly supports the mission of the Peace Corps," and that it can remain a relevant way for the country to promote its values abroad.
But the committee also wrote in its report that the program is in need of serious reform, which has so far failed to materialize.
"Past efforts by the committee to encourage the Peace Corps to reform and make better use of resources have been ignored. A new Director with a new vision, who recognizes the need for reform, supports transparency and seeks a constructive relationship with Congress, is urgently needed," the report reads. "The Committee believes that reform, not dramatic increases in funding in a single year, is the Peace Corps’ most urgent need."
Kevin Bubriski, a Shaftsbury resident and Peace Corps veteran, has been a vocal supporter of increased funding for the program. He said he and other proponents of increased funding are disappointed, but understand the committee’s concerns.
"Maybe they thought Peace Corps could wait a year while they find a new director," said Bubriski, who served as a drinking water engineer in Nepal from 1977 to 1978. "We are disappointed, but I think we put in a good effort and we will continue to do what we can."
Bubriski said he and others know that lawmakers are concerned that the Peace Corps "is in limbo." Bubriski said he even agrees. But he is confident that new leadership will soon be in place, allowing for significant changes.
"Ideally, the new director is going to be someone who has experience in the Peace Corps ... or has some comparable experience," Bubriski said. "I do have great faith in President Obama to pick someone competent."
Supporters in Vermont made a significant effort to sway Sen. Patrick Leahy, a member of the committee, and head of the subcommittee tasked with shaping Peace Corps funding. Bubriski said he hand delivered more than two dozen letters from the area to Leahy in Washington.
Leahy aide David Carle said the Vermont Democrat, who heads the Subcommittee on State Department and Foreign Operations, has been a "life-long supporter and fan of the Peace Corps." But Leahy must fund many programs with a set amount of money. Increasing funding for the Peace Corps means funds must be reduced elsewhere, Carle said.
The bill totals about $48.7 billion in discretionary spending.
The funding bill was approved unanimously by the subcommittee, and approved 29 to 1 in the full Appropriations Committee. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, was the only person to vote against it.
Bubriski said he understands concerns about leadership and Leahy’s reluctance to boost funding for the Peace Corps even more this year.
"I’m an ardent supporter of Leahy and everything he’s done for the state of Vermont and everything he’s done for us nationally, and will continue to be," he said.
But he and other supporters of the program plan to keep pushing for more funding and expansion of the program into additional countries.
"With Peace Corps, I think the thing is to keep up ... the effort and think in terms of the long-term. I think it’s very hard in America and the world these days to sustain that perspective," Bubriski said. "One could look at this as a defeat because we didn’t get the funding, and yet Peace Corps is still there and will have a new director that Obama will have a hand in selecting."
The committee said it expects to recommend additional increases in funding in the future with the goal of doubling the Peace Corps. Part of the goal includes sending more volunteers to countries "with large Muslim populations." But currently, "few of such countries are safe enough or otherwise ready to host volunteers."
The bill will now head to the Senate floor for approval by the full Senate.
Contact Neal P. Goswami at email@example.com