07/31/2012 11:25 am ET | Updated Sep 30, 2012

National Service: An Imperative In Today's Economy

When our country faces difficult times, economically or otherwise, it is almost always our citizenry that show us the way forward.

Today, we are faced with increasingly difficult choices. How can we meet the growing need for services with shrinking fiscal resources at every level of government? How can we improve the lives of people in our communities and help them thrive when we can barely afford to provide them with the basic services they need to survive?

The answer is clear. We need cost-effective strategies for public problem solving that leverage the most powerful resource we have: the American people.

Two new reports released by Voices for National Service detail the vital role national service plays in providing cost-effective solutions to improve local communities and strengthen the American workforce and economy at large.

"National Service: Cost-Effectively Delivering Critical Services to Americans in Need" demonstrates how national service programs are mobilizing citizens to improve educational outcomes for children, help seniors live independently, and increase access to quality health-care services and affordable housing. They are also providing badly needed capacity to disaster relief across the country, having played pivotal roles in community rebuilding efforts after the Iowa floods of 2008, the devastating series of tornadoes throughout the Midwest in 2011, and the tragic aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

While to some the services provided and the outcomes achieved are testament enough to the worthiness of the investment, all the work is done at a three-to-one return on taxpayer investment. The more than 70,000 nonprofit organizations supported by the Corporation for National & Community Service match the funds they receive with corporate and philanthropic dollars to maximize the federal investment, bringing new private-sector resources into communities across the country.

One of the most devastating problems we face is skyrocketing unemployment. "National Service: Providing Pathways to Employment" highlights the unique role that national service programs play in providing Americans with the skills nonprofit, corporate, and public-sector employers are looking for from job applicants in this challenging economy. Given the rapid growth of the nonprofit sector (the third largest industry in America's economy, employing 10.5 million workers, or one tenth of America's workforce), the skills acquired by citizens through national service are particularly relevant to growing and strengthening the recovering American economy. Adequately preparing our nation's workforce for an increasingly competitive global marketplace will require creative new approaches to preparing people -- especially young people -- for the world of work. Public- and private-sector leaders agree: People who have spent a year or more in national service programs bring a set of skills and attitudes that make them especially attractive new hires. They are able to persist in difficult circumstances and work with diverse people, and they have a strong work ethic and sense of purpose.

Nevertheless, despite the overwhelming evidence that national service is integral to the health and strength of the American economy, the House Appropriations Committee voted last week to cut funding for national service programs through the Corporation for National and Community Service by 74 percent, eliminating AmeriCorps, the Volunteer Generation Fund, VISTA, the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), and the Social Innovation Fund. This decision completely disregards the essential role national service organizations are playing in communities across the country and stands to cause irreparable harm at a time when fiscally efficient support is needed more than ever.

While people across America are struggling and Congressional leaders are facing unprecedented and seemingly impossible choices about federal spending, national service is providing an answer to both of these challenges. An infusion of high-impact, cost-effective people power is bringing help, hope, and, most importantly, results to communities across our nation, leveraging private support and community volunteers through national service programs. The bang for the buck is compelling and badly needed, given today's economic realities.

The American people have faced the threat of national service program elimination before, and we have won. We have always reminded our nation's leaders of the bipartisan legacy of service led by both Presidents Bush, President Clinton, and President Obama. We have always educated our congressmen about the leveraged impact national service has on their communities and the devastating losses they would suffer if those programs were eliminated. We will fight this fight again. And once again, we will win.