WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Friday to give an extra $100 million this year to AmeriCorps, signaling strong bipartisan support for the government's financially troubled volunteer service program.
Senators voted 71-21 to defeat an attempt by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to strip the money from a spending bill. Advocates of AmeriCorps say that without the extra money, the program would have to leave unfilled up to 20,000 of its planned 50,000 volunteer slots.
AmeriCorps has struggled with severe cash problems since last year, when it signed up 20,000 more volunteers than it could afford. That has led the agency to come under withering bipartisan criticism in Congress for mismanagement and inefficiency.
On Friday, Leslie Lenkowsky, chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps and other federal volunteer agencies, announced his resignation.
Despite the Senate's vote, the fate of the extra money is in doubt. Rep. James T. Walsh (R-N.Y.), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls AmeriCorps' budget, said he opposed the extra money because of the agency's "poor management and weak financial oversight."
Sessions cited those problems in his failed effort to kill the extra money for the program. He and others said it was likely the money would not be spent until next year anyway.
"This is not an emergency. It's just one more typical bureaucratic failure," Sessions said.
But supporters said that without the allocation, hundreds of volunteer programs from coast to coast would have to be shut down quickly.
"Who are we going to punish if we don't put out the money. Not the bureaucracy ... but the volunteers in our communities," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who led the effort to win the extra $100 million.
AmeriCorps volunteers tutor children, repair houses and perform other work with nonprofit organizations.
Each volunteer receives a $9,300 stipend for service to the corps and is eligible for a $4,725 college grant afterward. A volunteer serves up to a year.
The volunteer program has already received $275 million for the current federal budget year, which ends Oct. 1.
Mikulski demanded Lenkowsky's resignation last month. National service corporation spokesman Sandy Scott said that was not a factor in Lenkowsky's departure.
President Bush intends to name David Eisner, formerly vice president of corporate relations at AOL Time Warner, as his replacement.
The extra AmeriCorps money was included in a bill providing $2 billion this year for natural disasters, fighting forest fires and investigating the February crash of the Columbia space shuttle. The bill also had $2.5 billion for the Senate and other congressional operations next year.
The bill includes extra money for the Capitol Visitors' Center, an underground structure being built east of the Capitol that has encountered big cost overruns. And senators added millions for clearing trees infested with beetles and repairing levees.
The overall bill was approved by a vote of 85 to 7.