FEMA Enlisting AmeriCorps Members for Disaster Relief

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AmeriCorps, often called the "domestic Peace Corps," will be sending some of its young volunteers to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency respond to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters in and around the United States.

The new program hopes to divert the power of the youthful volunteers who make up the popular AmeriCorps program's membership into a new unit called the "FEMA Corps." The federal government plans to enroll 1,600 young men and women in the inaugural class, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

AmeriCorps members must apply into the competitive program. If they are selected, they are assigned to a site - typically a non-profit or government organization - where they give 1700 hours of service.

In exchange, the volunteers are paid a small, monthly stipend and granted an education award upon the completion of their service that can be used to pay either student loan debt or future tuition.

The FEMA Corps members will primarily assist in logistics and community outreach. FEMA staff will continue to take care of the most dangerous disaster relief tasks including deploying search and rescue teams and setting up emergency shelters.

Last year, AmeriCorps members helped in the aftermath of the tornado that ravaged Joplin, Missouri. Many members are already well-trained volunteers and volunteer coordinators, so they make a natural choice to partner with FEMA.

Government analysts expect that the new program will save the federal government $60 million a year in disaster relief funds. The additional room in FEMA's budget will be used to train the FEMA Corps members.