“It keeps me out of my wife’s hair,” jokes Anaker, who was a comptroller in the Army before launching a second career as a pilot. Still, he says, he enjoys his new gig — which he does for free — because it gives him the chance to help other seniors and unemployed people.
Anaker’s operation may close up shop if proposed state and federal budget cuts become reality. The tax program is perhaps the best-known effort of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, a nationwide organization that connects people over 55 with volunteer opportunities in their communities.
Gov. Robert Bentley zeroed out a $704,000 line item for RSVP in his proposed 2012 budget. While state officials say the cut won’t preclude the RSVP from getting some funding from other state agencies, the change would mean the program no longer has a guaranteed income from the state.
That’s worrisome for Denise Rucker, director of the program’s Calhoun County branch, headquartered in Jacksonville. RSVP gets about $22,000 annually from the state government, she said, and about $57,000 in federal funds.
Rucker and other RSVP directors are warily watching Washington, where legislators are mulling the elimination of Corporation for National and Community Service — the agency that provides the local RSVP with its federal funding.
On both the state and federal level, RSVP is facing the same budget ax that confronts any agency in a year of shortfalls. But Rucker said her organization may not survive this year’s cuts.
“Without those funds, we might have to close,” Rucker said. “”We do get funding from the cities where we work, like Jacksonville and Anniston, but there’s no way they could afford to make up for the loss of state and federal money.”
Rucker said the program coordinates the efforts of about 400 volunteers in the local area.
While those volunteers are seen at many local events, the organization itself is often invisible to the casual observer.
RSVP volunteers staff the Eubanks Visitor Center on the Chief Ladiga Trail in Piedmont. They serve as tutors for schoolchildren, volunteer as staff for the Red Cross and the United Way and stuff envelopes for local charities.
They also serve as a staffing pool for organizations that need a sudden surge of workers.
“Our volunteers work at Music at McClellan,” Rucker said. “When the T-Rex came to the museum (Anniston Museum of Natural History), they were there.”
Rucker said RSVP spends about $80,000 per year, which funds two full-time staffers, a part-time staffer — and the liability insurance needed to run a large staff of volunteers.
Bentley’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Ardis, said RSVP is “a very valued program” that became “a casualty of reduced revenue.”
She said the elimination of RSVP’s line item from the budget means that the agency won’t get funds specifically earmarked for the organization.
“That’s not to say that they won’t receive any funding,” she said. “They could still receive funding through their department (the Department of Senior Services.)”
It wasn’t clear at press time how much funding the department might provide. In the governor’s proposed budget, the department faces a cut of $2.36 million, or 14 percent of its current $16.81 million budget.
Shea Snider, spokewoman for Rep. Mike Rogers, said Rogers was not a sponsor of the bill that would cut federal funding for RSVP. Via e-mail she forwarded a statement from Rogers:
“There have been several pieces of legislation offered that would help address our fiscal challenges.” the statement read. “Congressman Rogers will continue to study these bills on their merits as they come up for a vote.”
Rucker acknowledges that even without RSVP, many seniors would go on volunteering for the organizations they’re working with now. But without RSVP as a recruiting clearinghouse, she said, charities would feel the pain soon.
As for the tax program — which is run directly by RSVP, and helped 2,000 customers last year — Bob Anaker thinks it would just go away.
“I hope that won’t happen,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there that are barely scraping by — people who probably need a tax preparer, but can’t afford to pay for one.”
Star Assistant Metro Editor Tim Lockette: 352-235-3560.