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LiteracyPrograms On the Line

There's a bumper sticker that says, "If you can read this, you are too darn close." Imagine if you couldn't read that sticker — or anything else.

ProLiteracy Worldwide, an adult literacy advocacy group, estimates that 30 million Americans over age 16 don't read well enough to fill out a job application. But federal and state cutbacks make funding an issue for literacy programs. "As organizations try to serve more learners with fewer dollars, the assistance volunteers provide in working with adult learners and performing other tasks can be the difference between surviving or not," says ProLiteracy's Barry Benson.

The New America Foundation reports that the fiscal year 2010 federal appropriations bill included $66 million for Even Start, a federal family literacy program that includes adults. With Congress struggling over budget constraints, the adult literacy portion of the 2011 bill may not survive.

Local programs are struggling, too. For example, at Michigan's Read Muskegon, which has a $7,000 annual budget, the program survives mostly on donations, fundraisers and grants. Hundreds of learners are on a waiting list and more tutors are needed, says the program's literacy coordinator, Connie Nesbary.

— Frank McCoy

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