Update, April 21, 2009: President Obama signs the Serve America Act into law. To take effect October 1, 2009.
Friday, Sept. 12, Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced new legislation called the “Serve Amerca Act” to expand national and community service opportunities. After the bill was introduced in the Senate, it was referred to the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
The legislation will seek to expand the number of national service participants to 250,000 (175,000 more than can be currently funded).
Themes include expanding opportunities for people to serve at every stage of life, and to use service to meet specific national challenges like natural disaster preparedness and response, high school drop out prevention, energy conservation and environmental stewardship, and health care and more jobs access for people with low-incomes. It includes the creation of a reserve corps of national service alumni who can be mobilized in the wake of a natural disaster.
The act seeks specific opportunities to serve for students, working adults, retirees, and “Americans of all ages.” A new benefit for older participants would be an education award transferable to grandchildren. Currently AmeriCorps members must use their Eli Segal Education Award on their own tuition or student loans.
The bill, if passed, would support social entrepreneurship through establishing a commission to look at cross-sector solutions to social problems, and to apply effective business practices in the nonprofit sector by establishing venture capital funds to increase its talent pool and efficacy.
Finally, the bill seeks to expand Volunteers for Prosperity, which fosters short-term international volunteer opportunities for United States professionals to serve in developing countries.
(The information here is a summary of a press release from Senator Kennedy‘s and Senator Hatch‘s offices.)
Update from the Service Nation Summit, Sept. 12, 2008:
Orrin Hatch officially announced the new Serve America Act bill this morning at the Service Nation Summit and spoke touchingly of his work with Ted Kennedy “across the aisle.” The senators have worked together for a long time and Hatch’s affection for his friend was obvious and endearing. (Senator Kennedy was convalescing at home.)
In a statement that drew enthusiastic applause, Hatch announced that both Senators McCain and Obama have signed on to co-sponsor the legislation! Other co-sponsors include Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), RPCV Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR). To the bi-partisan crowd gathered for the Summit, all supporters of national service, the support of both Presidential candidates means a lot. Hopes are high for national service and the next administration.
In an interview with Hatch after his speech, he addressed a question about the cost to government of national service. The bill, he said, “should please those who are concerned about cost.” He cited the relatively low cost of supporting trained volunteers compared to the cost of allowing high schoolers to drop out, and ignoring young people who have lost their role models to prison and worse fates. Further, according to Hatch, elevating these youth, educating them, and connecting them with job skills will serve the economy well, as will the creation of jobs, including in the energy industry.
Read the Press Release.
Read the executive summary of S.3487, The Serve America Act.
Read the entire bill (PDF) written by Emma Vadehra.
Read the opinion piece by Senators Kennedy and Hatch in TIME Magazine.
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I have heard this statement:
“Through the AmeriCorps and other programs authorized in this bill, participants are eligible for a living stipend or an educational award. These small rewards make it possible for people of all backgrounds and income levels to be empowered by service.”
I still don’t understand why we need to pay for this to occur… We already pay teachers, and I don’t see why they are “unable” to accomplish teaching empathy in their current or modified program of education. We could certainly incorporate local community activities to teach kids “real world” scenarios without having to spend additional monies to fund “service.”
We might as well make paid positions with people who are well-versed in these issues (psychology, etc.) to teach empathy in schools and to help kids understand others who are “different” from them. Service is great, but paying for service won’t necessarily bring out the best service or the result we are “looking for.”