Today in the U.S. Senate, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act passed, 79-19.
The legislation re-authorizes and expands domestic and international service opportunities for all Americans. See how your senators voted. Last week the companion bill passed the House.
Senator Orrin Hatch added an amendment at the last minute to re-name the legislation after Senator Edward Kennedy.
The bill was amended on the Senate floor and the legislation was expanded to include the following:
- Baucus Amendment to express the Sense of the Senate that Congress should preserve the income tax deduction for charitable contributions and look for ways to continue to encourage charitable giving.
- Burr Modified Amendment to improve the provisions relating to criminal history checks.
- Warner Amendment to conduct a study regarding the establishment of a Volunteer Management Corps program.
The bill is expected to be sent back to the House of Representatives for quick approval of the Senate’s changes, with the goal of getting the bill to President Obama for signature next week.
Senator Mikulski said, “I want to thank Senator Kennedy, Senator Hatch and Senator Enzi for their hard work crafting this legislation. Many of us present here today have participated in service in our lifetimes and, in giving back, we all got back more than we ever gave. This bill is not about programs, it’s about American values – the spirit of volunteerism and neighbor helping neighbor. By creating opportunities for Americans to participate in their society, this bill will make a major contribution to our country.”
Senator Hatch said, “Volunteer service is the lifeblood of our nation. It brings out the best in our people and strengthens our communities. That is why the Serve America Act is so important. This historic legislation will inspire civic-minded Americans across the nation to raise the bar of service and meet every challenge.”
Alan Khazei, of Be The Change Inc, said in a statement:
“[W]hen the story is written about this bill, it will not be any one Member of Congress, or even a President, that is solely credited with its passage. Rather, it will be a story of citizens, and organizations, that came together with a shared belief that national and community service can transform our country. This coalition of over 190 organizations, working closely with Voices for National Service and America Forward, put this issue on the national agenda and through much hard work and mobilization, led to its passage in the United States Congress.
“Over the next few days, the bill will return to the House and then, hopefully, to President Obama’s desk where he will sign it into law. We will continue to keep you updated as more details become available.”
The Kennedy Serve America Act will:
- Expand opportunities for people to serve at every stage of life.
- Use service to meet specific national challenges. Put service to work to solve our most pressing challenges, such as tackling the dropout crisis and strengthening our schools; improving energy efficiency; safeguarding the environment; improving health care in low-income communities; expanding economic opportunities for low-income individuals; and preparing for and responding to disasters and emergencies.
I. Ask Many More Americans to Give a Year to Solve Specific Challenges: Building on the success of AmeriCorps, the legislation will create new, effective “Corps” focused on areas of national need. It will ask 175,000 Americans to give a year of service through these corps as part of a new national commitment to solve these challenges, expanding the number of national service participants to 250,000.
II. Increase Opportunities to Serve by People of All Ages:
- For Students, Increase Service Early in Life: Service early in life will put more and more youth on a path to a lifetime of service. The legislation will improve opportunities for young people in low income, high-need communities to engage in service to improve their own communities.
- For Working Adults, Encourage Employers to Let Employees Serve, by establishing a tax incentive for employers who allow employees to take paid leave for full-time service.
- For Retirees, Value Their Skills and Make Service Work for Them. Many retiring citizens are ready, willing, and able to be involved in service and have skills the public needs, as evidenced by those who already serve through the current Senior Corps Programs. The legislation will build upon the existing framework and enhance incentives for retirees to give a year of service through the new Corps, and will establish “Encore Fellowships” that help retirees transition to longer-term public service.
- For Americans of All Ages, Increase Volunteering. Not all Americans can make a significant time commitment to service, but many volunteer in other ways. The legislation will expand the volunteer pool by establishing a “Volunteer Generation Fund” to help nonprofit organizations recruit and manage more volunteers.
III. Support Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector: Social entrepreneurs who have launched innovative nonprofit organizations such as Teach for America and Citizen Schools in Boston are experimenting with new solutions to pressing problems. The legislation will recognize and support the role of effective social entrepreneurs in solving our national challenges:
- Establish a Commission to study and improve how the federal government, nonprofits, and the private sector work together to meet national challenges effectively.
- Apply Effective Business Strategies to the Nonprofit Sector, by establishing a network of “Community Solution Funds” that are basically venture capital funds to help the nonprofit sector seek talent and put it to work.
IV. Improve and Expand International Service and America’s Respect in the World
Support for Short-Term International Service Opportunities: We must expand the Peace Corps so more Americans can provide critical assistance to people across the globe while promoting America’s international standing. But many skilled Americans are unable to give two years. The legislation will strengthen the current “Volunteers for Prosperity” program, which coordinates and supports short-term international service opportunities for skilled professionals to serve in developing nations.