Today President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law. It will take affect October 1 of this year. Read more about the Act.
During one of the most exciting National Volunteer Weeks in recent memory, President Obama and national service supporters gathered today at the SEED School in Washington, D.C., an academic and boarding charter school.
At the signing, Obama said, our “government cannot do everything alone,” but needs the help of citizens in local communities everywhere. And national service isn’t just for recent college graduates (watch news footage from AARP.) Sounding Whitman-esque, he called people every where to “Put your shoulder to the wheel” of service — and if you do, you can look back on the “moment when your own story and the American story converged.”
He also recognized Bill Clinton for launching AmeriCorps during his administration, and the First Lady Michelle Obama who was the founding executive director of Public Allies Chicago, a national service program.
Obama went on to talk about the long legacy of service contributed by the Kennedy family including Ted Kennedy, for whom the legislation is now named.
He also introduced Maria Eitel his nominee for the new chief executive post at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Acting C.E.O. Nicola Goren.
The bill re-authorizes CNCS and its programs through 2014, and authorizes sweeping expansion of national service (with a nod to international service) and aims not only to give hundreds of thousands of Americans an opportunity to dedicate their time and talent to their communities, but also to leverage exponentially more local volunteers and resources to improve the lives of millions of people in the United States.
Alan Khazei — the major force behind the Service Nation movement that brought together service, nonprofit, and even military groups — calls the signing of the Serve America Act, “a milestone for the service movement, and the largest expansion of civilian service since the Depression Era Civilian Conservation Corps” in today’s Huffington Post. (Listen to an interview from today, with Khazei and the Chronicle of Philanthropy reporter Suzanne Perry.)
In a statement she issued last week, Acting C.E.O. of the Corporation for National and Community Service Nicola Goren reminded the national service community that:
There are two broad points about implementation that we would like to emphasize. First, the law goes into effect on October 1, 2009, not on the day the President signs it. Congress chose this date to provide time for the Corporation and the national service field to plan and prepare for the extensive changes established in the law, and to coincide with the beginning of the next fiscal year.
Second, the Serve America Act is an authorization bill, not an appropriations bill. It makes changes in the underlying statutes that shape our programs and sets funding thresholds, but it does not itself fund them. The actual funding is set through the annual appropriations process. The President’s detailed budget request for FY 2010, expected later this spring, will be the starting point for that process, which will culminate in the fall. We will be working closely with Congress and the White House throughout this process to support the budget proposed by the President.
According to a thorough explanation of the legislation (and the movement behind it) in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that implementing the Serve America Act will cost close to $6 billion over five years.
The Kennedy Serve America Act will:
Ask many more Americans to give a year to solve specific challenges (participation in the program will not be mandatory as has been rumored in some circles):
Building on the success of AmeriCorps, the legislation will create new “corps” focused on areas of national need. It will ask 175,000 more 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 by the fiscal year 2017.
Increase opportunities to serve by people of all ages:
- The legislation will improve opportunities for young people in low income, high-need communities to engage in service to improve their own communities.
- It will dramatically expand service opportunities over the next eight years to 250,000.
- It increases the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award level, and pegs it to the maximum level of the Pell Grant.
- 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.
- The legislation will strengthen agency management to support the expansion.
Support social innovators in the nonprofit sector:
The legislation will recognize and support the role of effective social entrepreneurs like Wendy Kopp (founder of Teach For America) who are experimenting with new solutions to pressing problems:
- 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.
Improve and expand short-term international service for skilled professionals:
Support for short-term international service opportunities: While many legislators behind the Serve America Act support the strengthening of Peace Corps, the Act itself doesn’t authorize that. The legislation does aim to strengthen the Volunteers for Prosperity, which coordinates and supports short-term international service opportunities for skilled professionals to serve in developing nations.
Read the text of the final version of the legislation. Find links to summaries of the legislation on the Voices For National Service website.