House Passes Bipartisan Legislation to Expand and Strengthen National Service

Mar 18, 2009

Washington, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the most significant overhaul and expansion of national service programs in 16 years, acting on President Obama’s call to increase service opportunities for Americans of all ages to help address the economic crisis and usher in a new era of service and responsibility for our nation.

The House passed H.R. 1388, the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act, by a strong bipartisan vote of 321 to 105. The vote came after a floor discussion that featured a series of Members of Congress from both parties who saluted America’s long tradition of service and cited numerous examples of volunteers and national service participants helping Americans in need through mentoring at-risk youth, building homes, teaching in underserved schools, caring for veterans and seniors, and helping survivors of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters.

The GIVE Act would update and strengthen national service programs administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency created in 1993. The Corporation engages more than four million Americans in result-driven service each year, including 75,000 AmeriCorps members, 492,000 Senior Corps volunteers, 1.1 million Learn and Serve America students, and 2.2 million additional community volunteers mobilized and managed through the agency’s programs.

“Service is a fundamental American value, in every neighborhood and every community,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill. “With President Obama’s leadership and support, today the House took a key step toward launching a new era of service that will rebuild and strengthen our country for years to come.”

“The American spirit is one of giving back – to our neighbors, our communities, and our nation. All across this country, citizens are devoting their time, skills, and resources to make our country a better place. And through the GIVE Act, we can nurture that spirit of selflessness, leveraging both individuals and organizations to achieve national goals,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the House Education Committee’s Ranking Republican member.

The White House expressed its support for the legislation in a Statement of Administration Policy released by the Office of Management and Budget yesterday. “The President is committed to promoting civic participation and service across the country, and has called on Congress to send him bipartisan legislation to encourage a renewed spirit of national service. The Administration strongly supports House passage of H.R. 1388, which will expand national service programs and strengthen the capacity of the Corporation to manage a dramatic increase in service opportunities.”

“At this time of economic crisis, there is a convergence of a great need to help our neighbors and a great appetite by Americans to serve," said the Corporation’s Board Chair Alan Solomont. “Service can be a solution to many of our nation’s toughest challenges. We are grateful to the House for passing this bipartisan legislation to expand high-quality service opportunities for Americans of all ages.”

Solomont recognized the many provisions in the bill that would strengthen accountability and effectiveness of national service programs, give the Corporation more flexibility to support the best programs, consolidate funding streams, and expand authority for fixed price grants to simplify application and reporting requirements while strengthening accountability for performance.

The House approved several floor amendments, including provisions to create a Volunteer Generation Fund; authorize a National Service Reserve Corps for trained AmeriCorps alumni to be deployed in case of emergency; and remove veteran’s educational benefits from being taken into account when calculating the maximum award an individual could receive for participating in AmeriCorps.

The bill contains a wide range of provisions to expand service opportunities and strengthen program management. Among other provisions, the bill:

  • Puts AmeriCorps on a growth path from its current level of 75,000 to 250,000 members per year, with focus on priority needs including energy efficiency and conservation, advancing student achievement and graduation, improving health care access, and enhancing service opportunities for veterans.
  • Increases the amount of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award that AmeriCorps members receive after their completing their term of service and linking the future amount of the award to Pell Grants.
  • Provides incentives for middle and high school students to engage in service through a Summer of Service program and authorizes up to 25 institutions of higher education to be designated as “Campuses of Service” eligible for grants to encourage students to engage in service during school and in their future careers.
  • Strengthens the nation’s civic infrastructure through creation of a Social Innovation Fund to provide seed money and scale up innovative and evidence-based efforts in the nonprofit sector.
  • Expands service opportunities for older Americans by expanding eligibility for the Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent programs, introducing competition into the Retired Senior Volunteer Program to better position the program for expansion, and creating other opportunities for Baby Boomers and other older Americans to transition into post-career service opportunities.
  • Encourages coordination and service partnerships with other federal agencies.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved S. 277, the Serve America Act, on a voice vote. Like the GIVE Act, the Serve America Act, introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), would also provide a significant expansion of national service opportunities for Americans of all ages, strengthen accountability and performance, support social innovation, strengthen our volunteer infrastructure, and usher in a new generation of service programs.

The early focus on bipartisan national service legislation comes as the economic downturn increases demands on the nonprofit sector and as AmeriCorps experiences a spike in applications and interest. Last month there were 9,731 applications submitted to the AmeriCorps online application system, more than triple the 3,159 submitted in February 2008. While these figures don't represent all AmeriCorps applications because many members apply directly to grantee organizations, they are an indication of a trend also observed by the Peace Corps, Teach for America, and other AmeriCorps grantees.

“We are at an unprecedented moment of need and opportunity for national service,” said Acting Corporation CEO Nicola Goren. “The GIVE Act and Serve America Act will expand and improve national service programs to help our nation get through the economic crisis and encourage Americans of all ages to be part of the solution to the many challenges we face.”

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