New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced Senate passage of the Serve America Act, legislation that would expand public service opportunities across the country for New Yorkers. Currently in New York, 3 million volunteers put in an annual average of over 366 million hours of service. The Serve America Act strengthens key components of AmeriCorps while creating new public service opportunities for people to serve at every stage of life.
"This act provides opportunities for students to participate in service projects that help them learn the skills they need for the jobs of the future," said Senator Gillibrand. "In this time of grave economic uncertainty, so many people feel the need to contribute to the greater good. We will harness these millions of hearts and minds to do exactly that: to allow America to reach its full potential. It is a critical step in moving toward the promise of our citizens and of our country."
The Serve America Act would provide more than $5 billion over five years with the goal of funding 250,000 volunteers engaged in targeted service in areas of national need - tackling the dropout crisis and strengthening our schools, improving energy efficiency, safeguarding the environment, improving health care, expanding economic opportunities for low-income families, and responding to disasters and emergencies. There are currently 233 National Service Program sites in New York which brought $69.1 million into the state last year.
The overarching theme of the Serve America Act is to increase public service opportunities for people of all ages. Specifically, the legislation would:
· Increase Public Service of Students by expanding opportunities for low income youth to engage in service to improve their own communities.
· Increase Public Service of Working Adults by establishing a tax incentive for employers who allow employees to take paid leave for full-time service.
· Increase Public Service of Retirees building upon the Senior Corps Programs and enhancing incentives for retirees to give a year of service, and establishing "Encore Fellowships" that help retirees transition to longer-term public service. More than 30,000 seniors in New York already participate in Senior Corps.
· Increase Public Service of Americans of All Ages by establishing a "Volunteer Generation Fund" to help nonprofit organizations recruit and manage more volunteers.
The economic crisis has hit New York's nonprofit sector hard, in turn affecting the needed services they can provide. Due to the economy, at least 100,000 nonprofits nationwide will have to shut down in the next two years, according to Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University. The Serve America Act aims to support innovation in the nonprofit sector. It would establish a Commission to study and improve how the federal government, nonprofits, and the private sector work together to meet national challenges effectively. It would also 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.