KENNEDY HAILS SERVICE BILL PASSAGE
U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), today applauded Senate passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (S. 277), the most sweeping overhaul and expansion of national service programs in 16 years. Continuing the bipartisan tradition of national service legislation, the bill was written by Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Kennedy and Senator Hatch. Senators Enzi and Mikulski were also integral in crafting the bill, and bringing it to a quick vote on the Senate floor.
"Even in the midst of the greatest economic crisis in a generation, Americans everywhere are looking to serve and give back to their country. They want to know how they can give and how they can help. They want to be part of an effort to improve society," Senator Mikulski said. "This bill makes use of this new, invigorated spirit to serve, while putting people to work in specific areas of national need. This is a public investment that will pay dividends long beyond anything we can imagine."
"Today's Senate passage of the Serve America Act demonstrates welcome bipartisan agreement on the often neglected but indispensible value of citizen service in addressing some of the most urgent challenges facing America and the world. The bill is a major expansion of existing national and community programs. Its goal is to tap much more deeply into Americans' enthusiasm to serve, and direct it to areas and issues where it can make the biggest difference. I commend Senator Mikulski, Senator Hatch, and Senator Enzi for their impressive bipartisan cooperation in achieving such prompt Senate action, and I look forward to it becoming a significant part of President Obama's strategy for getting America back on track," Senator Kennedy said.
"The passage of the Serve America Act is a significant milestone for our country. By increasing opportunities nationwide for Americans to serve and, thus, enabling private citizens to do more for their communities, personal and community responsibility will take the place of direct government aid," said Senator Hatch. "Volunteer service is a keystone to our country's traditions, and it is becoming increasingly important in these troubled economic times that we help our neighbors. I am honored to be a part of the bipartisan group of Senators who joined together to support this important legislation."
"A comprehensive reauthorization of our national service statutes is long overdue," Senator Enzi said. "This is a fiscally responsible bill that will improve accountability, reduce bureaucracy and eliminate waste in our national service programs. This bill will leverage the efforts of a few to mobilize millions of faith-based organizations, church groups, non-profits, and individuals to volunteer their time and energy freely to serve their communities. It does not include any mandates of any kind for individuals or groups to volunteer."
Senator Mikulski added, "When Alexis De Tocqueville wrote about America, he said America is great because she is good.' He noticed the spirit of volunteerism, neighbor-helping-neighbor, habits of the heart that bred habits of humanity. This bill rekindles the great American spirit of volunteerism, providing more opportunities for all Americans to answer the call of service. I want to thank Senator Kennedy, Senator Hatch and Senator Enzi for their hard work crafting this legislation."
The Serve America Act updates and strengthens national service programs administrated by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency created in 1993. The bill also allows for new service corps focused on areas of national need, and within AmeriCorps supports innovative entrepreneurs who are solving our real challenges.
Specifically, the Serve America Act:
· Puts AmericaCorps on a growth path from its current level of 75,000 volunteers a year to
250,000 volunteers a year. Last month, more than 9,700 online applications were submitted to AmeriCorps, more than triple the number submitted at the same time last year.
· Creates new programs to address America's most pressing challenges, such as tackling the dropout crisis and strengthening our schools; improving health care for low-income communities; assisting veterans and military families; boosting energy efficiency; and cleaning up parks.
· Increases the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award and links it to the maximum PELL grant in the future, currently $5,350, to increase incentives for service and postsecondary education.
· Creates a "Summer of Service" program to encourage middle and high school students to engage in a summer of community service and put them on a path to a lifetime of service.
· Creates "Encore Fellowships" to put the skills and experience of older Americans to work. This one-year fellowship gives Americans aged over 50 the opportunity to transition into part-time or full-time service to carry out projects of national need.
· Creates a Social Innovation Fund to support the work of successful and dynamic nonprofits, and help them bring their innovative ideas to scale.
The Serve America Act now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for final approval, before going to President Obama to be signed into law.