In an effort to tackle national priorities and help young Americans strengthen their communities and our nation while reducing the burden of student debt, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and U.S. Representative John B. Larson (D-CT) are leading the charge to expand and promote national service opportunities and help make college more affordable.
Reed and Larson, along with Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Congressmen Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), are teaming up to offer the America's Call To Improve Opportunities Now (ACTION) for National Service Act. This legislation would increase opportunities for service across the country and provide young Americans with the chance to select a service program in a variety of fields. In exchange for their national service, students would get help paying for college.
The ACTION for National Service Act calls for elevating the Corporation for National and Community Service to a cabinet-level agency and providing resources to help support up to one million national service positions annually, enhancing participation in notable national service programs such as AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
Currently, about one percent of Americans serve in either the military or a national service program. Retired General Stanley A. McChrystal, who serves as Chairman of the Board for the nonprofit Service Year Alliance, has stated that expanding national service options could go a long way toward uniting Americans and bridging the military-civilian divide by fostering a better understanding of shared sacrifice. General McChrsytal noted: "Right now, less than one percent of our population serves in the military and, in my view, we need to rethink and create a system where young Americans have an opportunity to serve their nation in other ways. We need to create a culture of service where we are all invested in our nation's future and feel a shared sense of responsibility to our nation and to each other."
Since 1994, over 1 million individuals have served through the AmeriCorps program, and roughly 245,000 seniors over the age of 55 volunteer annually through the Senior Corps programs. These individuals have addressed critical community needs in education, economic development, health, and many other areas, coming to their fellow citizens' aid in times of national disaster, including thousands who have been deployed in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The bill seeks to enhance the nation's capacity to support all those who want to serve their communities and the nation.
"This bill will grow our capacity to enlist, equip, and empower young people to address pressing challenges while creating opportunities for advancement with respect to their education and job prospects. It will increase volunteerism, strengthen our nation, and tap into an underutilized resource that can help transform communities across the country. And it will provide tangible benefits to those who give back," said Senator Reed, who, along with the late-Senator John McCain established the independent National Commission on Military, National and Public Service in 2017. "Whether it is educating young people or helping communities rebuild, Americans are eager to find ways to serve, and we need to do a better job of connecting them to opportunities. Making common cause with our fellow citizens and serving a purpose greater than ourselves is a hallmark of our nation. It's also crucial that we invest in the education and professional development of those who have sacrificed and given so much to our nation. That's why I'm pleased to introduce this legislation with my colleagues to help ensure that every American who wants to serve has the opportunity to do so, as well as future opportunities to get an education and build a better life. I commend Congressmen Larson and Kennedy for their leadership on this issue, as well as my cosponsors in the Senate for their longstanding commitment to expanding national service opportunities and economic opportunities for all."
"This legislation was inspired by President Kennedy's call to our nation: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.' The will to serve is there, but due to lack of sufficient funding, organizations have to turn away applicants. ACTION for National service will expand the opportunities for service while paying for higher education or paying down student loan debt," said Congressman Larson.
"My experience helping to create and run one of the first national direct AmeriCorps programs with the I Have a Dream Foundation changed my life, touched my heart, and helped me see what national service can do for our communities and for our country," said Senator Coons. "This legislation supports the next generation of Americans who seek to serve -- whether it's by educating children in underserved areas, building homes for families in need, or helping communities recover from disaster -- while allowing them to earn funds for a full higher education. As we work to make college more accessible, expanding national service opportunities for young Americans that result in tuition funds for college is the answer. This is the G.I. Bill of the 21st century, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this legislation through Congress and into law."
"Expanding national service opportunities for young Americans is vital to the strength of our local communities and our entire nation," said Senator Duckworth. "Just as picking up a rifle to defend our country is 'American Service,' so is delivering water filters to communities afflicted by lead-contaminated water, picking up a stick of chalk to reach children or a hammer to rebuild homes for those devastated by natural disasters. I'm proud to be working with my colleagues to make sure every young American has the opportunity to serve their country and get help paying for college."
The ACTION for National Service Act would greatly expand access to national service and higher education opportunities. Specifically, the ACTION for National Service Act:
Gives all those who wish to serve the opportunity to do so, establishing a ten-year goal of providing the necessary federal funding to support at least one million service positions nationwide.
Significantly reduces student loan debt burdens by ensuring that individuals who serve two full terms of service are rewarded with an education benefit equivalent to four years of the average in-state tuition at a public, four-year college.
Increases access to national service opportunities by raising living stipend amounts, allowing volunteers to earn a meaningful wage during their service.
Makes the education benefit and living stipend free from federal taxation.
Elevates the existing CNCS to a Cabinet-level federal agency and appoints a Director of National Service with the same rank as Cabinet Secretaries. The Director would be required to establish an interagency working group to evaluate both education award eligibility for participants in programs outside of CNCS and the feasibility of granting Federal hiring preference to volunteers.
Creates a 21st Century American Service Outreach Program that will notify eligible individuals starting at the age of 17 about opportunities to serve in civilian national service programs and how to register.
Maintains the authority and programmatic responsibilities of state and local boards to direct federal resources to meet community needs and be responsive to local priorities.
Establishes a National Service Foundation to encourage private sector and philanthropic investment in expanding national service opportunities.
Tomorrow, April 2 is National Service Recognition Day -- a day to mark the positive work of service and volunteerism in communities across the country. The day is sponsored by CNCS, a federal agency for service and volunteering which annually engages millions of Americans in service at more than 50,000 locations through Ameri Corps, VISTA, Senior Corps and other programs.