President Obama Signs Landmark National Service Legislation

President Obama Signs Landmark National Service Legislation

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obama-signs-national-service.jpgTo kick off National Service Week, president Barack Obama signed a $5.7 billion national service bill Tuesday that triples the size of the AmeriCorps service program over the next eight years and expands ways for students to participate in community service while earning money for college.

Joining Senator Ted Kennedy, former President Bill Clinton, and bipartisan Congressional leader for the bill signing, the president commended the entire Kennedy family as an icon of service and self-sacrifice in America. He thanked Republican Senator Orrin Hatch for his role in creating the bill and acknowledged those in Chicago who taught him the virtues of service as a community organizer.

The bipartisan bill, which passed in the House 275-149 and swept through the Senate 79-19, ignites America’s local, regional and national service programs and nonprofit organizations to expand to further meet the nation’s most pressing challenges. 

“I’ve met countless people of all ages and walks of life who want nothing more than to do their part. I’ve seen a rising generation of young people work and volunteer and turn out in record numbers. They’re a generation that came of age amidst the horrors of 9/11 and Katrina; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; an economic crisis without precedent. And yet despite all this, or more likely because of it, they have become a generation of activists possessed with that most American of ideas – that people who love their country can change it.”

As the President explained, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act is about “connecting deeds to needs” – it will open new avenues of opportunity for all Americans, young and old, to help their country get back on the right track.

  • Puts young people onto a path of national service by establishing a Summer of Service program to provide $500 education awards for rising 6th-12th graders, a Semester of Service program for high school students to engage in service-learning, and Youth Empowerment Zones for secondary students and out-of-school youth.
  • Increases AmeriCorps current crop of 75,000 positions annually to 250,000 by 2017, and focusing that service on education, health, clean energy, veterans, economic opportunity and other national priorities.
  • Improves service options for experienced Americans by expanding age and income eligibility for Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions, authorizing a Silver Scholars program, under which individuals 55 and older who perform 350 hours of service receive a $1,000 education award, and establishing Serve America Fellowships and Encore Fellowships allowing individuals to choose from among registered service sponsors where to perform service. Also permits individuals age 55 and older to transfer their education award to a child or grandchild.
  • Establishing a nationwide Call to Service Campaign and a September 11 national day of service, and invests in the nonprofit sector’s capacity to recruit and manage volunteers.

Supporting Innovation and Strengthening the Nonprofit Sector

  • Creates a Social Innovation Fund to expand proven initiatives and provide seed funding for experimental initiatives, leveraging Federal dollars to identify and grow ideas that are addressing our most intractable community problems.
  • Establishes a Volunteer Generation Fund to award grants to states and nonprofits to recruit, manage, and support volunteers and strengthen the nation’s volunteer infrastructure. 
  • Authorizes Nonprofit Capacity Building grants to provide organizational development assistance to small and mid-size nonprofit organizations. 
  • Creates a National Service Reserve Corps to call on in the event of disasters, consisting of former national service participants and veterans who will be trained to deploy, in coordination with FEMA.

The act includes measures of accountability, strengthening of management and continuous evaluation of programs.

“All that’s required on your part is a willingness to make a difference,” said Obama. “That is, after all, the beauty of service. Anyone can do it. You don’t need to be a community organizer, or a Senator — or a Kennedy – or even a President to bring change to people’s lives”

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