Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Senate looks into expanding AmeriCorps

Senate looks into expanding AmeriCorps

The Associated Press
Monday, March 23, 2009; 7:24 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Senate agreed Monday to take up legislation to triple the size of the AmeriCorps program and open up opportunities for more people to serve their communities.

Lawmakers voted 74-14 to move to the legislation that would expand AmeriCorps from its current 75,000 positions to 250,000 over the course of eight years. Sixty votes were needed to bring the bill to the floor. The measure is expected to come up for a final vote in the Senate sometime this week.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who is being treated for brain cancer, made a rare appearance on the Senate floor to vote for the bill that he co-sponsored with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Kennedy's office said he is expected to be on Capitol Hill until Congress goes on recess April 4.

The legislation would also create five groups to help poor people, improve education, encourage energy efficiency, strengthen access to health care and assist veterans.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said the proposal is an investment that "will pay dividends long beyond anything that we can imagine."

The House last week passed a similar bill to add 175,000 participants to AmeriCorps and other national service programs. President Barack Obama backs the legislation and has said he is eager for Congress to pass a bill so he can sign it.

Both bills would set up a fund to help nonprofit organizations recruit more volunteers and establish a Summer of Service program for middle and high school students, who would earn a $500 education award. Each measure would also create fellowships for older people who get involved in public service. Both would also increase the education awards of AmeriCorps participants, whose work ranges from teaching young people to responding to disasters.

After completing their service, AmeriCorps participants can receive up to $4,725 to help pay for college or pay off student loans. The Senate and House bills would increase that award to $5,350 and require that it match any future increases in Pell Grant scholarships. Unlike the House bill, the Senate version would allow older AmeriCorps members to transfer their education awards to their children or grandchildren.

Some AmeriCorps participants get a living stipend while they are working for 10 to 12 months. The stipend ranges from $11,400 to $22,800 for the year. Most participants, who are predominantly 18 to 26, get $11,800.

The Senate measure is slated to cost $5.7 billion over five years, while the House version is an estimated $6 billion over five years. Obama's proposed budget for next year calls for more than $1.1 billion for national service programs, an increase of more than $210 million.


The House bill is H.R. 1388.

The Senate bill is S.277.


Doing public service either internationally or within the United States is a good thing, it allows people to expand their own horizons and see places and other examples of lifestyles they would not normally come into contact with. As a soldier for more than a decade I traveled to Korea, Germany, Oman, Guam, Japan, Philippines, and Thailand, in each country I learned new things and saw different lifestyles, even here in the United States the Army took me from the Northwest Fort Lewis near Tacoma ( I was there twice 74/75 and again in 1980 and 1981 so I was there when Mount Saint Helens blew up) I was sent to Fort Wainright Alaska in Feb 1975 and got to experience the the Northern lights up close and personal, got to see Moose and other animals walk across the Army base as if they owned the place. The monsoons of the Far East and the sand storms of the mid-east and 130 degree temps. Life is an education, I think it is a great thing to expand the amount of positions in this program and to enable more young people to learn and help others at the same time.

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