The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to broadly expand national community service programs, increasing the number of positions to 250,000 from 75,000 and creating new cadres of volunteers focused on education, clean energy, health care, and veterans. In addition to adding positions to the 75,000 existing AmeriCorps slots, the bill would create four new service corps, specializing in areas that largely align with President Obama’s early agenda. The Senate measure will now be sent to the House, which approved a different version of the legislation last week. Officials said they expected the House to adopt the measure next week and send it on to President Obama, a huge proponent of community service programs, who will sign into law. “The American habits of the heart are shining through,” declared Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, who helped shepherd the bill to final passage. “All across America, people want to volunteer if they have the opportunity to do so.” Read more.
How AmeriCorps Became Bipartisan
A half million people have served through AmeriCorps now - a voting constituency - and every member of Congress has shaken their hands and heard their stories of how they’ve worked in schools, nursing homes, crime-ridden neighborhoods to help communities. More important, lawmakers have met with the heads of the local non profit groups that run the AmeriCorps programs, often popular and influential leaders in any congressional district. Advocates for AmeriCorps now include not just national service fetishists like myself (wrote a book on the subject) but the entire non-profit and charitable sector. AmeriCorps members, you see, don’t work for the government. The feds offer the money for a small stipend and scholarship but most of the corps members are recruited and managed by non-profits. For charities, AmeriCorps has become a valuable form of in kind subsidy. Indeed, it’s often a way to increase a charity’s ability to use unpaid volunteers - a key reason it’s won over hardcore conservative like Hatch. “National service programs [have] a multiplying effect,” he declared during the debate. Based on past patterns, the 250,000 AmeriCorps members will help recruit or manage seven million unpaid volunteers. “This is a conservative program in many respects,” Hatch said. Read more.