Statement On Senate Passage Of H.R. 1388, The “Serve America Act”

I am pleased that the Senate is moving forward to vote on final passage of the bipartisan “Serve America Act.”  Practical participation in the goals and ideals of our country through service is a cornerstone of our success as the world’s most enduring democracy, and we must continue to work together to promote such volunteerism on a national level.  Senator Kennedy has worked tirelessly to promote national service by authoring and passing the National and Community Service Trust Act, which created AmeriCorps.  Senator Kennedy’s career of public service serves as an example to so many of Americans, and I am proud to have joined alongside him as a cosponsor of this legislation.

For dozens of years, programs aimed at assisting Americans of all ages to participate in year-long service activities have thrived and national service applications are higher than they have ever been. This bill would expand the opportunities for Americans to serve by boosting AmeriCorps programs over eight years to a goal of 250,000 volunteers, engaging youth and low-income individuals to participate in Summer of Service or Semester of Service programs, making expansions to programs for retirees, and authorizing a program for short-term international service opportunities.  These programs have helped thousands engage in their communities and become involved in civic life and we should encourage even greater participation by passing this bill.   

In this time of economic hardship, Americans are struggling to pay the high costs of tuition and those who do make it through school are struggling to find ways to pay the bills.  Many that may be drawn toward year of service programs are unable to commit because they cannot afford to do so.  The “Serve America Act” increases the education award for volunteers to $5,350 to keep up with education costs and to link it to Pell Grants in order to help it increase in the future.

The dedicated young people who have answered the honorable call to national service contribute enormously to the strength of our communities.  Whether they are helping to house the homeless, feed the hungry, or keep disadvantaged youth safe in fun and educational after-school activities, they are often filling a sorely needed gap that the community cannot otherwise fill.  Since AmeriCorps’ inception in 1994, more than 2,900 Vermonters have qualified for education loans through the program, allowing about 390 Vermont students to serve each year.  Additionally, 2,800 Vermont seniors contribute their time to the Senior Corps program by becoming foster grandparents, senior companions for homebound seniors, or by serving in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.  The expansion of the year-of-service opportunities this bill contains will greatly increase the capacity of Vermonters to join national service programs. 

Last week, a large group of volunteers from YouthBuild came to Washington to participate in Green Building Service Day to build an energy efficient home on the National Mall. YouthBuild volunteers have been participating in similar projects for more than 20 years. Several members of YouthBuild Burlington came to Washington to participate in Green Building Service Day and described how the program turned around their lives and how they are inspired to continue public service after their time with YouthBuild is completed.  National service programs like YouthBuild  are not merely volunteer programs, but programs that invigorate the spirit of national service that will influence volunteers for a lifetime. 

We must work to make this vital part of our social safety net in Vermont and across the nation.  Service to our country is not only noble, but it enriches the lives of those served as well as the volunteers who commit their time to helping others.  I urge support of this bill as the Senate prepares to vote.  

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