WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is calling on Ohioans to invest in their communities through service.
“Community service is more important than ever during times like these,” Brown said in a conference call with reporters. “This bill will allow more Ohioans to help their neighbors who are struggling to obtain health care, afford energy costs or feed their families.”
The Serve America Act, co-sponsored by Brown along with Sens. Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, was approved by the Health, Education, labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday.
“It will likely be passed by the Senate next week,” he said.
The legislation calls for expansion of several current programs, as well as creates new ones. A major component of the act is the expansion of AmeriCorps to 250,000 spots each year. AmeriCorps participants receive a living allowance and an educational award, which can be used to pay for college expenses or help repay qualified student loans.
AmeriCorps would be expanded to include four new corps: An Education Corps, a Healthy Futures Corps, a Clean Energy Corps and a Veterans Corps.
“This would create 175,000 new service opportunities,” said Brown. “Right now AmeriCorps has 75,000 volunteers.”
Brown said funding will come from the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent organization funded by Congress.
“Last year, it appropriated $280 million [for AmeriCorps],” he said. “This year, it’s such funds as may be necessary to carry it out.”
When pressed, Brown said the creation of 175,000 more spots (fellowships) would likely cost three times as much as last year.
“But there are few expenditures better than that,” he said, adding that it helps students with their education and helps those who receive services. “So it’s money that helps all the way up and down the line.”
He cited as an example a local organization that provides weatherization services.
“There are so many low-income and elderly people on waiting lists for people who need homes weatherized,” he said. “If you can get a number of people assigned to them from the Energy Corps, [the low-income and elderly] would get their homes weatherized, and [the volunteers] would learn skills to do weatherization.”
AmeriCorps volunteers provide services to a community through local programs operated by a wide range of organizations. Brown said those organizations would apply for funding directly to the corporation, which will award fellowships on a competitive bid basis. Most of these organizations already exist, he said. The size of the group will not matter when awarding bids.
Brown said the current legislation is a continuation of emphasis on service. It began, he said, early in the 1960s under President John F. Kennedy, was continued in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton, and now is resurfacing.
“I don’t think it’s partisan,” he said. “The excitement is you’ve seen strong support from both parties.”
He added that he wasn’t sure who received more benefit from the service programs — the recipients of the service, or the volunteers who perform the service.
He also said volunteers are not restricted to students. If an older person is accepted, the educational stipend can be transferred to a family member or grandchild.
The Serve America Act expands the National and Community Service Act, which authorizes four community service programs: School-Based and Community-Based Service Learning Programs, also known as Learn and Serve America; National Service Trust Programs, also known as AmeriCorps; the National Civilian Community Corps; and the Points of Light Foundation. The NCSA also authorizes the National Service Trust, which funds educational awards for community service participants.
Brown’s legislation would extend the authorization of apropriations for all NCSA and Domestic Volunteer Service Act programs through fiscal year 2014. It would expand the focus of the Civilian Community Corps to include disaster relief, infrastructure improvement, energy conservation, environmental stewardship, and urban and rural development. It requires that by 2011, 50 percent of participants be disadvantaged youth.