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Clinton Puts Final Touches on National-Service Plan

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WASHINGTON--The Clinton Administration is inching closer toward the debut of its legislation to create a federally chartered agency to oversee a national-service program for high school and college students and graduates.

In keeping with his campaign promise to make the establishment of a national-service program a high priority, President Clinton reportedly hopes to send such legislation to Congress by April 30, his 100th day in office.

It was unclear late last week whether he would meet that deadline as Administration officials continued work on the three prongs of his higher-education reform package: national service; making the repayment of student loans contingent on income; and replacing the Federal Family Education Loan Program with another under which the government would make loans directly to students.

A Congressional staff member familiar with the legislation said it may not be introduced until early May.

The package, the aide said, probably will comprise two bills--one on national service and income-contingent loans and the other on direct loans--that the Administration hopes will travel through Congress on parallel tracks.

Bill's Highlights

The Administration last week began briefing Congressional staff members and representatives of higher-education and community-service groups here about the national-service portion of the plan.

Several of those who were briefed said they were told that all of the provisions are subject to change.

The following is their description of the bill's highlights:

  • The program would begin in academic year 1994-95 with 25,000 volunteers. The number would grow to 100,000 within four years.
  • Thirty percent of the $394 million that Mr. Clinton has proposed spending in fiscal 1994 would be distributed to states on a formula basis. Another 20 percent would be distributed to them on a competitive basis. The remaining half would be distributed on a competitive basis to national and local service organizations.
  • The program would be administered by an 11-member panel nominated by the President and approved by the Congress. The members' terms of office were not disclosed. Eventually, the agency would assume the responsibilities of the Commission on National and Community Service and ACTION, the agency that runs the Volunteers In Service To America program.
  • Administration officials did not disclose the standards that would be used to pick organizations and individuals. They did say, however, that groups would have to describe how they would encourage poor persons and members of minority groups to participate.
  • Prospective participants would submit their applications to the service organizations, rather than to the federal government.
  • High school and college graduates participating full time--a minimum of 1,500 hours a year--would receive a tuition voucher worth $6,500 or have an equal amount in loans forgiven. College students and high school students 16 or older could participate on a part-time basis, and their benefit would be prorated.
  • The federal government will recommend--but not require--that service workers receive a minimum-wage stipend of $4.25 an hour, and would provide 85 percent of that amount. Service workers could be paid stipends of up to twice the minimum wage, $8.50, and still retain their eligibility for college aid.
  • The bill will emphasize work in crime prevention, education and youth service, the environment, and health care, among other social-service areas. It will strongly discourage groups from replacing full-time workers with volunteers while encouraging them to provide program participants with health care and child care.
  • Benefits would not count as income in determining a student's eligibility for a Pell Grant. The Administration hopes to make the benefits nontaxable, but may need separate legislation to do so.
  • The bill will include an expansion of the service-learning programs authorized in 1990 for elementary and secondary schools in an attempt to "build the foundation for national service [and] a lifetime commitment to service,'' a Congressional aide said.

Loan Provisions Unavailable

Details on the plans to make loans income-contingent and to provide them directly to students through the government were not available last week, according to a spokeswoman for the Education Department, which is handling that aspect of the overall package. The White House office of national service is drafting the national-service language.

The national-service components were generally well received, said one higher-education lobbyist, who added that many questions remain about how the proposal would operate in practice.

"The people that are following this the closest feel that they've thought of everything and are going in the right direction,'' the lobbyist said.

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