Senate Approves $125 Million Community-Service Measure

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Washington--The Senate overwhelmingly approved a $125-million, two-year community-service measure last week, with one-fifth of the funds targeted for school-based programs.

"It is my goal to make such programs available to every student in America, from kindergarten to college," said the bill's chief sponsor, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.

But the version of S 1430 that cleared the Senate by a vote of 78 to 19 is, in monetary terms, a pale ghost of the bill approved last summer by the Labor and Human Resources Committee. That measure would have authorized programs for five years, with a funding ceiling of about $300 million for the first year alone.

It represents a compromise between Mr. Kennedy, the committee's chairman, and Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the panel's ranking Republican.

Mr. Hatch noted that Bush Administration officials participated in negotiations, and said he hopes the President "will be pleased in the4end."

Although Mr. Bush is concerned about the bill's cost and some of its "other components," Mr. Hatch said, "it is fair to say that this legislation reflects many changes that are compatible with the Administration's vision for a national-service program."

Bush Proposal Included

In addition to drastically trimming the bill's cost, the negotiators agreed to provide $25 million over two years for Mr. Bush's service plan, the "Points of Light Foundation." The foundation, which has already been launched, will seek most of its funding from the private sector.

Other features of the bill include:

$25 million over two years for grants to provide service opportunities for elementary- and high-school students and opportunities for adults, particularly senior citizens, to volunteer in schools. The committee's bill, on the other hand, would have authorized $65 million in the first year.

$35 million over two years to finance full-time or summer youth corps, whose members would be eligible for $50 to $100 a week in edu8cation benefits. The committee had authorized $100 million for such programs in the first year.

$35 million over two years--down from the committee's recommendation of $875 million over five years--for a national demonstration program that would allow states to experiment with adult-volunteer programs.

Participants could receive vouchers for educational expenses or a down payment on a house. Full-time participants could earn $5,000 a year and part-time volunteers $2,000 a year, down from $8,700 and $3,000 respectively, under the committee's bill.

Provisions that would forgive the student loans of volunteers and encourage postsecondary institutions to use work-study funds for community-service jobs. A provision that would have provided funds for college-based service programs was dropped in the compromise.

'Peace Dividend'?

During consideration of the service bill, the Senate held the first Congressional floor debate on how to spend the oft-mentioned but yet-unrealized "peace dividend" that could result from lower military expenditures.

Senator Phil Gramm, Republican of Texas, sparked the debate by offering a nonbinding amendment specifying that such savings be used to cut taxes. Democrats quickly offered a substitute that would earmark any such dividend for deficit reduction, followed by spending on "urgent national priorities," including education.

The Democrats' amendment was adopted by a vote of 79 to 19, and Mr. Gramm's then failed by only two votes, 48 to 50. Eleven Democrats voted for the Gramm amendment, while seven Republicans voted for the Democrats' proposal.

The Senate also voted 91 to 3 to approve an amendment, sponsored by Senator William L. Armstrong, Republican of Colorado, specifying that churches and private schools be permitted to participate in the service programs.

Although the bill still prohibits using federal funds for religious activities, the amendment would also allow grant recipients to display religious symbols, engage in voluntary prayer and sing hymns, discriminate in favor of church members, and adopt rules "affirming or promoting" religious tenets.

Mr. Armstrong said the amendment was based on language in the child-care bill passed by the Senate last year.

The Senate also approved amendments that would allow Indian tribes and drug- and alcohol-prevention programs to apply for funds and require all participating institutions to comply with existing federal drug-free workplace rules.

Senators rejected, by a vote of 54 to 41, an amendment offered by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, that would have restricted the array of federal benefits made available to volunteers to those provided to military veterans.

Mr. McCain argued that because military personnel make great sacrifices, the benefits provided to them should be greater than or at least equal to those provided to volunteers.

The Senate also rejected a proposal by Mr. Armstrong that would have nullified a District of Columbia human-rights law and allowed organizations to bar homosexuals from programs where they would serve as "role model, mentor, or companion to any minor."

Vol. 09, Issue 24

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