Embracing President Barack Obama’s call for national service, lawmakers last week moved ahead with a plan to expand the AmeriCorps program and boost volunteer opportunities for students and older Americans.
The U.S. House of Representatives could vote as early as this week on a bill to increase AmeriCorps to 250,000 positions, from the current 75,000, and create a new service corps in low-income communities focusing on education, clean energy, health, and services for veterans.
The House Education and Labor Committee approved the measure March 11 by a vote of 34-3.
“Now more than ever, we need this bill to help turn our country around, to reinvigorate the American spirit,’ said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the committee’s chairman.
Some Republicans voiced support for the underlying cause behind the bill but expressed fears about what it might cost.
“I believe we should seek other, less costly ways than those outlined in this legislation to encourage individuals to volunteer in their communities,” Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said in a written statement.
President Obama’s proposed budget for next fiscal year calls for more than $1.1 billion for national-service programs. Sponsors used that as a blueprint for the bill, but were awaiting a cost analysis from budget experts.
Some AmeriCorps participants get a monthly living stipend while they are working for 10 to 12 months. After completing the program, they can receive up to $4,725 to help pay for college or pay off student loans. The bill would increase the education award to $5,350 and requires that it match any future increases in Pell Grant scholarships.
The bill also would create fellowships for people age 55 and older and establish a Summer of Service program for middle and high school student volunteers, who would earn a $500 education award to help cover college costs.
Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., are sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate. A Senate committee is set to vote on it this week.
A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 2009 edition of Education Week