- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House on Tuesday endorsed a bill to triple the size of the AmeriCorps program and expand service opportunities for students and seniors.

The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the measure, which would 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.

Supporters say the bill comes at a time when more people are interested in serving their communities and more citizens could use the help.

“This is absolutely an American value,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., told the House Rules Committee on Tuesday. “It’s at the core of the American community.”

The Obama administration in a statement of support said it “has called upon Americans from all walks of life to take part in civic renewal.”

One opponent, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said the legislation would dampen the efforts of established volunteer organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and replace them with a government program.

“It’s going to hugely diminish real volunteer organizations in favor of paid-stipend volunteers,” Sessions said.

Some AmeriCorps participants get a living stipend while they are working for 10 to 12 months. The minimum stipend is $11,400 for the year. After completing the program, participants may 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.

AmeriCorps participants work for nonprofit, faith-based or national organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity. They provide a variety of services, from mentoring young people to responding to disasters.

The bill also would create fellowships for people 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.

Obama’s proposed budget for next 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.

Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., have introduced a similar measure that also adds 175,000 positions to AmeriCorps. A Senate committee is scheduled to vote on their legislation on Wednesday and it could come before the full Senate for a vote as early as next week.


The House bill is H.R. 1388.

The Senate bill is S.277.


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