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Congress approves Serve America Act
Congress approves Serve America Act

Congressman Ike Skelton
WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 5, 2009) — Volunteering has a long and proud history in America. From 1736, when Benjamin Franklin organized the first volunteer firefighting company, to the Ladies’ Aid Societies of the Civil War, to the founding of the Peace Corps by President Kennedy in 1961, our national story has been shaped by Americans who were willing to help strangers in their time of need.

I was therefore very pleased when H.R. 1388, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, received overwhelming bipartisan support in both Chambers of Congress. On March 31, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 1388 by a vote of 275 to 149. The Senate approved the bill on March 26 by a vote of 79 to 19. The President has indicated he will sign the Serve America Act into law in the coming days.

The bill would reauthorize National and Community Service programs, such as AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), through 2014 and would significantly expand national and community service programs by introducing more than 175,000 new volunteer opportunities for Americans. Whether it is helping students achieve in school, rebuilding cities in times of disaster, or feeding the hungry, H.R. 1388 would give Americans of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to serve their communities.

The Serve America Act would create new service corps, addressing our national needs concerning education, health care, veterans, and energy. It would also create volunteer programs for senior citizens and middle and high school students. Through these programs, volunteers could earn up to $1,000 to be used toward college costs. Additionally, senior citizens could transfer their awards to a child to help them pay for college. All service programs established under the bill would be overseen by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The legislation would also increase the education reward for participants in national volunteer programs to $5,350 for 2010. This award would be linked to match future increases in the Pell Grant scholarship in order to keep up with the rising costs of higher education.

America has never needed her hardworking volunteers more than she does today. The Serve America Act would renew our commitment to these selfless individuals and the valuable role they fill in our communities and our nation. In a time of economic and national security uncertainty, it is more important than ever that we come together to serve in mutual respect and unity. These are the qualities that have sustained America in the past and that will ensure her safe passage into a better future.

Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) serves as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Skelton’s website is at http://www.house.gov/skelton.

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