National Service Bill Passes House Of Representatives

Legislation to revise national service programs and boost volunteerism has cleared the first of three major hurdles it faces in the coming weeks.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act on Wednesday (March 19). A full Senate vote could take place as early as next week, but differences in the two bills would need to be reconciled before heading to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature.

The House bill (H.R. 1388) carried by a vote of 321-105 on the same day the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) released the Serve America Act (S. 277). Of the 105 no votes in the House, 104 were cast by Republicans and one by a Democrat while 70 of the 321 affirmative votes were from the GOP against 251 by Democrats. The lone Democrat to vote against the bill was Arkansas’ Marion Berry (D-1).

The bills would have to be combined and then would amend the National and Community Service Act of 1990, which essentially created AmeriCorps.

The GIVE Act aims to increase the number of federally-stipended volunteers from 75,000 to 250,000 within five years and would establish new service corps for areas of national need, such as energy conservation, healthcare, education and veterans’ issues. Service participants would receive a boost in their education awards from $4,725 to $5,350 next year, and future increases would be tied to the maximum Pell Grant scholarship, which would be $8,000 by 2014.

The program would attempt to attract volunteers of all ages: Middle and high school students could participate in Summer of Service programs that would allow them to earn a $500 education award toward college costs; Silver Scholarships and Encore Fellowships for those older than 55 and ServeAmerica Fellowships; Youth Engagement Zones would be aimed at high school students, and a Community Solutions Fund would award competitive matching grants to social entrepreneur venture funds.

Additionally, the legislation observes September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the costs of implementing the GIVE Act to be $481 million next year and about $6 billion between 2010 and 2014, starting at $481 million next year and rising each year until reaching $1.7 billion in 2014. Programs funded under the National and Community Service Act received $1.1 billion during 2009, including $200 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.