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Kennedy files national service bill

Resource type: News

The Boston Globe |


WASHINGTON – Senator Edward M. Kennedy, ailing from a brain tumor but determined to pass a series of pet legislative priorities, formally introduced a major national service bill yesterday, asking Congress to fund programs to draw another 175,000 Americans of all ages into volunteer programs.

The measure, co-written with Kennedy’s longtime friend and colleague, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, is meant to encourage national service on healthcare, education, energy, and the environment. Building on the existing ” AmeriCorps” program, the new plan would ask 175,000 Americans to devote a year of service, bringing the total number of participants to 250,000 Americans.

Further, the bill – expected to cost $5 billion over five years – would establish a network of venture capital funds for the nonprofit sector, helping the typically low-budget operations recruit workers. The Peace Corps would be expanded, along with the existing “Volunteers for Prosperity,” a program that allows professionals who cannot commit to two-year Peace Corps missions to do shorter-term work in developing nations.

The measure is Kennedy’s first legislative offer of the 111th Congress, which began work last week. Supporters of the package hope to move it quickly through the Democratic-controlled Congress.

The plan is aimed at encouraging volunteerism, from kindergarten-aged children to retirees. Employers would be eligible for tax breaks if they allow employees to take paid time off for full-time national service, while retirees would be eligible for “Encore Fellowships” subsidizing public service work.

Kennedy and Hatch, who have been working on the plan over the past year, during Kennedy’s illness, hope that President-elect Barack Obama’s focus on national service will help ease passage of the new program on Capitol Hill, despite worries about the budget deficit.

“President-Elect Obama has called on Americans to serve, and they’ve already shown they’re ready to answer the call, with hundreds of thousands signing up to volunteer on Martin Luther King Day of Service. Our legislation will make it possible for many more Americans to continue to serve – to devote a year or longer to contribute to their country and their community,” Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement.

Obama and his 2008 presidential campaign rival, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, both committed their support to the idea last September, when they made a joint appearance at a national service event in New York City.

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AmeriCorps, tag, volunteerism