President Obama Signs Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act

President Barack Obama has signed a broad, multibillion-dollar national service bill designed to boost volunteerism among Americans of all ages, the Boston Globe reports.

Honoring calls to service made by Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and his late brother, President John F. Kennedy, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act allocates $5.7 billion over five years to encourage volunteerism in the United States by, among other things, tripling the size of the AmeriCorps program from its current level of 75,000 volunteers to roughly 250,000 volunteers. AmeriCorps volunteers — who receive living allowances of about $12,000 for ten to twelve months of service — typically staff programs targeting the poor, veterans, the environment, health care, and education. The act also provides $500 summer scholarships to middle and high school students and $1,000 educational stipends to older volunteers.

Although the legislation signed by the president creates a legal framework for the program, Congress still must appropriate the money to fund it. Some conservatives have opposed the bill on the grounds that it "[subsidizes] volunteerism rather than mandating it." Nevertheless, the legislation has substantial bipartisan support, and White House Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes said she was optimistic the administration would secure the $1.1 billion Obama requested to fund the first year of the program.

According to supporters of the legislation, the Serve America Act reflects a historic shift, especially among young people, toward volunteerism. Indeed, according to Corporation for National and Community Service chair Alan Solomont, the group received 17,038 online AmeriCorps applications last month — nearly triple the number it received a year ago.

"It isn't that Washington is imposing this on America," said Solomont, whose group is charged with implementing the legislation. "What's happening is that Washington is trying to keep up with America."

Susan Milligan. "President Signs $5.7 Billion Measure to Boost Volunteerism." Boston Globe 04/22/2009.