The recent expansion of AmeriCorps goes hand in hand with President Obama’s plea with the American people to start volunteering and give special attention to community service. The plea came in his inaugural-address and later in a nationally televised speech to a joint session of Congress in February, shortly after taking office. The Senate passed a measure, named the Senator Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act for the Massachusetts Democrat’s role in the bill’s architecture, on March 26 that expands the number of community service positions from 75,000 to 250,000. Community service and volunteerism has been a major focus of the President since his campaign and has become a favorite cause of First Lady Michelle Obama.

The House of Representatives will now vote on the matter after passing the GIVE Act, a similar version of the Serve America Act, on March 18. The bill is expected to pass and will go to President Obama who is expected to sign it into law. The Obama administration’s focus on community service and volunteerism has remained steady since the campaign trail. The new bill not only expands AmeriCorps, but also creates four new federal service corps. This is the biggest boost to volunteer programs since President Bill Clinton created AmeriCorps in 1993.

The call for, and incentives given for, greater community service involvement expands from college students to retirees, who could potentially earn a $1,000 award that will be transferable to a child or grandchild and good towards their education. College students will be reimbursed for their service in the form of a college stipend equivalent to the amount of the Pell Grant. The $5,350 scholarship gives many students the chance to attend college who otherwise would not have the financial means to do so.

The new bill ties in closely with the aura of social responsibility that has begun to dig into the social fibers of the country. Citizen outrage over bonuses paid to AIG executives and a call for an end to financial irresponsibility on Wall Street has dominated the news for much of the past four or five months. Greed, corruption and white-collar criminal behavior has always been deemed unacceptable by concerned citizens, but has been given special ridicule as of late, mostly due to the current state of the economy and people’s frustration with their own financial situations.

A bill encouraging community service, volunteerism, and some may say selflessness, will certainly go over well with the social atmosphere created by Congress and the new president. Stepping on greedy Wall Street executives has become a norm, for now, and people are looking for an era of financial and social responsibility that will help us climb out of this economic hole and once again reclaim the prosperity we enjoyed throughout the nineties. The volunteer programs will now be in place, and community service is being widely recognized as the admirable thing to do, but how long will we tout these things as being a part of every good American’s agenda. Hopefully, the new bill will set a precedent for the future that continues to encourage volunteerism and community service among young people and anybody with a little spare time.

Sources:

Herszenhorn, D. M. (2009, March 26). Senate Moves To Expand National Service Programs. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/us/politics/27cong.html

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