College is increasingly expensive. Jobs are harder and harder to find. And volunteerism, while rewarding, isn't financially rewarding. What are young adults to do?
U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, have the answer: the Serve America Act.
If approved, the measure would expand the AmeriCorps public service program by making about $6 billion available over the next five years to allow young people to serve their country in one of four new areas: the Clean Energy Corps, Education Corps, Healthy Futures Corps and the Veterans Service Corps. Plus, the purview of the existing National Civilian Community Corps would be expanded to include disaster relief and energy conservation services.
Work would include mentoring and tutoring public school students, providing transportation for the sick and elderly, helping the poor enroll in health-care programs and helping make the homes of low-income Americans more energy-efficient through weatherization projects.
Hatch and Kennedy, the bill's co-sponsors, hope to attract 175,000 volunteers, primarily college-aged youths. And, while helping others, participants would be helping themselves, earning a minimum of $11,400 a year plus a $5,350 education award to pay for college or graduate school, or to pay off student loans.
There's also a component in the plan to get older Americans more involved in their communities -- 10 percent of the money would be earmarked for service programs where most volunteers are age 50 or older. And high school and middle school students could earn $500 toward their college educations by participating in the Summer of Service program.
The bill, which has received broad bipartisan support and the enthusiastic backing of President Barack Obama, will be considered by the Senate this week, after the House version was approved in a 321-105 vote. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, voted for the bill, while GOP Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz opposed the measure. "Paid volunteer programs sound like an oxymoron to me," Chaffetz said.
Fortunately, few share that sentiment. In fact, this nation was built and preserved on the backs of volunteers who served in exchange for a small government stipend. Ever hear of the Continental Army? The U.S. Army? The Civilian Conservation Corps?
This measure would give young people another way to serve their country, and would instill a love of public service that will last a lifetime. Congress should approve this bill.