President Obama Signs Landmark National Service Legislation

Apr 21, 2009

Act Launches New Era of Service at Time of Great Need; National Service CEO Named

President Barack Obama signs the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act on April 21, 2009, at a Washington, DC, elementary school, joined by a host of dignitaries, and an audience of nonprofit leaders and national service volunteers. The bill’s namesake and longtime service champion Sen. Kennedy co-authored the legislation with Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Washington, DC – President Obama delivered an early victory for a central cause of his Administration by signing into law a sweeping expansion of national service that will engage millions of Americans in addressing local needs through volunteer service.

The President signed the landmark Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act today at a Washington DC elementary school, joined by Vice President Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr, Jill Biden, Members of Congress, former President Clinton, former First Lady Rosalyn Carter, and an audience of nonprofit leaders and national service volunteers. The President was introduced by the bill’s namesake and longtime service champion Senator Kennedy, who co-authored the legislation with Senator Orrin Hatch.

After signing the bill, the President, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, and former President Bill Clinton will plant trees and restore habitat in an environmental service project with AmeriCorps members and high school students at a local park.

The Serve America Act reauthorizes and expands national service programs administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency created in 1993. The Corporation engages 4 million Americans in result-driven service each year, including 75,000 AmeriCorps members, 492,000 Senior Corps volunteers, 1.1 million Learn and Serve America students, and 2.2 million additional community volunteers mobilized and managed through the agency’s programs.

This bill had a fast bipartisan sprint through Congress. The President called on Congress to send him the Kennedy-Hatch national service legislation in his joint address on February 25. The bill was introduced on March 8 and passed the House on a 321 to 105 vote on March 18. The Senate followed suit one week later with a 79-19 vote, with final passage in the House on March 31, just 22 days after it was introduced.

“The broad bipartisan support for this legislation, and its remarkably swift journey through Congress, reflect the growing national consensus that service is a powerful response to the economic and social challenges facing America today,” said Corporation Board Chair Alan Solomont. “Across the country, people are looking for ways to help their neighbors and their communities. This bill will help us channel more of that energy into meeting local and national needs.”

Earlier today, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Maria Eitel to be CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Eitel is the President of the Nike Foundation and a Vice President of NIKE, Inc. As president of the Nike Foundation, she has led the Foundation’s work to increase opportunities for the world’s most disadvantaged girls. Prior to becoming the Foundation’s first president, Ms. Eitel served as Nike Inc.’s first vice president for corporate responsibility, leading the development and implementation of the company’s first corporate responsibility agenda.

President Obama said, “Maria brings a unique blend of skills and management experience that will help her successfully lead the Corporation during our Administration’s bold expansion of national service programs. Maria is genuinely passionate about the role of national and community service as a vehicle for engaging and mobilizing citizens in social change, and will bring new, creative thinking to the growth and mission of the Corporation.”

The legislation comes at a time of growing social need caused by the economic downturn and a corresponding “compassion surge” of Americans wanting to help those left vulnerable by its impact. The Corporation reported today that AmeriCorps received 17,038 online applications in March, nearly triple the 6,770 received in March of 2008. In the past five months, the agency received 48,520 online applications, up 234% over the 14,532 applications it received during the same five-month period a year ago. Many volunteer centers and nonprofits groups are also reporting a recent increase in volunteers.

“The President’s call to service at a time of great need is striking a responsive chord with the American public, especially millennials and baby boomers,” said Acting CEO Nicola Goren. “In this economic downturn, we need service and volunteering more than ever, and this legislation expresses the country’s support for service when it’s needed most.”

The Serve America Act, which goes into effect on October 1, would increase and enhance opportunities for Americans of all ages to serve by increasing AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 positions over the next eight years, while increasing opportunities for students and older Americans to serve. It will strengthen America’s civic infrastructure through social innovation, volunteer mobilization, and building nonprofit capacity. The new law is also designed to strengthen the management, cost-effectiveness and accountability of national service programs by increasing flexibility, consolidating funding streams, and introducing more competition. For a bill summary, click here.

“This bill will help unleash a powerful new wave of service and civic action to help tackle our nation’s toughest challenges," said Solomont. “We are grateful to Representatives George Miller, Bud McKeon, Carolyn McCarthy, and Todd Platts and to Senator Kennedy, Senator Hatch, Senator Mikulski, and Senator Enzi and all those who worked on this historic bipartisan step for national service. We look forward to working with Congress and the White House to fund and implement this Act.”

The bill follows quickly on the heels of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided $200 million to support up to 13,000 AmeriCorps members serving in distressed communities. Acting CEO Goren will swear in the first 200 Recovery Act AmeriCorps members at a VISTA training this Friday in Albuquerque, putting “boots on the ground” to help citizens affected by the economic downturn.

The President signed the bill before an audience that included current participants in AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America, Members of Congress who worked on the Act, and leaders of national service and nonprofit organizations. The event took place at the SEED School, an innovative public boarding school that caters to underserved students who face challenges in school and at home. In addition to offering an academically rigorous, college prep education, the SEED School incorporates service-learning into the curriculum of all its students, supported by the Corporation’s Learn and Serve America program.

Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy speaks prior to the signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act named in his honor as President Barack Obama looks on during a ceremony in Washington, DC, on April 21, 2009.

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