As storm clouds of cynicism gather over a troubled economy and uncertain world, the Democratic Congress delivers a breath of fresh air: a national call to service that triples AmeriCorps and strengthens our national commitment to the common good.
HR1388, renamed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which passed the House last week and the Senate the week before, will expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 positions today to 250,000 by 2017 and increase AmeriCorps education awards for college or repay student loans, create a "summer of service" program for middle and high school students, and provide education awards for volunteers 55 and older who can transfer these earned awards to a child, grandchild or foster child.
Some question the need to facilitate volunteerism when so many people are crunched for time and resources as they encounter mounting personal debt, tuition bills, job insecurity and skyrocketing health care costs. But this is exactly the time when America's generosity of spirit is made manifest, as people overwhelmingly support funding and assistance to nonprofits, public agencies, community and faith-based organizations that want to hire help.
The bipartisan Congressional support for this cornerstone of the Democratic agenda is an encouraging sign that solutions are possible -- and that not all politics are polarized. When President Obama signs the bill this week, he will officially usher in a new era of responsibility, where Americans are willing to foster a culture of service. Now that is the change we voted for.