04/21/2011 04:09 pm ET Updated Jun 21, 2011

Service: More Important than Ever

Two years ago today, President Obama signed into law an historic piece of legislation, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The Act, which earned broad bipartisan support in the US Congress, authorized the largest increase in support for national service since the Great Depression. Most notably, in recognition of the need to expand service opportunities for Americans across the country and to build the capacity of local and national service organizations, it called for AmeriCorps, our country's flag-ship national service program, to triple in size from 75,000 to 250,000 over nine years.

In the two years since it was signed into law, this legislation has created tens of thousands of jobs for Americans of all backgrounds. Recent cuts to service funding (including the total elimination of Learn and Serve), however, have prevented AmeriCorps from growing at the levels authorized by the Serve America Act and represent a missed opportunity for the country.

With bipartisan concern over the size of the national debt, leaders of both parties are telling us to expect shared sacrifice. For that reason exactly, now is the time to expand national service, not scale back our ambitions. There are three reasons why.

First, AmeriCorps represents a great value to the taxpayer -- the average AmeriCorps-supported service position costs the federal government only $7,495. With unemployment remaining high, these jobs are an important part of the recovering American economy.

Second, these are highly leveraged jobs, creating 100 million hours of volunteer service per year and hundreds of millions of dollars in private sector matching funds. Because of cuts to other local and federal programs, the citizen army of volunteers that AmeriCorps-funding unleashes provides critical services that fill the gaps that have emerged and continue to emerge in local communities across the country.

Third, service brings us together as a country. While our politics may be divided, Americans can and do come together through service and volunteerism. Whether it's working on a Habitat for Humanity build site alongside wounded warriors or mentoring children in under-performing schools, service is the great unifier, bringing us together across race, socioeconomic status, and life experience.

H.R. 1, the budget that passed the House in March, called for AmeriCorps and other national service initiatives to be eliminated. The Save Service in America campaign worked tirelessly to let our legislators know how important AmeriCorps and other national service programs are in their communities, and the final 2011 budget reflected that effort. The budget saw a nine percent cut in service funding; not a victory by any means, but in today's tough fiscal climate, the progress made since March showed that our nation's policymakers recognized the important role these organizations play in their constituents' lives.

So while we are grateful to our supporters that AmeriCorps was saved, any reductions in funding negate the bold bipartisan vision that the Serve America Act promised. As we recover from the recession -- and with unemployment dropping, but still high -- AmeriCorps members play an integral role in supporting our communities throughout the country.

Today, Save Service is working with partners around the country hosting bus tours in seven states to highlight the essential contributions service organizations make in local communities. These tours, taking place from Chicago to Atlanta, from Boston to Tucson, and more, are showing decision-makers and citizens alike the local impact of national service.

Two years ago today, the Serve America Act was signed into law, and as a result, more Americans than ever are able to serve their country and each other in our communities. We should get back on a path to fully fund that historic legislation in 2012 and continue to grow support for service. It is more vital now than ever. Click here to see how you can get involved.