WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an effort to tackle national priorities and help young Americans strengthen their communities and our nation while reducing the burden of student debt, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the America’s Call To Improve Opportunities Now (ACTION) for National Service Act. The bill would increase opportunities for service across the country and provide young Americans with the chance to select a service program in a variety of fields. In exchange for their national service, students would get help paying for college.
The ACTION for National Service Act calls for elevating the Corporation for National and Community Service to a cabinet-level agency and providing resources to help support up to one million national service positions annually, enhancing participation in notable national service programs such as AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
Currently, about one percent of Americans serve in either the military or a national service program. Retired General Stanley A. McChrystal, who serves as Chairman of the Board for the nonprofit Service Year Alliance, has stated that expanding national service options could go a long way toward uniting Americans and bridging the military-civilian divide by fostering a better understanding of shared sacrifice. General McChrystal noted: “Right now, less than one percent of our population serves in the military and, in my view, we need to rethink and create a system where young Americans have an opportunity to serve their nation in other ways. We need to create a culture of service where we are all invested in our nation's future and feel a shared sense of responsibility to our nation and to each other.”
Since 1994, over 1 million individuals have served through the AmeriCorps program, and roughly 245,000 seniors over the age of 55 volunteer annually through the Senior Corps programs. These individuals have addressed critical community needs in education, economic development, health, and many other areas, coming to their fellow citizens’ aid in times of national disaster, including thousands who have been deployed in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The bill seeks to enhance the nation’s capacity to support all those who want to serve their communities and the nation.
“Expanding national service opportunities for young Americans strengthens our communities, broadens the worldview of our next generation of American leaders, and instills in our young men and women a sense of pride in themselves and their country that can only be gained through giving back,” said Senator Coons. “As we work to make college more accessible and give our young people the opportunities they deserve to succeed, national service has to be part of the equation. I’m excited to introduce this bill and expand the impact of national service in the United States.”
“As Americans, we take inspiration from those who have answered the call to serve, whether in defense of our nation abroad or to strengthen our communities at home. This bill will grow our capacity to enlist, equip, and empower young people to address pressing challenges and give back to our nation while they earn money toward their education. It will increase volunteerism and strengthen our nation,” said Senator Reed. “Today, young people are eager to find ways to serve, and we need to do a better job of providing them with opportunities to give back. This willingness to make common cause with our fellow citizens and serve a purpose greater than ourselves is a hallmark of our nation. It’s also crucial that we invest in the education and professional development of those who have sacrificed and given so much to our nation. That’s why I’m pleased to introduce this legislation with my colleagues to help ensure that every American who wants to serve has the opportunity to do so, as well as future opportunities to get an education and build a better life. I commend Congressmen Larson, Lewis, and Kennedy for their leadership on this issue and longstanding commitment to expanding national service opportunities for all.”
“From the corners of Connecticut to disaster relief zones in Puerto Rico, I have seen the invaluable impact of individuals who have answered the call for their country with fundamentally American acts of service,” said Senator Blumenthal. “National volunteer service programs improve the lives of all Americans by protecting the environment, strengthening education, responding to disasters, supporting public health and safety, and providing assistance to at-risk communities. I am proud to support the ACTION for National Service Act, which would elevate and protect the spirit of service embodied in AmeriCorps and other federal service programs to inspire a new class of young leaders nationwide.”
Specifically, the ACTION for National Service Act:
• Gives all those who wish to serve the opportunity to do so by providing the necessary federal funding to support at least one million service positions nationwide.
• Significantly reduces student loan debt burdens by ensuring that individuals who serve two full terms of service are rewarded with an education benefit equivalent to four years of the average in-state tuition at a public, four-year college. Current law limits the award's value to the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant at the time of the individual’s service.
• Makes the education benefit free from federal taxation. Currently, education benefits count as income for tax purposes.
• Elevates the existing Corporation of National and Community Service (CNCS) to a Cabinet-level federal agency, and appoints a Director of National Service with the same rank as Cabinet Secretaries. Existing CNCS programs like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps would be preserved and strengthened.
• Maintains the authority and programmatic responsibilities of state and local boards to direct federal resources to best meet community needs and be responsive to local priorities.
• Allows participants in programs outside of existing CNCS programs to be evaluated for eligibility for enhanced education benefits.
• Establishes a National Service Foundation to encourage private sector and philanthropic investment in expanding national service opportunities.
U.S. Representatives John B. Larson (D-CT), John Lewis (D-GA), and Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) have introduced similar legislation, the ACTION for National Service Act (H.R. 3140), in the U.S. House of Representatives.