WASHINGTON, DC –The U.S. Senate last night passed legislation to strengthen programs that encourage community service, a major priority of President Barack Obama. Senator Jeff Merkley worked to ensure the funding can be used for programs that task volunteers with restoring forest health and reducing wildfire risk on Oregon’s public lands.
“During this time of economic turmoil, many Americans are looking for ways to give back to their communities and help those in need,” said Merkley, a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “Service programs such as AmeriCorps help make this possible by providing opportunities for individuals and assistance to service organizations.”
The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act will improve national service programs, like AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve, AmeriCorps VISTA, the National Civilian Community Corps, and the Senior Corps Programs by:
- Expanding the number of national service participants from 75,000 to 250,000;
- Increasing opportunities for people of all ages to serve – from students to seniors;
- Providing assistance to non-profit organizations to recruit and manage more volunteers;
- Supporting innovation in the non-profit sector; and
- Improving and expanding international service opportunities.
Notably, the legislation will also designate targeted service opportunities through the AmeriCorps program:
- Education Corps whose members work to improve academic achievement, graduation and college enrollment rates, student engagement, and other educational needs.
- Healthy Futures Corps whose members work to increase access to health care among low-income and uninsured individuals, participation in disease prevention programs by those who need them most, health literacy among patients, and other health needs.
- Clean Energy Service Corps whose members work to improve energy efficiency, national and state parks, trails, and forests, and other environmental, resource, and clean energy needs.
- Opportunity Corps whose members focus on poverty reduction and assistance to low-income individuals.
- Veterans Corps whose members provide needed services and assistance to veterans, and will provide service opportunities for veterans.
A provision authored by Senator Merkley was included in the Senate bill to ensure the Clean Energy Service Corps efforts will include programs devoted to improving forest health and reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire through forest thinning.
“For years, forest health projects have been put on the backburner and habitats and rural communities have paid the price. We already greatly expanded Forest Service programs devoted to restoring forest health through the economic recovery package but there is much more work that needs to be done,” said Merkley. “Including forest health service programs in the Serve America Act will reduce the risk of wildfire while helping young people earn tuition for college. That’s a win-win for our economy, for students and for our forests.”