Senate Health, Education Committee Passes Legislation to Strengthen National Service Programs

WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions today passed legislation to strengthen programs that encourage community service, a major priority of President Barack Obama.  Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, a cosponsor of the bill and member of the Committee, is working with his colleagues to clarify that under the program, service volunteers can contribute to their communities by 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.  “Service programs such as AmeriCorps help make this possible by providing opportunities for individuals and assistance to service organizations.”

The 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.

As the bill continues to the floor for consideration by the full Senate, Senator Merkley is working with his colleagues to ensure that the Clean Energy Service Corps efforts will include programs devoted to improving forest health and reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire through forest thinning.

“The Serve America Act is a good bill that we can improve by encouraging volunteer efforts to improve forest health.  We have a tremendous backlog of thinning projects to complete to prevent wildfires and protect rural communities.  Forest Service programs funded by the recently passed recovery package will accomplish some of this work.  But there is still a need for volunteer efforts,” said Merkley.  “I’ll continue to work with the committee and my colleagues to make sure that forest health remains a focus for service organizations for years to come.”