Bennet: National Service Act to Boost Education Opportunities, Strengthen Colorado's Volunteer Corps

Bennet Cosponsored Bipartisan Measure to Bolster Service and Volunteer Opportunities - Bill Expected to Pass As Soon As Today

Washington, DC - Michael Bennet, senator for Colorado, today highlighted the importance of the National Service Act as a bill that will boost education, service and volunteer opportunities for Colorado and the nation. Currently, over 1.2 million Coloradans volunteer 161 million hours of service per year and nearly 2,300 of those are AmeriCorps volunteers. Bennet said today this bill would work to more than triple the AmeriCorps volunteer pool across the country from 75,000 volunteers to 250,000 volunteers.

Bennet is a cosponsor of the bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch.

"Our economy is suffering and our budgets are tightening, but generous Coloradans are still finding ways to serve and give back," Bennet said. "This bill will bolster and strengthen Coloradans' rich tradition of serving their communities and help to fill the gaps resulting from years of inaction."

Bennet highlighted the benefits the bill would give to education initiatives, including creating a new Education Corps, boosting education awards and scholarships, and creating new service learning opportunities for elementary, high school, and college students. Bennet said the new Corps program would work to increase student achievement and graduation rates, including youth mentoring programs and reducing recidivism by engaging court-involved youth.

In addition, the National Service Act, H.R. 1388, will create a new fellowship program called the ServeAmerica Fellowship, which focuses on efforts to improve education in schools for economically disadvantaged students; expand and improve access to healthcare; improve energy efficiency and conserve natural resources; improve economic opportunities for economically disadvantaged individuals; or improve disaster preparedness and response.

The bill would also increase the Eli Segal Education Award from $4,725 to $5,350 to keep up with the rising costs of college and link it to Pell Grants so it will continue to increase in the future. The Award is used to help pay for higher education, including student loans. It also establishes an Education Awards Only program that authorizes the Corporation for National and Community Service to provide fixed-amount grants to programs that have approved national service positions but no AmeriCorps funding.

Finally, the bill will authorize new VISTA grant programs of national significance that provide poor and rural communities with a wide-range of services, including financial literacy and planning, before-school and after-school services; community economic development initiatives; assistance to veterans and their families; and health and wellness services.

Currently, Colorado has 76 VISTA participants at 37 locations but they hope to add 55 more participants to the program. There are VISTA programs in Arvada, Ault, Aurora, Avon, Bayfield, Boulder, Boulder, CO Springs, Denver, Durango, Ft. Collins, Golden, Grand Junction, Greeley, Ignacio, Lake City, Pueblo, Salida, and Steamboat Springs.
"From helping our students to veterans to the disadvantaged, the idea of this bill is to give back to our community when our community needs it most. President Obama has called on our country to once again serve and help each other, and I applaud his effort and Senators Kennedy and Hatch on this legislation," Bennet said.

Other highlights of the bill include:

  • Support Increased Service Opportunities for Retirees: The bill would strengthen and expand the current senior Corps programs; Enhance incentives for retirees to give a year of service through the new Corps by enabling them to transfer their education award to a child or grandchild; Create Encore Fellowships to help retirees participate in longer term public service.
  • Support Increase of Opportunities for Volunteering by Persons All Ages: The legislation would expand the volunteer pool by establishing a "Volunteer Generation Fun" to assist nonprofit organizations in recruiting and managing additional volunteers.
  • Support Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector: The Act recognizes and supports the effective role of social entrepreneurs in meeting community and national challenges by establishing a "Social Innovation Fund" to serve as venture capital to help the nonprofit sector recruit talent.
  • Support International Service Opportunities: The Act strengthens the current "Volunteers for Prosperity" program, which coordinates and supports short-term international service opportunities for skilled professional in developing nations.