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Hatch-Kennedy service bill clears House, Senate panel
[March 19, 2009]

Hatch-Kennedy service bill clears House, Senate panel

WASHINGTON, Mar 19, 2009 (The Salt Lake Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Spurred on by President Barack Obama, Congress is quickly advancing Hatch-Kennedy legislation that would greatly expand community-service programs and the education stipends provided to participants.

A Senate committee signed off Wednesday on the Serve America Act, which enjoys broad bipartisan support and could come up for a full Senate vote next week. The House passed a similar bill Wednesday 321-105.

The legislation, sponsored by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, would triple the number of AmeriCorps positions, creating 175,000 new opportunities to help low-income Americans in areas such as health care, clean energy and education.

"Volunteer service is the lifeblood of our nation," Hatch said. "It brings out the best in our people and strengthens our communities." More than two years ago, Hatch asked his friend Kennedy to join him in expanding the service programs, drawing inspiration from the Mormon mission he served in the Great Lakes states.

"As a young man, I served a two-year altruistic mission for my faith, during which I learned firsthand the benefits of service. It was the greatest period of my life. I wouldn't trade that for being a U.S. senator," Hatch said during a committee hearing last week. "I want to give that opportunity to as many young people as I can, in a different way, through this service bill." Obama touted the Serve America Act during his address to a joint session of Congress last month, saying it is a way for young people of limited means to afford college.

"If you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country," Obama said, "we will make sure you can afford a higher education." The bill would provide modest pay and a college stipend for those who agree to volunteer for a year. The legislation would cost $5 billion over five years.

That price tag irritated many House Republicans, including Utah's Jason Chaffetz, who voted against the legislation. He didn't like the idea of federal dollars paying people to volunteer.

"Paid volunteer programs sounds like an oxymoron to me," he said.

Utah GOP Rep. Rob Bishop also voted against the bill. Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson supported it.

Hatch has tried to counter these Republican criticisms, saying the AmeriCorps' paid volunteers, who receive small amounts, then recruit unpaid helpers.

"In the long run, I believe the Serve America Act will allow communities to help themselves," Hatch said, "meaning the government will ultimately be asked to do less and less." To see more of The Salt Lake Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, The Salt Lake Tribune Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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