The Kennedy Serve America Act: A New Boost for Service

Congress recently passed the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act,” which will expand the number of AmeriCorps slots from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017, and increase volunteer opportunities at home and abroad.

This legislation takes a critical and concrete step toward advancing President Obama’s call to service for Americans, offering citizens more ways to get involved in their communities and across the world.

On the global front, many of the ideas proposed by Brookings’s Initiative on International Volunteering and Service and the Building Bridges Coalition, which partners with Brookings on service initiatives, can be found woven into the legislation.

Specifically, the global provisions of the bill authorize the Volunteers for Prosperity (VFP) initiative at the US Agency for International Development and provide matching grants for service stipends to deploy highly skilled professionals to address issues such as extreme poverty, clean water, preventable diseases, universal education and business and information technology through participating nongovernmental organizations. The VFP provision authorizes $10 million in Fiscal Year 2010 and added amounts for Fiscal Years 2011-2014 that will be matched by private sector contributions. Our recent policy brief on Global Service Fellowships is a good guide to understanding how international service opportunities can broaden America’s public diplomacy efforts.

President Obama’s engagement of a new generation of Americans in service, linked to our nation’s international diplomacy and development efforts, signals a defining opportunity to advance the full potential of smart power in addressing critical global challenges. This bi-partisan congressional action also reflects a welcome step to help boost national and international service.