The US Senate this afternoon approved a bill named for Senator Edward M. Kennedy that represents the most sweeping overhaul and expansion of national service programs in 16 years.
The Senate voted 79-19 for the measure, which would increase the ranks of AmeriCorps to 250,000 from 75,000 positions over eight years and also create five groups to help poor people, improve education, encourage energy efficiency, strengthen access to healthcare, and assist veterans.
The House could take up the bill as early as Monday, sending it to President Obama to sign into law.
The bipartisan legislation was authored by Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.
“Today’s Senate passage of the Serve America Act demonstrates welcome bipartisan agreement on the often neglected but indispensible value of citizen service in addressing some of the most urgent challenges facing America and the world. The bill is a major expansion of existing national and community programs. Its goal is to tap much more deeply into Americans’ enthusiasm to serve, and direct it to areas and issues where it can make the biggest difference. I commend Senator Mikulski, Senator Hatch, and Senator Enzi for their impressive bipartisan cooperation in achieving such prompt Senate action, and I look forward to it becoming a significant part of President Obama’s strategy for getting America back on track,” Kennedy said in a statement.
UPDATE: President Obama issued a statement applauding the Senate's passage of the bill, which follows through on his call for more public service, and again paid tribute to Kennedy:
"I’m so pleased that the Senate overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act -- legislation that will usher in a new era of service. I want to applaud all those who have worked so hard to see this bill through, and I am eager to sign it into law.
"This legislation will help create new opportunities for millions of Americans at all stages of their lives. From improving service learning in schools to creating an army of 250,000 volunteers a year dedicated to addressing our nation's toughest problems. From connecting working Americans to a variety of part-time service opportunities to better utilizing the skills and experience of our retirees and baby boomers. This legislation will help tap the genius of our faith based and community organizations, and it will find the most innovative ideas for addressing our common challenges and helping those ideas grow.
"It is fitting that this legislation is named after Ted Kennedy, a person who has never stopped asking what he could do for his country. This legislation is not just a tribute to the service to which he has dedicated his life, it is a call to action for the rest of us. Our work is not finished when I sign this bill into law – it has just begun. While our government can provide every opportunity imaginable for us to serve our communities, it is up to each of us to seize those opportunities. To do our part to lift up our fellow Americans. To realize our own true potential. I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.