Volunteering and the Federal Government Serve America Act

Article excerpt

Introduction

Historically, as noted by Toman and Leichtman in this journal issue, volunteering in America has been defined, supported, and acted upon by decades of members of the United States Congress. The Serve America Act is this decade's version of legislating volunteering. The following article was written by attorneys, and therefore utilizes the standard legal reference for citations, the Harvard Blue Book. The authors highlight the main points of the Act, as well as offer their conclusions of its feasibility.

~ Sarah Toman

The Serve America Act (hereafter referred to as the Act), a 2009 amendment to the National Service Act of 1990 [42 U.S.C. § 12501], was enacted to encourage citizens of the United States, regardless of age, income, geographic location, or disability, to engage in full-time or part-time national service [42 U.S.C. § 12501(b)(4)], to expand and strengthen service-learning programs through year-round opportunities, including opportunities during the summer months, to improve the education of children and youth and to maximize the benefits of national community service, in order to renew the ethic of civic responsibility and the spirit of community for children and youth throughout the United States [42 U.S.C. § 12501(b)(9)], and to increase service opportunities for the Nation's retiring professionals, including such opportunities for those retiring from the science, technical, engineering, and mathematics professions, to improve the education of the Nation's youth and keep America competitive in the global knowledge economy, and to further utilize the experience, knowledge, and skills of older individuals [42 U.S.C. § 1 2501(b)(l I)J. The major direction of the Act is to focus national service on the areas of national need such service has the capacity to address, such as improving education, increasing energy conservation, improving the health status of economically disadvantaged individuals, and improving opportunity for economically disadvantaged individuals [42 U.S.C. § 12501(b)(14)].

The implementation of the Act is through the Corporation for National and Community Service under the direction of a Chief Executive Officer appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate [42 U.S.C. § 1 265 lc(a)]. This Chief Executive Officer has the broad authority to prescribe such rules and regulations as are necessary or appropriate to carry out the national service laws [42 U.S.C. § 12651c(c)]. The funding of grants is based on a shared participation among federal, state, and local contributions. The contribution of the Corporation for new grants is specified by statute as not to exceed 80 per cent of the total cost for the first year of a grant, 65 per cent for the second year, and 50 per cent for the third year, as well as for all continuing grants [42 U.S.C. § 12528(a)(1)(A), (B)]. However, the Act has incentive matching funds to encourage states to create State Commissions to help manage the provisions of the Act [42 U.S.C. § 12576].

Although the emphasis of the Act is volunteering, the Act authorizes the creation of 88,000 positions in fiscal year 2010, increasing to 210,000 by fiscal year 2015, for persons to assist in implementing the Act [42 U.S.C. § 12571]. Matching funds from the Corporation and other entities will cover living allowances, employment-related taxes, health care coverage, and workers compensation, and other necessary operation costs [Al U.S.C. § 12571(e)(1)]. The maximum living allowance is set at not more than 200 per cent of the average annual subsistence for a VISTA volunteer, which a separate statute sets at a minimum of $125 and a maximum of $250 per month [42 U.S.C. § 12594; 42 U.S.C. § 4955].

Eligibility for these positions is governed by a separate section that designates the requirements and specifically includes such service areas as a VISTA volunteer, a participant in the National Civilian Community Corps, and the ServeAmerica Fellowship program [42 U. …