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Congress Expands National Service

The House voted Tuesday afternoon to spend $5.7 billion on a bill that will triple the number of participants in the AmeriCorps program and help nonprofits attract and manage new volunteers.

The bill now goes to President Obama, a former community organizer who has been pressing Americans to step up their engagement in national service. He is expected to sign it.

As the Associated Press points out, the president's budget proposal calls for an increase of more than $210 million in funding for national service programs, for a total of $1.1 billion.

The bill will increase the number of AmeriCorps participants to 250,000 over eight years. Participants spend 10 months in the program, usually for a stipend of around $12,000, and are tasked with activities such as building homes. Under the new legislation, money given to participants for education will increase to $5,350.

Opponents of the legislation, which passed 275-149, say it represents unnecessary and expensive government involvement in what should be volunteer work.

The AP reports that AmeriCorps applications have increased as the economy has fallen, with 9,731 people applying to the program online last month.

The legislation also creates five new "corps" in which Americans can participate, tied to the poor, education, energy efficiency, health care and veterans.

It is named for one if its primary backers, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

UPDATE: President Obama has released this statement on the passage of the bill:

"I congratulate the House on passing the bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. This is legislation that will usher in a new era of service in America, and I look forward to signing it into law when I return to Washington."

"Because of this legislation, millions of Americans at all stages of their lives will have new opportunities to serve their country. From improving service learning in schools to creating an army of 250,000 Corps members 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. But while our government can provide every opportunity imaginable for us to serve our communities, now it is up to each of us to seize those opportunities. 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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