Congresswoman Duckworth’s New National Service Bill Would Make College More Affordable While Helping Revitalize American Communities

Congresswoman proposes empowering young Americans to serve their neighbors and neighborhoods by expanding college financial assistance and civilian service programs

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 26, 2016.  Following this month’s anniversary of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth (IL-08) today proposed bold legislation to build on the law’s successes in encouraging young people to serve their country, expanding our nation’s civilian service programs and helping make college more affordable. Expanding on the bipartisan work of national service leaders like Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the Congresswoman’s 21st Century American Service Act would transform national service programs like City Year and Teach for America from exclusive institutions that only accept a fraction of applicants into universal, fully-voluntary and uniquely American organizations that put to use the energy of any and all young Americans willing to give back to their country. A fact-sheet about the Congresswoman’s new proposal, which is cosponsored by Congressman Seth Moulton (MA-06), is available here.

“My family and I served this country in uniform, but people of all stripes serve their country out of uniform each and every day too,”said Congresswoman Duckworth.  “Just as picking up a rifle to defend our country is ‘American Service,’ so is picking up a soup spoon to feed the less fortunate, a stick of chalk to teach low-income children or a hammer to rebuild homes for those devastated by natural disasters. Whether defending our nation or rebuilding its communities, we should do everything we can to honor and support all those who are willing to serve, but instead we’re turning them away in droves. My 21st Century American Service Act will finally let us put this groundswell of untapped energy to work revitalizing our country.”

Most Americans know they can serve their country in the military, but far fewer are aware of the multitude of civilian programs that provide service opportunities including rebuilding run-down school buildings, improving neighborhoods, helping low-income communities, educating our children and many other unfilled—but valuable—roles like helping address the Flint Water Crisis. And many Americans simply aren’t able to take advantage of these programs because their financial situation does not allow them to volunteer. Additionally, because these service programs are not adequately resourced or funded, the selfless individuals who do seek to volunteer their time are often turned away—at rates comparable to some Ivy League universities.

“Serving in the Marines changed my life, and I believe that every American should have the opportunity to give back to our country in some form of public service,” said Congressman Seth Moulton. “Yet, each year, the number of Americans who apply to participate in national service programs far exceeds the number of available positions. The 21st Century American Service would build on this strong sense of engagement and ensure that all Americans from ages 18 to 30 have the opportunity to serve. I’m proud to stand with my colleague and fellow veteran, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, to promote inclusive service.”

Congresswoman Duckworth continued: “I got my GI Bill benefits for serving my country in the military, and so did my dad and my brother and my husband. But I know the military may not be the right path for everyone. There should be a path for all young people to serve their country and earn toward their education. There should be a path for young people who understand that serving their community through civilian service is also important to our country. We should provide that path to national service and reward all who are willing to serve.”

Duckworth’s 21st Century American Service Act addresses each of these problems by expanding service positions available through civilian national service organizations and ensuring all young Americans are informed of the opportunities available to them. Additionally, it would strengthen the educational awards that young Americans earn through service, make those educational awards tax-free and create an innovative national service college compact pilot program that would double the maximum educational award for participants who complete two years of service and a year of work in public service or with a non-profit entity. This award would help young Americans pay college tuition or pay down student loan debt.

In Congress and in her personal time, Duckworth is a champion for civilian national service and an avid volunteer. Just this week, she released a Community Service Guidebook to provide her constituents with an easy reference to many of the service opportunities available to them in Illinois’ Eight Congressional District. She spent her MLK Day of Service volunteering to improve public school with City Year Chicago and then hosted an Air Force Veteran and current AmeriCorps member who has spent her career serving others as her guest for President Obama’s final State of the Union Address. On New Year’s Eve, the Congresswoman donated her time in Schaumburg to help feed starving children abroad. In advance of Thanksgiving, the Congresswoman also helped distribute turkey dinners to less fortunate families at Schaumburg’s Church of the Holy Spirit Food Pantry. The food pantry is managed by LaVerne Horgan, a long-time church volunteer that Congresswoman Duckworth hosted as her guest for His Holiness Pope Francis’ historic Joint Address to Congress.