Younger Americans Act Gets an Alaskan Boost

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Supporters of the Younger Americans Act (YAA), introduced into the House as HR17 on the first day of the session this year, breathed a sigh of relief when it was finally introduced in the Senate on June 7. Most encouraging for its boosters is the co-sponsorship by Ted Stevens (R-Ala.), former chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

But the Senate bill may have to wait until September for a hearing while Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and the newly-empowered Democratic leadership push higher-priority legislation. Supporters, including virtually every national organization in the youth service field, hope that the act's powerful congressional backers will get the YAA on the legislative calendar before the first session of the 107th Congress ends in December.

The act authorizes $5.8 billion in funding for youth programs over the next five years, 95 percent of which will go to states to distribute directly to community-based  youth-serving organizations. States would receive money according to the size of their 10- to 19-year-old populations.

The YAA became what CWLA senior policy analyst Tim Briceland-Betts calls the "first tripartisan" effort on education when Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), the bill's author, left the GOP in May. Jefford's switch to Independent placed Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the bill's original co-sponsor in 2000, at the head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "That's important, having the chair of the committee as a sponsor," Briceland-Betts said. "It bodes well for early movement."

Not boding so well for the YAA was the departure from the committee of Jefford's key staffer, Kimberly Barnes-O'Connor, when the Senate changed party control. Barnes-O'Connor was the pivotal behind-the-scenes figure in crafting the YAA and steering it toward a vote in this session of Congress.

The YAA, says Briceland-Betts and other youth service proponents of the bill, will be bolstered by the clout of its congressional supporters. Most important, says Briceland-Betts, is the backing of the second- and third-ranking Republicans on the House Education and Workforce Committee -Reps. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) and Thomas Petri (R-Wis.). Also a plus is the informal support from Secretary of State Colin Powell, the former chairman of America's Promise who has championed the YAA.

How early the YAA will be considered by either chamber depends largely on the progress of other legislation. A House, Education and Workforce Committee staffer says that because the committee is "swamped" with the reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act and pending workforce issues, taking action on YAA is unlikely until after July. On the Senate side, a Kennedy staffer says his committee is pinned down with the Patients' Bill of Rights and the education bill.