President Obama's signing of the Serve America Act last month did indeed mark a "huge day," in the words of Public Allies CEO Paul Schmitz. But some media reports went overboard in indicating that the law mandates $6 billion in spending and triples the number of slots for AmeriCorps.
During his campaign for president, Obama called for tripling AmeriCorps from its current 75,000 members. The law does enable that to happen: It authorizes a gradual increase to 250,000 approved service positions by 2017. And in a news briefing this week, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes said the administration has committed to bringing the Corporation for National and Community Service's (CNCS) budget to $1.1 billion, a 25 percent increase from 2009.
But ultimately, the bill only allows for increases. Congress has the power to appropriate the maximum authorization, or not.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, should Congress fully fund it, the law will carry a price tag of almost $6 billion over the next five years.
The law does expand the breadth of AmeriCorps by creating four new service corps within it: Clean Energy (to increase energy conservation and efficiency), Education (to increase student engagement, achievement and graduation), Healthy Futures (to improve health care access) and Veterans Service Corps (to improve services for veterans).
Also under the new law:
* Highs schoolers can get $500 stipends for a summer of service.
* The education grant that AmeriCorps volunteers receive after their service will increase from the current maximum of $4,750 to $5,350, with further increases pegged to the rising maximum level of Pell Grants (slated to rise to more than $6,000 in 2011.)
* Volunteers who earn education awards can transfer them to family members. For example, senior citizens could use the awards themselves or transfer them to a child or grandchild.
* A corps of former service participants will be established to be deployed quickly during times of natural disasters and other emergencies.
* The minimum and maximum amounts that CNCS can award to state commissions via administrative grants is increased.
* Organizations competing for nationally competitive AmeriCorps grants must consult and coordinate with the state commissions of those states in which they propose to operate.
For a full breakdown of the law, visit: www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/09_0331_recovery_summary.pdf.