Senate Democrats

S. 277, the Serve America Act


As Americans face the numerous challenges created by the economic crisis, the need for service to our communities is greater than ever. By engaging citizens of all ages in volunteer service opportunities, we will meet some of our most pressing national challenges and reinvigorate the economy. Communities across America will benefit from an energized, effective corps of volunteers committed to transforming areas of need into stories of success.

The Serve America Act(S.277) reflects a bipartisan commitment to expand opportunities for Americans to engage in service throughout their lives. The legislation would reauthorize the National and Community Service Act of 1990 and the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, two critical pieces of legislation that support a variety of volunteer initiatives. Programs created in these bills, including Senior Corps, AmericaCorps and Learn and Serve America, currently support almost four million Americans in service to more than 70,000 community organizations. These services have had the empowering and inspiring effect of mobilizing an additional 2.2 million volunteers. This army of volunteers has the power to transform and inspire communities across America.

The bill would expand the mission of the Corporation for National and Community Service (the Corporation) and increase the number of national service participants in the AmeriCorps program from 75,000 current members to 250,000 over the next eight years. An analysis of Americorps shows that every $1 invested produced returns of up to nearly $4 in direct, measurable benefits.By creating the ServeAmerica Corps, the Corporation will be able to target service in four areas in need of increased assistance in low-income communities, including: Clean Energy, Education, Health Futures, and an Opportunity Corps to boost financial literacy.

S.277 renews a spirit of national service and encourages volunteerism in all age groups. An Encore program will also be developed to engage the retiring baby boom generation, which has a multitude of talents to share. A Veteran’s Service Corps will also be established to support the service of veterans.

Two new programs would be created under the National and Community Service Act of 1990, including a Youth Engagement Zone to Strengthen Communities program and a Campus of Service program. The Youth Engagement Zones aim to engage high school students and out-of-school youth in the transformative experience of service through partnerships between community organizations and schools in low-income communities. The Campus of Service program would support and recognize institutions of higher learning with outstanding service-learning programs and provide funding to support students’ pursuit of careers in public service.

S.277 wouldcreate a Summer of Service program to enlist middle and high school students in volunteer services at home, including a $500 education award to be directed for the cost of college. The legislation would also increase the education award in AmeriCorps to match the Pell Grant award. It would raise the award to $5,350 and tie it to future increases in the Pell Grant. The bill permits the education award to be transferrable to the children or grandchildren of the recipients.


(This Legislative Bulletin summary is based on a section-by-section prepared by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.)

Title I – Amendments to the National and Community Service Act of 1990

Subtitle A: Purpose. S. 277 would expand the purpose of the National and Community Service Act of 1990 (NCSA) to include strengthening service learning, performing service during the summer months, improving the education of children and youth, increasing service opportunities for the nation’s retiring professionals, encouraging the continued service of alumni of national service programs, and focusing national service on areas of national need.

Subtitle B: Service-learning programs. S.277 would amend NCSA to specify that service-learning programs are a strategy to: support high-quality service-learning projects that engage middle and high school students in meeting community need; and support efforts to build institutional capacity in an effort to expand service opportunities.

Funding for Service-learning programs. S.277 would permit the Corporation for National and Community Service (“the Corporation”) to make allotments, in consultation with the Secretary of Education (“the Secretary”), to States, tribes, or territories to pay for a range of activities, including planning and building capacity within the state to implement service-learning programs in elementary and secondary schools, developing service-learning curricula, expanding school-based service-learning programs, forming local partnerships, and conducting outreach.

The Corporation would be required to reserve no less than two percent and no more than three percent of funds under this program for Indian tribes and territories. The Corporation would allot remaining funds to states, with 50 percent in proportion to the number of school-age youth and 50 percent in proportion to each State’s funding under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (“Title I”) from the previous fiscal year. The minimum allotment to each state would be $75,000, once appropriations reach $50,000,000.

The bill would mandate that the federal share of program costs be no more than 80 percent the first year of the program, 65 percent the second year, and 50 percent for each remaining year. Entities may use Title I funds toward meeting the financial share of a service-learning program, if such use is consistent with Title I uses.

Requirements of Service-learning programs. S.277 would require States (through state educational agencies), territories, or Indian tribes to submit applications for allotments to the Corporation CEO. Applications must contain a three-year plan to promote service learning; information on the criteria the state educational agency will use in giving grants to eligible entities, such as local educational agencies, institutions of higher education, public/private nonprofits, and private elementary and secondary schools; and assurances that the State will try to provide services to students of different sexes, ages, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds. In considering applications, the bill provides that the CEO of the Corporation should take into account sustainability, replicability, innovation, and overall quality. Grantees should give preference in providing assistance to local entities targeting low-income areas or serving economically disadvantaged youth, and should equitably include private nonprofit elementary and secondary students in service opportunities and teachers in training opportunities to promote service learning.

Participation by colleges and universities. S.277 would allow institutions of higher education receiving funding under this section to include service-learning as a component of other curricula or academic programs, including nursing, medicine, criminal justice, or public policy. Institutional applicants would have to assure the Corporation that they will comply with employee displacement requirements and federal work-study requirements related to uses of work-study funds for community service activities. The bill would also require that special consideration be given to the applications of minority-serving institutions. The federal cost share would be limited to 50 percent.

Campuses of Service Program. S.277 would create a new program in which the Corporation, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, may designate up to 25 institutions of higher education as Campuses of Service. Designees would be eligible for a grant to provide or share service-learning programs to and with other institutions. Possible candidates for designation would apply to their State Commission, who would then nominate no more than three institutions (one four-year public college or university, one four-year private college or university, and one two-year institution).

Youth Engagement Zone Program. S.277 wouldestablish the youth engagement zone program and restructure current community-based service-learning programs. Youth engagement zones would be defined as low-income, high-need districts, in which eligible entities purposefully coordinated school- or community-based service-learning projects for secondary school students and out-of-school youth. States, territories, Indian tribes, and local governments and school districts, would be eligible for program grants. Grants would be for three years, with a possible one-year extension.

Innovative Service-learning programs. S.277 would provide that the Corporation award competitive and fixed-amount grants for ten activities to support innovative service programs. Authorized activities include:

·         Integrating service-learning programs into STEM curricula;

·         Involving students in service-learning programs focusing on energy conservation;

·         Involving students in service-learning programs in emergency and disaster preparedness;

·         Involving students in service-learning programs aimed at expanding access to technology;

·         Involving high-school age youth in mentoring younger students;

·         Conducting and disseminating research on service learning;

·         Carrying out activities described in Section 1201;

·         Establishing or implementing summer of service programs, with priority given to students in the 6th-9th grades, and providing that students who complete 100 hours of service receive a $500 educational award;

·         Establishing or implementing youth engagement zones; and

·         Carry out other innovative service-learning programs or research considered appropriate by the Corporation.

The bill would leave it to the Corporation to design the application for these funds, but would require that priority be given to applicants that involve students and stakeholders in the design of programs, target low-income or rural communities, or use talented adult volunteers or retirees.

Service Learning Impact Study. S.277 would also fund a 10-year longitudinal study on the impact of service-learning programs on student academic achievement, student engagement, graduation rates, and likelihood of future service.

Subtitle C: Expansion of National Service Trust Program. S.277 would require the Corporation to develop a plan to increase the number of service participants to:

·         88,000 by FY2010;

·         115,000 by FY2011;

·         140,000 by FY2012;

·         170,000 by FY2013;

·         200,000 by FY2014;

·         210,000 by FY2015;

·         235,000 by FY2016; and

·         250,000 by FY2017.

This plan could only be implemented subject to available appropriations and quality service opportunities.

The bill would also prohibit the Corporation from making grants to federal agencies and require national service programs to report on matching funds.

Focused Corps. S.277 would establish five focused corps within AmeriCorps:

Education Corps participants would work to improve student engagement, student academic achievement, graduation rates, college-going rates, and other indicators proposed by local organizations;

Healthy Futures Corps participants would work to increase access to health care among low-income, underserved, and uninsured individuals; participation in disease prevention programs; health literacy of patients; and improvement in other indicators proposed by local organizations;

Clean Energy Service Corps participants would work to weatherize more low-income households to improve energy efficiency; clean and improve parks, trails, and rivers; and make progress on other indicators proposed by local organizations;

Veterans Corps participants would work to create housing units for deployed soldiers; engage veterans in service opportunities; assist military families while a family member is deployed; engage veterans in mentoring economically disadvantaged youth; assisting veterans in developing educational opportunities, including pursuing professional certification/licensure; and

Opportunity Corps participants would work to improve financial literacy among economically disadvantaged individuals, increase the number of housing units built or improved for economically disadvantaged individuals or low-income families, increase access to job training and job-placement services for economically disadvantaged individuals, and improve performance on other indicators proposed by local organizations.

National Service Corps. The legislation would also allow for the support of other national service programs that do not fit into these specific corps, including programs that: meet the needs of rural communities; focus on public health, emergency and disaster preparedness, and public safety; recruit participants as law enforcement personnel and first responders; expand the numbers of mentors for disadvantaged youth; targets participation by disadvantaged youth; or reengages court-involved youth and adults to reduce recidivism.

Program models for service corps would include: a community corps program that meets unmet health, veteran, and other human, education, environment, or public safety needs; a service program that recruits individuals with special skills or provides specialized training to foster civic responsibility, increase skills, and improve the quality of service; a campus-based program designed to provide service to the community during the school term or during vacation breaks; and a professional corps program that places qualified participants as teachers, nurses, and other health care providers, police officers, engineers, etc., even where the salary exceeds the maximum living allowance, provided the employer agrees to pay 100 percent of the salaries and benefits (minus the national service education award).

The legislation would also establish requirements for tutors in national service programs.

Assistance to State Commissions. S.277 would increase the amount that State Commissions receive annually to operate to a range of $250,000 to $1,000,000. The bill would also require that State Commissions match federal funds 1:1 and create an alternative matching scheme that the CEO of the Corporation may allow a Commission to use.

Assistance to States and Other Eligible Entities. S.277 would place requirements on funds for AmeriCorps. The bill would maintains a 1 percent set-aside for territories and Indian tribes and a 1 percent set-aside for individuals with disabilities; provide that 62.7 percent of grants to State Commissions, and nonprofits seeking to operate in more than one state, will be competitive; and provide that the remaining 35.3 percent of grants will be population-determined formula grants to states. States will receive at a minimum $600,000or 0.5 percent of the allotment to States based on the formula.

The bill would also allow the Corporation to provide fixed-amount grants and specify new, optional priorities for awarding grants, including programs that recruit veterans or work with military families.

Subtitle D: National Service Trust and Provision of Education Awards. S.277 would provide that participants in summer of service programs and silver scholars programs are eligible for educational awards, which can be used by participants up to ten years after completion of their service. The amount of the educational award designated for summer of service participants is $500. The amount for silver scholar participants is $1,000.

The bill would specify that the education award for full-time national service is equal to the maximum amount available to any student through a Pell Grant in a given year.

The legislation would permit adults aged 55 or older to transfer their educational award to a child or grandchild.

The measure would also place new recording, accounting, and planning requirements on the Corporation, and require the Corporation to establish an educational award trust reserve account.

Subtitle E: National Civilian Community Corps. S.277 would focus the re-named National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), formerly the Civilian Community Corps Demonstration Program, on areas of national and community need, including those needs related to natural and other disasters, infrastructure improvement, environmental stewardship and conservation, energy conservation, and urban and rural development. The bill would also permit both programs to include a residential component.

The legislation would raise the minimum age of participants in NCCC programs to 18 years of age, but the maximum age would remain at 24.

The bill would also require:

·         The NCCC Director to take appropriate steps to increase the percentage of disadvantaged youth in the program to 50 percent by 2012;

·         Fifty percent of participants in the Summer National Service program be from diverse backgrounds;

·         That an eligible site for a campus be cost-effective and undergo a feasibility study and be placed such that each NCCC unit in a region can easily be deployed for disaster and emergency response throughout the region;

·         The Director to ensure members are trained in CPR, first aid, and other skills related to disaster preparedness;

·         The NCCC to focus training and prioritize projects on energy conservation, environmental stewardship or conservation, infrastructure improvement, urban and rural development, and disaster preparedness needs.

The legislation would also modify the considerations to be taken in establishing the permanent cadre of NCCC supervisors and trainers to include those who are: “retired and other former law enforcement, fire, rescue, and emergency personnel, and other individuals with backgrounds in disaster preparedness, relief, and recovery, and their experience working with disadvantaged youth.”

The measure adds the Administers of Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency, Secretaries of the Departments of Transportation and Energy, and Chief of Forest Services to the advisory board.

Subtitle F: Administrative Provisions. S.277 supports enhanced accountability through evaluations of the programs. The legislation requires the Corporation to determine the effectiveness of programs in achieving their states goalsand meeting theircost estimates and includes an evaluation based on performance measures. The Corporation may reserve up to 1 percent of the total funding for the program to support program accountability. The Corporation must establish performance goals for each recipient of assistance.

The bill would establish a new Civic Health Index to measure indicators of civic health, including: volunteering and community service; voting and other forms of political engagement; charitable giving; connecting to civic and religious groups; interest in employment in public service or government work; knowledge of U.S history and government; and social enterprise and innovation. The legislation would require the corporation to perform the index annually and track the Index indicators. The Corporation would also be required to provide an assessment of the best practices for volunteering.

The legislation would promote efficiency by eliminating duplicative requirements and consolidating the application process.

Subtitle G: Amendments to the Corporation for National and Community Service. S.277 would require the Corporation to undertake new outreach and recruitment activities, including initiatives to recruit economically disadvantaged individuals to participate. The Corporation will also be encouraged to involve Veterans in national service programs. Specifically, the bill requires the Corporation to complete a report on the involvement of veterans and how to facilitate their participation, and consider how programs could move effectively serve the needs of Veterans.

In this time of increased unemployment, the Corporation is also required to identify areas of need for displaced workers and how existing programs could better serve displaced workers and the communities where they live.

Subtitle H: Additional Corporation Activities to Support National Service. S.277 would authorize the Corporation to designate September 11 as a national day of service and remembrance, and provides for a nationwide “Call to Service Campaign.”

The legislation would create three new service opportunities including:

·         ServeAmerica Fellowships which provide fellowships to individuals to perform service projects in areas of national need, including education, health care, clean energy, economic opportunity and disaster response;

·         Silver Scholarships to support individuals age 55 and older carry out one-year projects in areas of national need. These individuals will receive a Silver Scholarship of $1,000; and

·         Encore Fellowships to support individuals age 55 or older carry out one-year projects and provide training to help with the transition to full- or part-time public service.

S.277 would establish a National Service Reserve Corps to prepare and deploy individuals who have completed a term of national service, as well as veterans, to respond to disasters and other emergencies as the need arises. The legislation also establishes a network of Social Investment Funds to support and replicate effective nonprofit initiatives to address local or national needs. It also creates a Volunteer Generation Fund to provide competitive grants to increase the number of volunteers available to address areas of statewide or national need.

Subtitle I: Training and Technical Assistance. S.277 would require training and technical assistance to programs receiving assistance, including the promotion of leadership development, budgetary assistance, and volunteer recruitment.

Subtitle J: Repeal of the Points of Light Foundation. S.277 would eliminate the authorization of federal funding for the Points of Light Foundation. The Foundation promotes community service through a partnership with the Volunteer Center National Network. There were no funds appropriated in Fiscal Year 2009.

Subtitle K: Authorization of Appropriations. S.277 wouldauthorize for Fiscal Year 2010 $65 million for Learn and Serve America, Subtitle B; $25 million for the National Civilian Community Corps, Subtitle E; $50 million for the Social Investment Fund Pilot and $50 million for Volunteer Generation Fund, Subtitle H; and $51 million for the Administration of the Corporation.

Title II – Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973

S.277 would add as a goal in the volunteerism policy expanding relationships with private-sector organizations.

Subtitle A: National Volunteer Antipoverty Programs.

Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). S.277 would revise the statement of purpose to emphasize self-advancement by those served by national-service programs and long-term sustainability of national-service projects.

The legislation would add new emphasis on assisting with the reentry and reintegration of formerly incarcerated youth, developing financial literacy, supporting low-income communities with before- and afterschool programs, expanding access to health services, and assisting veterans.

The bill would set a stipend for VISTA members of $125-150 per month for new members and a maximum of $250 per month for those who have served for one year and have been designated as volunteer leaders.

The legislation would eliminate the VISTA Literacy Corps.

University Year for VISTA. S.277 would eliminate University Year for VISTA.

Special volunteer Programs. S.277 would eliminate Literacy Challenge Grants.

Subtitle B: National Senior Service Corps. S.277 would update the purposes of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) (which allows individuals 55 years of age or older to share their knowledge and skills), the Foster Grandparent Program (which allows low-income individuals 55 years of age or older to have a positive impact on the lives of children in need), and the Senior Companion Program (which allows individuals 55 years of age or older to provide support services and companionship to other older Americans).

Generally, S.277 would expand participation in the National Senior Service Corps to those over age 55.

The bill would add a focus on programs that engage older adults and youth to complete programs in conservation and environmental education.

The legislation would also allow grantees to accept cash or in-kind donations.

Foster Grandparent Program. S.277 would allow the organization facilitating the program to determine whether it is in the best interest of the child receiving, and the foster grandparent providing, services to continue the program after the child turns 21 – if the child has a disability.

Subtitle C: Administration and Coordination. S.277 would make technical changes to the Administration and Coordination section (Title IV) of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973.

Subtitle D: Authorization of Appropriations. S.277 would authorize appropriations for programs described in this title as follows:

·      For VISTA: $100 million for Fiscal Year 2010 and such sums as maybe necessary for the next four years;

·      For Special Volunteer Programs: such sums as may be necessary for Fiscal Years 2010 to 2014;

·      For RSVP: $70 million for Fiscal Year 2010 and such sums as may be necessary for the next four years;

·      For Foster Grandparents: $116 million for Fiscal Year 2010 and such sums as may be necessary for the next four years; and

·      For Senior Companions: $55 million for Fiscal Year 2010 and such sums as may be necessary for the next four years.

Title III — Technical Amendments to Tables of Contents

S.277 would revise the table of contents of the NCSA and the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973.

Title IV — Amendments to Other Laws

S.277 would make conforming changes to the Inspector General Act of 1978.

Title V — Volunteers for Prosperity Program

S.277 would fund the Volunteers for Prosperity (VfP) Program. Over the past four years, the VfP program has supported 74,000 Americans pursuing development and humanitarian efforts abroad. The legislation would allow the program to provide short- and long-term international volunteer service opportunities to eliminate poverty, reduce world hunger, increase access to safe water, enact universal education, reduce child mortality, combat disease, and expand opportunities for girls and access to technology.

Title VI — Effective Date

S.277 would provide that any changes to the terms of services for participants would apply only to those who enroll in or begin service more than 90 days after the enactment of this law. These amendments would take effect on the date of enactment, should this legislation become law.


On January 16, 2009, Senator Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), introduced S.277, the Serve America Act.  The bill has received bipartisan co-sponsorship, including six original Republican co-sponsors (Senators Hatch, McCain, Cochran, Gregg, Wicker and Snowe).  As of the time of this writing, the bill has 35 co-sponsors, including the support of Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senator Mikulski, who will be managing the bill.  The bill was favorably reported out of HELP on March 18, 2009. 

A similar measure, H.R.1388, the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act, sponsored by Rep. McCarthy, was introduced in the House on March 9, 2009.  H.R.1388 was passed by the House on March 18, 2009 by a vote of 321 – 105 and later placed on the Senate Calendar.

A cloture vote on the motion to proceed to H.R.1388 is scheduled for March 23.   Once the Senate proceeds to the bill, S.277 will be offered as a substitute to H.R.1388.  


At the time of this writing, amendments are expected to S.277. No specific information is available at this time.


At the time of this writing, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not issued a cost estimate for S.277. The CBO has issued a cost estimate for H.R.1388, which would also reauthorize and expand programs established under the National and Community Service Act of 1990 and the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973. CBO estimates that implementing H.R.1388 would cost $481 million in 2010 and about $6 billion from 2010 – 2014.


The Obama Administration has not released a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on S.277. The Administration has released a SAP on H.R.1388, the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act, which is available here. The President is committed to promoting civic participation and service across the country, and would like to see bipartisan legislation passed to renew the spirit of national service.


The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has released a report on S.277:

Ann Lordeman, CRS, “Reauthorization in the 111th Congress of the National and Community Service Act of 1990 and the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973,” available at R40432.