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National service proposal gains momentum in Senate.

The House Education and Labor Committee pushed legislation forward that would establish a program through which individuals could perform community service in exchange for money for postsecondary education. In the process, the committee rejected amendments that would require a needs test for all national service participants and ensure that already existing student aid programs remain financially intact.

The Senate Labor and Resource committee approved a similar bill (S 919) with no amendment and little debate by a vote of 14-3.

Both the House and Senate bills are scaled down versions of President Clinton's campaign proposal. Though both the number of participants involved and the amount awarded to each participant has decreased, the program's goal has remained the same--to help rebuild American communities while offering educational opportunities to the nation's youth.

If the initiative comes into effect, individuals 17 years or older will be eligible to receive a $5,000 grant to be applied towards higher education or training in return for one year of community service. Youth corp participants may be ages 16 to 25. The award will be paid directly to qualified postsecondary educational institutious or, in the case of students with outstanding loan obligations, directly to lenders.

According to Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Pa. national service is a program that "percolates up," rather than trickles down. He said that the program will ask cities, states and communities to come up with and run programs to assist their citizens and involve their young people to benefit the special needs of their communities. The national service initiative will work within the existing framework of volunteer organizations, not create a new framework on its own, he said.

But some sort of federal and state framework will need to be developed. An early draft of the bill calls for a new government corporation for national service including an eleven-member volunteer Board of Directors to administer the national service program. The corporation will be created by combining two existing federal agencies, the Commission on National and Community Service and Action.

The states will then establish a seven to thirteen member commission on national service with funding provided by the corporation, the draft said. Some analysts have said that while, in theory, the proposal may help improve the well-being of the nation's communities, it is still questionable whether or not the program would displace workers already employed in order to provide for volunteers.

Though the House Committee approved its version of the bill (HR 2010) by a voice vote of 26-13, the lengthy amendment process raised questions concerning the composition of the pool of participants eligible for participation, program funding and commitment to participants.

Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.) offered a two-part amendment that would require both that students entitled to the service award show need and that the award be used solely for the repayment of student loans.

Goodling argued that if the goal of the program is to make access to higher education available to all Americans, then the program must focus on those who show need, rather than those who can already afford it.

Chairman William Ford (D-Mich.) strongly disagreed, claiming the amendment would not only fail to create a cross-section, but it would hurt those that it was trying to protect and force other education programs to foot the bill for national service. The amendment was defeated 29-12.

According to the original bill, one-year planning grants will be available to local governments and other specified organizations for developing programs. Three year renewable grants will be available for "program demonstration, expansion, or replication."

These groups will have to pay 25 percent of program costs receiving federal support. The money may come from any source other than programs funded under the National and Community Service or Domestic Volunteer Service Acts. According to the bill, federal funds must supplement, not supplant, state and local dollars.

Molinari's amendment was defeated 26-17, but the question of funding does not seem to be one that will be easily resolved.

In an effort to increase the number of participants in national service from the proposed 25,000 to 77,800, Molinari also offered an amendment that would eliminate the federal stipend providing a living allowance, heath care and child care.

Those running service programs, including local governments, must pay for 15 percent of the stipend and health care benefits in cash, according to the original bill. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) evoked the committee's commitment to participants. Eliminating the federal stipend would discourage lower income individuals who needed the additional compensation from participating, he argued. The amendment was decisively rejected.

Approved amendments included the creation of an urban youth corps, which Martinez claimed would enable poor youth to better their neighborhood; a floor on living allowances totally 105 percent of the poverty level, or $7,440, proposed by Owen; and a "second chance" type amendment which Gunderson said would allow individuals convicted of a drug offence after acceptance to national service to continue in the program upon enrollment in rehabilitation.

Meredith McCullough is an intern in NLC's Center for Policy and Federal Relations. She will be a senior at the University of Notre Dame.
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Author:McCullough, Meredith
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jun 28, 1993
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