WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of Americans, from teenagers to baby boomers, soon will get a fresh chance to lend a hand in a time of need.
The House voted 275-149 Tuesday for a $5.7 billion bill that triples positions in the Clinton-era AmeriCorps program, its largest expansion since the agency's creation in 1993. It also establishes a fund to help nonprofit organizations recruit and manage more volunteers. AmeriCorps offers a range of volunteer opportunities including housing construction, youth outreach, disaster response and caring for the elderly.
Congress was sending the bill to President Barack Obama, who has made national service programs a priority. His budget proposal calls for more than $1.1 billion for the programs, an increase of more than $210 million.
The president, who began an eight-day European trip Tuesday, plans to sign the measure when he returns to Washington.
With the nation in a deep recession, Obama and backers of the effort see it as a way to channel a rising desire to help their neighbors.
"History has ... shown that in time of crisis, Americans turn to service and volunteering for healing, for rebuilding and for hope. The spirit of generosity in the American people is one of the greatest assets of our nation," Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said during debate on the bill.
Applications to AmeriCorps have exploded with the plunging employment market. Last month, 9,731 applications were submitted to the AmeriCorps online system, more than triple the 3,159 submitted in February 2008. In the Ameri Corps program, 75,000 people spend 10 months to a year helping build affordable homes or responding to disasters. Most receive an annual stipend of slightly less than $12,000.
Last year, more than 500 AmeriCorps members helped coordinate more than 200,000 Habitat for Humanity volunteers to build 1,700 new homes.
The legislation outlines five broad categories where people can direct their service: helping the poor, improving education, encouraging energy efficiency, strengthening access to health care and assisting veterans. People working in these new programs would provide such services as weatherizing homes or teaching computer skills to seniors or the unemployed.