IN THESE troubled times, the call to national service cannot be proclaimed too loudly. To reinforce that message, President Obama signed a bill into law that will more than triple the size of AmeriCorps and other national service programs over the next eight years.The increased opportunities to serve for volunteers eager to give back to their communities can only strengthen the country.
During the previous administration, the public service initiative begun in 1993 under President Clinton, lost support as a White House priority. But now, bolstering voluntary service is high on the list of Mr. Obama's agenda to help foster and fulfill the desire to make a difference.
As he signed a $5.7 billion national service bill, which enjoyed broad bipartisan support, the President urged Americans to "help change history's course" by putting their shoulders "up against the wheel." He extolled the nation's greatest resource - its citizens - and invited them to join "a sustained, collaborative and focused effort" to make America better.
Under the measure, expanded government support will allow AmeriCorps to gradually triple the number of enrollees from 75,000 to 250,000. Volunteers will be directed to work in several broad categories that run the gamut from mentoring children to cleaning up parks or buildings and weatherizing homes for the poor. The bill also ties volunteer work to money for college, increasing the stipend paid for public service.
Some Republicans complain that the legislation is too costly and an unnecessary government intrusion into what many Americans already do in their communities.
But if more funding spurs more federally sponsored community service volunteers to remake America in less time, the law could be as essential to national recovery as any stimulus package.