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S. 3622: ACTION for National Service Act


We can all support the lights and the camera, but what about this “action”?

Context

The U.S. government runs two primary service programs for people — primarily young people — to volunteer and help communities: the Peace Corps for international service, and AmeriCorps for domestic service. The average Peace Corps volunteer age is 28, and frequent missions include ones with educational, environmental, disaster relief, or public health aims.

However, there are far more applicants than slots; a few years ago, 86 percent of AmeriCorps applicants were rejected for lack of available places. At the same time, college costs are soaring, consistently rising faster than inflation for years now, with total student loan debt now exceeding both credit card debt and auto loan debt.

What the legislation does

The ACTION (America’s Call to Improve Opportunities Now) for National Service Act would pay for four years’ worth of in-state tuition in a person’s home state, once they spend two years volunteering with a governmental service organization.

The legislation also expresses a “sense of Congress” that there should be at least 1 million available positions by 2013, though that would actually be up to the executive branch.

The bill would not mandate national service, an idea that some prominent Democrats such as Barack Obama and Beto O’Rourke have previously floated, though it’s never gotten off the ground.

The House version was introduced on February 9 as H.R. 6683, by Rep. John Larson (D-CT1). The Senate version was introduced that same day as S. 3622, by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the legislation simultaneously tackles two societal issues: the skyrocketing costs of higher education and the lack of available national service positions.

“President Kennedy created a legacy that focuses on serving your country. [The legislation] renews that call and gives young people who want to serve their communities the ability to fund their education,” Rep. Larson said in a press release. “Americans want to serve, but oftentimes due to lack of funding, they are turned away. We can change this, by expanding opportunities. This will not only strengthen our communities, but help address the high cost of higher education for many.”

“As Americans, we take inspiration from those who have answered the call to serve, whether in defense of our nation abroad or strengthening our communities at home,” Sen. Reed said in a separate press release. The legislation “will grow our capacity to enlist, equip, and empower young people to address pressing challenges and give back to our nation while they earn money toward their education. It will increase volunteerism and strengthen our nation.”

What opponents say

Opponents may criticize the legislation from both angles: the government service organization angle and the higher education money angle.

For the former, former President Donald Trump sought to eliminate AmeriCorps entirely and reduce the Peace Corps budget by 15 percent, an unprecedented move as presidents from both parties had long supported both. His administration argued the moves would “[return] responsibility to fund national service and volunteerism to the private and nonprofit sectors.” Congress rejected the plan, even under the Republican-controlled House and Senate of 2017–18.

For the latter, most conservatives believe that higher education costs have skyrocketed in large part because of the rise in student loans. Prices in a free market economy generally correlate with demand, and more student loans means more demand for people to attend college — reducing any incentive for universities to lower their prices accordingly.

Odds of passage

Rep. Larson’s prior versions attracted 125 Democratic cosponsors in 2016, a larger 164 Democratic cosponsors in 2017, and an even larger 189 cosponsors in 2019. (That was 188 Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Jefferson Van Drew, R-NJ2.) None of those versions received a committee vote, despite Democrats controlling the chamber by 2019.

The current version has attracted a notably smaller 75 cosponsors, all Democrats. The reason for the sharp dropoff is unclear. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Agriculture, Education and Labor, Natural Resources, or Ways and Means Committee.

Sen. Reed’s prior versions attracted five Democratic cosponsors in 2017 and a slightly larger seven Democratic cosponsors in 2019. Neither version received a committee vote in the then-Republican controlled chamber. The current version has attracted an identical seven Democratic cosponsors, and awaits a potential vote in the Senate Finance Committee.

Last updated Mar 5, 2022. View all GovTrack summaries.

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