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“A New Era of Service” – Bill to be Signed Today by Obama

April 21, 2009

Albany, NY - President Obama signs a bill today that will create what he calls "an army of volunteers" dedicated to addressing the nation's toughest problems. The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act will, according to the president, triple the number of "Americans helping Americans" in a time of extraordinary need.

Included in the bipartisan act approved overwhelmingly by Congress are incentives for students and senior citizens to volunteer in community service, and 50 percent federal matching grants for small- to medium-sized non-profits. The latter, according to Ann Marie Thigpen of the Long Island Center for Non-Profit Leadership, is a blessing to smaller organizations.

"Needs are increasing, demands are increasing and resources are decreasing, so this is more important than ever before. And it's so smart, because so often, this is the toughest money to get. It's subtle, you know, it's not giving someone some bread. But what it's doing is ensuring the organization that does that will have that capacity, not just now, but into the future."

Thigpen, whose Center at Adelphi University, provides resources to promote excellence in nonprofit leadership, says the legislation will keep the social "safety net" from fraying further.

"For many people and communities, these are their lifelines to getting the services they need, to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, to enrich cultural life. They're doing work that many people often think is the work of government - and it really isn't. More often than not, it's the work of nonprofit organizations."

Lawmakers who opposed the bill said it was nothing more than "the federal government reaching further into the world of civil society." President Obama is scheduled to sign the measure Tuesday afternoon at a Washington, D.C. school.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY