Volunteers would play a role in securing the nation against future terrorist threats under a proposal introduced Wednesday by an Indiana senator.
Sen. Evan Bayh’s bill – co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain,R-Ariz. – would seize upon the nation’s surge in patriotic spirit by expanding national service programs.
The 10-year,$16 billion plan aims to revamp volunteer service programs and increase enlistment incentives for the armed services. Its chief proposal would increase enrollment in AmeriCorps,a domestic volunteer program created under the Clinton administration,from 50,000 people to 250,000 people.
“All over the world,expectant and hopeful eyes are turned to our nation,and many are asking this generation of Americans if they have the willingness to sacrifice … to defend the values that we cherish,” said Bayh,a Democrat. “I believe the answer to that will be a resounding ‘yes.'”
The National Service Plan Act would dedicate half of the new AmeriCorps recruits to security and public safety in coordination with the Office of Homeland Security.
McCain said the nation needs thousands of volunteers and military recruits for civil defense. AmeriCorps volunteers could be used for civilian patrols and safeguarding the transportation and communication systems,he said.
Volunteers could be trained in emergency response in the case of terrorist attacks,Bayh said.
“There are so many unmet needs that we now have to address and this will actually offer us a more cost-effective way of doing that,” he said. “I’d argue that this would be the most fiscally prudent way to address these concerns.”
Another side of the proposal would set a new incentive for young Americans to volunteer for the armed services.
Under the plan,the Defense Department would offer a shorter-term enlistment option in which a person could serve 18 months in active duty and 18 months in reserve duty and receive an $18,000 bonus payment for educational purposes.
The bill would also increase opportunities for senior citizens to volunteer,paying them a stipend for participating.
Though the plan was under way long before Sept. 11,McCain said the attacks stressed its immediacy and timeliness.
“This initiative gives people a way to channel that emotional energy and that drive into worthwhile causes,” said Rep. Tom Osborne,R-Neb.,who is sponsoring a companion measure in the House.