A Quick Summary of a Quiet Revolution in National Service

How Does the Serve America Act (S. 277) Affect Americans in the Second Half of Life?

Later this month, President Obama is likely to sign major bipartisan legislation that will dramatically expand national service opportunities for all and will include, for the first time in decades, policy innovations and new service opportunities for those who have finished their midlife careers.

Policy Innovations

Encore Fellows: An Encore Fellowship program will be established to place Americans age 55+ in one-year management or leadership positions in public or private nonprofit organizations. The fellowships, a maximum of 10 per state, will be funded through a public/private partnership – an $11,000 federal grant, plus matching funds from the organizations that host the fellows. The legislation sets standards for training and leadership development for the fellows.

Why this is significant: For the first time, federal legislation recognizes that a new stage of life and work follows the midlife career and that people in this stage need bridges and pathways to get from one stage to the next. The Encore Fellowships provide people 55+ with a way to transition to careers in government and nonprofit service where they can continue to earn salaries, find the meaning many in this stage of life seek, and use their experience to help solve the serious social problems that face us all.

Silver Scholarships: A new Silver Scholarship program will be established to provide a $1,000 higher education scholarship to people 55 or older who contribute a minimum of 350 volunteer hours a year. Like the education awards, volunteers can use the scholarship for their own education or transfer it to their children, foster children or grandchildren.

Why this is significant: For the first time, federal policy provides an incentive to older volunteers that allows them to support the continued education of family members. It also will stimulate nonprofit organizations to create higher-impact volunteer opportunities for people 55+.

Improvements that Expand National Service Opportunities for People 55+

More Opportunities to Serve: Ten percent of AmeriCorps funds will be reserved for organizations that engage people age 55+. This new target applies to the traditional AmeriCorps service programs and the new corps-based programs for education, health, poverty and the environment. It will dramatically expand the number of service opportunities funded by AmeriCorps and available for older adults, while also encouraging multigenerational service teams.

Why this is significant: Few AmeriCorps programs currently engage people over 30. This target will help support programs that do enroll older adults, will encourage other national service programs to recruit experienced Americans, and will encourage the design of programs that take advantage of their talents.

New Incentives for Americans 55+ to Serve

Transferability of Education Awards: AmeriCorps members over 55 to use their education awards for their own retooling for encore careers or transfer the awards — increased to $5,350 — to their children and grandchildren.

Why this is significant: All AmeriCorps members receive an education award after they complete their service, but very few older AmeriCorps members use the awards themselves. This provision will allow older AmeriCorps members to pass the award on to a family member for the first time.

Term Limits: The two-year term limit for all AmeriCorps members, which limits members to two years of the AmeriCorps living allowance, has been lifted.

Why this is significant: Most AmeriCorps members who are 55+ serve part-time and do not intend to move to full-time service. This provision allows them to serve as long as they want and are able to serve. It also allows AmeriCorps members who serve part-time to add up their service and eventually earn two full-time education awards.

Additional Provisions that Benefit Americans 55+

The Serve America Act also:

  • Requires State Commissions on National and Community Service to complete a detailed plan on the recruitment and deployment of baby boomers.
  • Encourages the new corps-based programs for education, health, poverty and the environment to consider intergenerational approaches for grantmaking and service delivery.
  • Establishes a priority, under the new Education Corps, for mentoring programs that engage retirees.