WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives easily passed legislation Tuesday to strengthen national community service efforts by boosting funding for thousands of volunteers in fields ranging from clean energy to health care and education.
The bill the House passed would increase funding for thousands of volunteers.
The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, recently renamed to honor the Massachusetts senator's sponsorship of the measure, passed the House by a vote of 275-149. Democrats supported it almost unanimously; a strong majority of Republicans were opposed.
The Senate passed identical legislation Thursday by a vote of 78-20. President Obama, who spent several years working as a community organizer, is expected to sign it into law shortly.
"At this time of economic crisis, we need service and volunteering more than ever. This bill will unleash a new era of service for our nation at a time of great need," Sandy Scott, a spokesman for the federally funded community service program AmeriCorps, told CNN.
Among other things, the bill would more than triple the number of positions in the AmeriCorps program, from 75,000 to 250,000, by 2017.
The increase could have a huge ripple effect in national volunteerism rates. Last year, 75,000 AmeriCorps members recruited and supervised 2.2 million community volunteers, according to Scott.
At the same time, the bill would create four new national service corps and several other initiatives, including a so-called "Summer of Service" program to spur greater community outreach by middle and high school students. Older Americans would also be encouraged to volunteer more through the creation of a "Silver Scholars" program, under which individuals 55 and older who perform 350 hours of service receive a $1,000 award.
The legislation would increase the existing AmeriCorps educational stipend offered to volunteers to $5,350 -- the same amount as the maximum Pell college grant.
Critics contend the bill is fiscally irresponsible in light of the current economic downturn. They also argue that the concept of volunteerism is undermined by providing financial compensation for community service.
The bill is expected to cost roughly $6 billion over the next five years.
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