WASHINGTON, March 31 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday to strengthen national service by increasing funding for thousands of volunteers.
The House approved 275-149 the Senate-passed Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
"Just one month ago, in his address to Congress, President Obama called upon Congress to pass legislation 'to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations,'" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "Today, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act is on its way to his desk to become law."
Obama congratulated the House on its bipartisan vote, saying he looked forward to signing the bill into law after he returns to Washington from his eight-day visit to Europe.
"Because of this legislation, millions of Americans at all stages of their lives will have new opportunities to serve their country," Obama said in a statement. "But while our government can provide every opportunity imaginable for us to serve our communities, now it is up to each of us to seize those opportunities."
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, and would create four new national service corps and several other initiatives, CNN reported. In addition, it would increase the existing AmeriCorps educational stipend offered to volunteers to $5,350 -- the same amount as the maximum Pell college grant -- and encourage senior volunteerism by providing a $1,000 reward to individuals age 55 and older who perform 350 hours of service,
The bill is projected to cost $6 billion over the next five years.