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Bush Seeks to Ease Rules for Older Volunteers

April 10, 2002|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — President Bush asked Congress Tuesday to make it easier and more attractive for Americans to perform volunteer work, such as by lowering the age of eligibility for the Senior Corps from 60 to 55 and allowing participants to earn college money for other family members.

Bush took to the road for the second day in a row to promote his USA Freedom Corps initiative, which he outlined in his State of the Union speech in January. On Monday, he touted the program in Tennessee. On his trip to Connecticut on Tuesday, he also attended his 15th fund-raising event of the year, raising $1.1 million for state Republicans in the reelection campaigns of Reps. Nancy L. Johnson and Rob Simmons.

The two are among a small number of House Republicans facing tough races in November, and their fate will help determine whether the GOP retains its control of the chamber.

Bush extolled volunteerism in a speech after touring an urban community center in Bridgeport. The center was created through a partnership between the Corporation for National and Community Service--the federal agency that administers most federally funded volunteer programs--and an array of businesses and private organizations.

In his fiscal 2003 budget, the president is seeking $290 million in additional funding for the corporation's programs. He said the funds would support 25,000 new participants in AmeriCorps, the national service program created by President Clinton, and 100,000 more Senior Corps volunteers.

Bush's proposal, if approved by Congress, also would allow 300,000 students to repay their federal college loans through community service.

And the president is proposing what he calls "silver" scholarships, which would allow Senior Corps participants to earn a $4,700 college scholarship they can donate to a family member. Bush also wants that amount indexed to inflation.

"It makes sense to have older Americans helping young Americans and, at the same time, helping their families as well," the president said.

Discussing his commitment to volunteerism, Bush said: "The great American spirit has been tested in recent times, but history will record that we met the test. One of the things I feel very passionate about is our need to inspire the armies of compassion which exist in neighborhoods all throughout America."

He added: "Service and volunteerism are an integral part of the American character."

Bush repeated his call--first issued in the State of the Union speech--for Americans to spend 4,000 hours during their lifetimes on community service.

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