Press Briefing by Assistant to the President for National Service Eli Segal
The Briefing Room
3:05 P.M. EST
MR. SEGAL: Good afternoon. I'm happy to report that the filibuster of national service has been broken. In fact, we are moving towards a vote on Tuesday -- Tuesday morning on the floor of the Senate, at which time we expect the President's national service initiative to be passed with extraordinary bipartisan support.
Today was a good day for the Senate, a better day for national service, and a great day for America.
Throughout the campaign, President Clinton spoke about national service, and whenever he did, it had a certain resonance with the audience. Whether it was young people, high school kids, college kids, or those of us in the Peace Corps generation, or those who remember the Civilian Conservation Corps, the reaction to his call for national service was always extraordinary. Today we're one step closer translating that vision into reality.
The President's legislation will make it possible for young people to help get their college educations paid for, but they'll pay for it. They'll pay for it by doing service in their communities. They'll be involved in environmental projects, education projects, health and human service projects, and public safety projects that will make the communities better.
The campaign spoke about opportunities, responsibilities and communities, and that's what this legislation is all about. We're excited about it.
Since this bill was introduced in May, it has had extraordinary bipartisan support. And while there were some moments of anxiety in the last few days, today I'm happy to say that three and then ultimately five Republican Senators indicated that they supported this concept. And I think when we reach passage on Tuesday, there will be many more who will join with them.
National community service is, in fact, bipartisan. It predates our presidential campaign -- something that started in the middle of the 1980s -- young people -- and not only young people -- all people -- volunteering in their communities.
We have now added a legislative harnessing mechanism around this. And we're happy to see that, in fact, the President's call for national service -- which you might remember was one of the hallmarks of his inaugural address more than six months ago -- is on its way forward. I'm happy that this major piece of legislation, one of the signature programs of the President, is now, along with action taken in the House earlier in this week, moving forward. We would hope to see conference committee operate at some point next week, and for final passage to happen shortly thereafter.
Thanks very much.
Q: Mr. Segal, if there has been such strong bipartisan support, how come it just wasn't swept in immediately? Where has there been all this fighting over it?
MR. SEGAL: Not much fighting. I think this has been a piece of legislation which virtually every United States Senator, one way or another, has indicated his support. In 1990, a precursor of this bill was passed with much Republican support, including Senator Dole's. Senator Dole supported national service in a different -- slightly modified form in both 1990 and 1992. And I think some of the concerns expressed by Republicans since the introduction of the legislation have been sound and they've made the program better.
So while there was a tussle in the last few days, we're happy that it's worked out well. And, in fact, I think that we will continue to see bipartisan support around national service as we go forward.
Q: Mr. Segal, there's one thing I think is -- I may be very ignorant, but is this the way this will operate: that if I -- before I go to college, while maybe I'm too young to go or maybe I'm 17 or 18 and at home, can I start doing public service and getting credit for that towards my college tuition?
MR. SEGAL: Yes, you could. During the campaign there were those who thought that national service would only be available for those graduating from college.
When we became aware of the fact -- the President became aware of the fact that less than 25 percent of youngsters are, in fact, graduating from college, he insisted upon -- the designing of a law which would make it possible for all young people who had graduated from high school to participate in the program, and that's the way it exists now. Young people from the age essentially of 17 and up can participate in this program.
And I'd want to comment a little further. When many of us were younger, college years meant 18 to 21. Now people start college at far later times in their lives. They, too, are eligible. There's no cap when a person is no longer eligible by age for this program -- very flexible. It can be done on a part time basis. Or if someone wants to go to junior college when they're in their 30s and could become -- and they're eligible for the program as well.
Obviously this is a program which is not available to everybody. There will be competition for the program. Young people who will be participating in it will have skills that they will need to develop in order for them to be admitted into it. It should be a program, hopefully, where demand is going to be extraordinary. If we build this right, it will be. But everyone will, in fact, be eligible for it over the age of 17.
Q: How would you qualify? What are the levels? If age isn't a factor, what is a factor?
MR. SEGAL: This is a program which is an invitation to local genius. Local communities will, in fact, be developing programs that reflect their own needs. They will, in fact, submit those requests for funds in two different ways, primarily through their states, and in some respects through the federal government as well. They will be competing with other communities in their own states, and in other communities in other states, as they design programs to meet those community needs.
If, in fact, the local nonprofit organization -- it could be everything from an educational association to a 501C3 ,or any institution that chooses to could design programs that they think will deal with community needs on a competitive basis. If they are, in fact, rewarded by being given -- I hate to use the government word, but the word is slots, young people who will, in fact -- they will, in fact, be eligible then to go out and choose the young people to best satisfy those objectives. So young people will effectively be going to local communities and applying to be admitted once the communities, in fact, get those grants.
Q: But what's the standard for the young people to qualify? Will the community develop that standard so that maybe some --
MR. SEGAL: The answer is that -- the community will, in fact, develop the standards. There's a wide variety of things. Surely if they're going to be designing a literacy program, they might hope that the young person have some skills in literacy training. If they're involved in the recycling program, there as well. We want to give as much local authority as possible.
Q: But what I'm getting at is, is the individual student and what he or she -- what needs they need to have in order to qualify for programs. Do they need to be poor? -- middle class? What -- and is it a loan program?
MR. SEGAL: Thank you. Apart from being over the age of 17, they are going to be just competing like anybody else. It's not necessarily -- there may be programs where high grades are important, where recycling skills are important. This is not a means tested program at all. That's a very important thing to make clear, because national service is nothing if it is not about socioeconomic diversity -- having young people from a wide variety of social backgrounds participating in the program, much the way the draft operated. So that we are clearly making a clear principle. In fact, we have to win this on the floor of the House, and we may win in the Senate as well -- that this is not a program available only to poor people.
There will be some focus on this -- that national service will be directed towards areas in more economic distress. At least 50 percent of the funds will be directed towards areas of economic distress. But the young people who, in fact, will be serving will be a cross-section of Americans.
Q: Can you speak -- address a little bit about how people will be serving? What does the service consist it?
MR. SEGAL: Service, again, is as varied as local communities would like. Right now there are many forms the service takes. Some young people -- generally people out of high school -- operate in corps. These corps are groups of young people who will do everything from cleaning parks to do education campaigns of one kind or another. Others will operate individually, much, as you know, how Peace Corps volunteers worked abroad and how Vista volunteers work here -- working in local nonprofits doing everything from mentoring programs to designing help on flood relief campaigns. A wide variety of opportunities, again, should, in fact, be introduced, tried, experimented with. And those that work the best will hopefully be replicated around the United States.
Q: Can you pick and choose -- if a kid was doing some kind of an education project and you needed him for floods, would you take him out and move him to Missouri?
MR. SEGAL: A good question. What this legislation does, among other things, it gives the administration -- it gives the corporation, I should say, that, in fact, will be created, an opportunity to do some targeting of what, in fact, the needs might be. Broadly, again, the areas that we're expecting young people to serve will be in education, health and human services, public safety, and environmental matters.
But if we should for any reason feel that we need a sharper focus on it -- perhaps immunization drives would be a classic example -- we might indicate that there might be a preference, there might be a focus on immunization efforts as well. I think if a young person has asked, in fact, to do an education project -- is committed to do an education project, he probably would not be -- he or she would not be expected to be transferred into a flood project. This is not a roving band of young people. These people will be chosen for skills they've got and for needs in those communities from which they come.
Q: Could you just clarify, does the Senate bill still have the $5,000 a year for two years that the President offered?
MR. SEGAL: The Senate bill, as we speak, has $5,000. It is possible that what will emerge will be a slight modification of it to reflect a House modification which reduced that benefit slightly. So a young person now may well have the benefit of slightly less than $5,000 -- I think it's $4,725. But, in fact, something along those lines will emerge from the House and Senate as well.
Q: You can do this in the summertime while you're in college? Or --
MR. SEGAL: This is a program for young people before college, after college, or even during college. That was another piece of this legislation that we added.
What separates volunteerism, which we honor and celebrate -- the President has spoken about this many times -- from service is that it's full time -- hard work, long-term, full time. And that could be done on a part time basis too as long as it's -- I think it's 1700 hours has to be done over I think two years. Perhaps we now have one circumstance for three. Some of that work can be done in the summer as well. Again, the flexibility will be built into the local communities.
Q: How do the local communities qualify?
MR. SEGAL: The formula of national service would allocate funds -- I'm sorry. The funds for the national service will be divided as follows: One-third of the funds will go to the states essentially by formula; one-third will go to the states based on a competitive basis. That is, California will compete against Nevada, and whichever programs are better will, in fact, be rewarded. The last third will be innovative programs that will, in fact, be funded directly by the national corporation that, in fact, will be established. That last third will be for multistate nonprofits. For example, the American Red Cross; for federal programs. The Interior Department, the Agriculture Department, et cetera, may, in fact, be competing for funds as well.
So what a local nonprofit would do that thinks it has a good idea is it would make an application primarily to the state where, in fact, nonpartisan -- bipartisan state commissions would, in fact, be established, where they will compete in the best of reinventing government among each other for which has the most innovative ways of dealing with local problems. The local -- the state commissions will, in fact, make recommendations to the corporation and that's the process by which local communities will be awarded.
Q: Eli, could you go over the differences between the House and Senate bills that have to be worked out in the conference? I mean, like the financial benefits and --
MR. SEGAL: The bills are essentially, A, identical with what the President introduced in May. B, the differences between them really are very, very small. This is nothing like what the House and Senate has to deal with on reconciliation issues. They really are structural issues -- the size of the corporation, some other issues related to employees of existing agencies that will be brought into this program. I think at its core the biggest issue is going to be -- the House and Senate both arranged for three year authorizations, but the House leaves open the sums that, in fact, will be appropriated, whereas the Senate essentially sends caps on the second and third years of those programs. That is something that I think will be comparatively easier to work out in the conference.
Q: Do you think there will be caps in the end?
MR. SEGAL: We'll have to wait and see on that at this point.
Q: What are the caps that the Senate bill --
MR. SEGAL: The Senate bill, as we speak, is $300 million the first year, $500 million in the second, and $700 million in the third, which may, in fact, be reduced voluntarily on our part yet today. In short, the House may propose higher caps, may propose no caps. We'll just have to wait and see at this point.
Q: What is the maximum financial benefit the students will get?
MR. SEGAL: I think on the House side at this point it's about -- the way it works is the young person would get an educational award either -- if he or she is before college, he would get it in the form of a scholarship in which the funds are sent directly to the university. If he or she serves after college, it will be in the form of a loan forgiveness to the institution which, in fact, is holding the debt of the young person.
I believe that in the House side at this point it's something approaching $9,500. The Senate side will probably wind up about the same as well. That $9,500 is two years, essentially $4,700 -- I think it's $4,725 per year each year for up to two. Young people would really be admitted for one year, but they will have an opportunity to perform for a second year as well.
Q: Senator Dole keeps saying that -- he's said a few times now on the floor of the Senate that he thought he had a deal with you and that the administration had to sheepishly rescind the offer.
MR. SEGAL: No, there was never any deal. He is referring to a conversation about the so-called two-year authorization versus three-year authorization that eventually led to the cloture vote yesterday. The Senator's office called and I chatted with them and they put on the table something which I classified as encouraging, but certainly requiring more work. I then made several phone calls, shared the language with our parliamentarian and with other Senators, and it became clear quickly that it just wasn't good enough. It was certainly a good faith effort, but it was certainly not what we felt was necessary. It was essentially a three -- a two-year plan that was made to look like a three-year authorization. We thought it very important that we have a three-year authorization. We think it will take that much time for a new program to breathe, to evaluate, to be properly evaluated, to achieve a certain rhythm so we could come back and make the case that, in fact, we were performing.
Q: Eli, assuming a timely conference report and final approval, et cetera, when would this be available to students?
MR. SEGAL: It would begin in the next fiscal year. The authorization would be for as of October 1. My guess is that it will be many, many months thereafter before you'll see your first national service person out, in fact, working in communities. We want to make sure we do this right. That will require a great deal of research and thought about what is the best details in order to implement the broad national service initiative, which we expect to get passed shortly.
Q: How many months roughly -- or around --
MR. SEGAL: Let's see -- I would guess at this point that the school year -- the first school year will be May-June of the following year. It may be until then. But perhaps there will be some early models or experiments that we can attempt before that.
Q: Is the program only aimed at colleges? I thought the original idea was job training. I mean, you could --
MR. SEGAL: No, this is not job training, but I'm glad you asked this question. Originally we talked about it as though it would just be for those, again, after college. And there was some thought that it should only be available for those on their way to college. In fact, that is not the case. There is -- a young person who has no intention of going to college, but is prepared to serve his or her country, is also able to participate in this program, too -- use the post-service benefit for any appropriate training program as defined by an education -- elementary-secondary education act. So that, in short, it is no way, shape, or form limited to just those going to college. But it is not a job training program. This is about service, not about job training.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:20 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Assistant to the President for National Service Eli Segal Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269371