WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), the first AmeriCorps alum to serve in the Senate, announced new legislation to expand national service programs as the country works to respond and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act would fund 750,000 national service positions over a three-year response and recovery period, in part to meet the projected need for as many as 300,000 public health workers. Under the bill, the number of AmeriCorps and national service positions could expand from 75,000 to 150,000 the first year and double to 300,000 in years two and three. The bill would also expand partnerships between AmeriCorps and federal health agencies and increase the AmeriCorps living allowance to ensure all Americans can step up to serve regardless of their financial circumstances. The bill utilizes existing funding and administration infrastructure available at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). This will help expedite the allocation of funds and put people to work quickly. Senator Heinrich is actively working to include this bill in the next COVID-19 relief package set to be considered by the Senate.
“Americans have proven ourselves in previous times of adversity through national service. In response to the Great Depression, New Deal programs—like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration—put Americans to work building forward-looking projects and infrastructure that laid the foundation for long-term economic prosperity in the decades since,” said Heinrich. “As an AmeriCorps alum, I know first-hand that there is no venture more rewarding than working to improve the lives of those around us. We need to empower a new generation to step up and serve during this national crisis.”
The Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act is the first of three proposals under development by a working group of Senate Democrats who in addition to Senator Heinrich include U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The lawmakers aim to address the urgent need to expand the public health and response workforce during and in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Additional proposals to expand public health agencies’ workforces and the clinical health care workforce will follow.
The Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act is supported by a number of national service organizations, including Voices for National Service, America’s Service Commissions, The Corps Network, and the Catholic Volunteer Network.
“National service has been an essential source of people power and ingenuity for our country at moments of great need – and AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members are once again stepping forward to serve where they are needed most during this pandemic,” said AnnMaura Connolly, President of Voices for National Service. “AmeriCorps members are integral to the COVID-19 response, serving at drive-thru testing sites, providing child care for health care workers, helping deliver food to our most vulnerable, supporting students struggling with distance learning and more. As we face the triple threat of a health, economic, and educational crisis, we should expand AmeriCorps so that every American is asked and given the opportunity serve to help our communities respond and recover. Our country needs their service now, perhaps more than ever. Voices for National Service is grateful to Senator Coons and his colleagues for their bold vision for expanding AmeriCorps as a transformational force for our country at this critical time.”
“America’s Service Commissions applauds Senators Duckworth, Coons, Reed, Heinrich, Markey, Van Hollen, Klobuchar, Blumenthal, and Durbin for their leadership in recognizing service as a strategic solution to addressing the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Expanding AmeriCorps and the Volunteer Generation Fund is critical to engaging millions of Americans who want to serve their country in response to the pandemic while providing necessary funding to a hard-hit nonprofit and public sector,” said Kaira Esgate, CEO of America’s Service Commissions (ASC). “ASC and its network of the governor-led 52 state service commissions provide an essential infrastructure to the national service delivery system and have already swiftly responded to COVID-19 by deploying volunteers and AmeriCorps members from food banks to call centers. We stand ready to expand national service resources and engage the next generation of servant leaders to respond to our country’s rising needs due to COVID-19.”
"During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt said that no country can afford the waste of human resources. During this current crisis, a bold investment in national service would mobilize and unite the American people to confront a myriad of needs, ranging from food pantry operations to contact tracing," said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, President and CEO of The Corps Network. "We extend our appreciation to Sen. Coons, Sen. Heinrich and other leaders in Congress for championing the critical role AmeriCorps and Senior Corps can play in helping our country through these unprecedented times."
Specifically, the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act would:
- Fund 750,000 national service positions over a three-year response and recovery period, in part to meet the projected need for as many as 300,000 public health workers.
- Create a partnership between AmeriCorps and CDC inspired by FEMA Corps to provide for additional response surge capacity that could be deployed to specific areas as needed.
- Provide flexibilities for programs quickly to grow and respond to dynamic local recovery needs.
- Prioritize funding for activities directly related to our response and recovery, such as: public health services, emergency logistics, workforce and reemployment services, education support (including for adult learners), and services that combat nutrition insecurity.
- Ensure that individuals’ financial resources do not limit participation by increasing the AmeriCorps living allowance to 175 percent of the federal poverty line and tying the value of the Segal Education Award to the cost of two years of public university tuition, harmonizing the treatment of both with other programs by making them nontaxable.
- Fund new online tools for Senior Corps to safely move to a teleservice model.
- Extend priority enrollment to Peace Corps, U.S. Fulbright, and AmeriCorps participants whose service or grants was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and encourage participation by members of low-income and minority communities, those who have had contact with the juvenile justice system, and those of diverse abilities.
- Invite participation by a diverse range of Americans by launching an awareness and outreach campaign on response service opportunities and supporting the Volunteer Generation Fund.
For a one-pager on the bill, please click here.