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Coons, colleagues introduce legislation to expand national service programs responding to COVID-19

Delaware News Desk
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Sens. Chris Coons, D-Delaware; Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota; Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois; Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico; Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts; Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland; Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut; and Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, announced April 22 the introduction of 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 senators are actively working to include this bill in the next COVID-19 relief package set to be considered by the Senate.

This is the first of three proposals under development by a working group of Senate Democrats 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 over the course of this week.

“Americans have a long history of responding to national calls to service in times of crisis,” said Coons. “Today, AmeriCorps members are already hard at work in our communities supporting students as they learn remotely, helping patients make critical care decisions, and more. These programs can and should be expanded to meet the needs of this moment. As we work to recover from the dual challenge of a public health crisis and an economic crisis, national service presents a unique opportunity for Americans to be part of our response and recovery while earning a stipend and education award and gaining marketable skills. Expanding these programs to all Americans who wish to serve should be a key part of our recovery effort.”

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.

A one-pager of the bill is available at bit.ly/3cH5md4.