June 17, 2020

Cassidy, Coons, Colleagues Unveil Bill to Expand National Service in Next COVID-19 Relief Package

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy M.D. (R-LA), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Angus King (I-Maine), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced bipartisan legislation to expand national service programs significantly to help the country respond to and recover from the public health, economic, and social crises facing the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.  

The Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act would double the number of AmeriCorps positions available this year to 150,000 and provide a total of 600,000 service opportunities nationwide over the next three years to unemployed youth and others looking to assist their communities. These positions could support a variety of response and recovery efforts based on community needs, including expanding food pantry capacity, mentoring and tutoring at-risk students, bridging health inequities by expanding access to COVID-19 screening and testing, and more. 

“America must chart a path forward both for Covid-19 recovery and addressing racism. National service organizations create opportunity for Americans of different experiences and backgrounds to engage in meaningful solutions that make our communities stronger, safer and healthier for all,” said Dr. Cassidy. 

“Thousands of young people across the country are calling for greater opportunity and for new and meaningful engagement to address persistent inequities that have only been exacerbated by COVID-19,” Senator Coons said. “Now is the time to mobilize that energy to make our communities stronger and healthier for everyone. The CORPS Act will empower Americans to give back to their communities while earning a college opportunity and valuable skills for the future. I’m pleased to introduce this bipartisan bill with Senator Wicker and my colleagues at this critical time and look forward to working with them to include it in the next relief package considered by the Senate.”

“Helping our nation respond to and recover from the coronavirus outbreak will require an all-hands approach,” Senator Wicker said. “Boosting the ranks of our service corps is a cost-efficient way to get communities the help they need. I am glad to join Senator Coons in introducing the CORPS Act, which would enhance our national service programs and provide participants with the resources they need to endure this crisis. With their contributions, I am hopeful our nation can emerge stronger than ever before.”

“National service programs do extraordinary work in our most vulnerable communities,” Senator Booker said. “AmeriCorps volunteers have been helping strengthen neighborhoods for decades. Amid these tumultuous times, expanding national service programs like AmeriCorps will aid in our nation’s recovery from COVID-19.” 

“The CORPS Act builds on the existing framework of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps to help lead our national rebuilding efforts,” Senator Graham said. “A focus on local rebuilding efforts and community service will pay dividends for our nation.”

“America is at a crossroads and people are eager to get to work in service to their communities and the nation.  This legislation will help elevate national service to uplift people and communities, strengthen our democracy, and help us address health, economic, and social challenges,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, who helped create the bipartisan National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

“As our nation strives to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital that Americans are able to get back to dignified work,” Senator Rubio said. “I am proud to join my Senate colleagues in introducing legislation that will help Americans, especially Americans facing unemployment, contribute to our recovery by serving our local communities, promoting public health, and promoting economic recovery both for themselves and their own families, and for the community and nation they serve.”

“Just as picking up a rifle to defend our country is ‘American Service,’ so is helping out a food pantry for those at risk of hunger, assisting students with remote education and helping patients make critical health care decisions,” Senator Duckworth said. “We should be doing everything we can to make sure vital service programs like AmeriCorps are accessible to all Americans—especially those who come from underserved communities or have had contact with the juvenile justice system—who wish to serve during this time of reopening and rebuilding. That’s why I’m proud to help Senator Coons and Senator Wicker introduce this bipartisan proposal—which builds on my 21st Century American Service Act—in the next relief package.”

“National service volunteers, like those in AmeriCorps, have established strong records for providing critical help and assistance in times of crisis.  It makes sense to expand this sector to help communities and states overcome the unprecedented hardships created by the coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Hyde-Smith said.  “I especially appreciate that this bill prioritizes service to rural and underserved areas.”

“AmeriCorps members have a long history of service to our communities, and now more than ever, our country is relying on public servants as we continue to address the coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Harris said. “We must expand national service opportunities and ensure that every American who wants to serve is able to do so at this critical time. I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce this legislation.” 

“Wisconsinites have always been committed to serving their communities, and many folks in our state have answered the call to serve to combat COVID-19 throughout our neighborhoods. Now is the time to scale up our national service programs so those who want to take action and help our communities get through this pandemic have the opportunity to do so,” said Senator Baldwin. “I’m proud to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation that will help service organizations expand their reach to engage more people and bring communities together to combat this public health crisis, save lives and move our country forward.”

“This pandemic has presented our communities with public health and financial challenges unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetimes,” said Senator Cornyn. “This legislation would help utilize the wide-ranging skills of thousands of Texans serving in the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps during this crisis to serve those most in need.” 

“As Americans work to recover from the wide-reaching impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members have tackled growing challenges with energy, enthusiasm, and compassion,” said Senator King. “We need to build on their good work, and empower them and others to help strengthen our communities – addressing both obstacles caused by the pandemic and those that predated the virus. In essence, this legislation is a bet on the American people’s ability to respond to a crisis with dedication and ingenuity – and there’s no group I have more faith in.”

“From delivering meals to providing critical outreach to seniors experiencing loneliness as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers are making a lasting difference in the lives of countless individuals in Maine and throughout the country,” said Senator Collins.  “The CORPS Act builds on this existing foundation of successful service by increasing the number of positions to respond to this current crisis, as well as providing critical flexibility to respond to local needs as we eventually move into the recovery stage.”

“The CORPS Act introduced today by Senators Coons, Wicker, Booker, Graham, Reed, Rubio, Duckworth, Hyde-Smith, Harris, Cassidy, Baldwin, Cornyn, King, and Collins underscores the tremendous bipartisan support for AmeriCorps and Senior Corps and the critical role these programs are playing in helping their communities respond to and recover from COVID-19,” said AnnMaura Connolly, President of Voices for National Service. “The CORPS Act invests in the strong and capable national service infrastructure that has been deploying citizens of every background in service to their communities for decades. In addition to expanding AmeriCorps and strengthening Senior Corps to help communities with food distribution, supporting students, ensuring that medically vulnerable people continue to receive their medications and supporting public health needs, The CORPS Act will give young people experience, skills, a living stipend and post-service education scholarship at a critical time. The Voices for National Service Community is deeply grateful to Senator Coons, Senator Wicker and their colleagues for their leadership and bold vision for the vital role that national service can play in helping our communities and our country respond to and recover from this pandemic.”

“America’s Service Commissions applauds the leadership of the bipartisan CORPS Act for recognizing service as a strategic solution to addressing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through the CORPS Act. Expanding AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Volunteer Generation Fund is essential to engaging the millions of Americans who want to serve their country right now in response to this crisis,” said Kaira Esgate, CEO of America’s Service Commissions (ASC). “The CORPS Act will enable governors to help more underserved and rural communities, and the flexibility to get national service boots-on-the-ground quickly. Our network of governor-led state service commissions can provide the local infrastructure to get this done, and stands ready to implement the CORPS Act across every state.” 

“At a time when local communities are in desperate need of additional support to tackle the public health and economic crises due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CORPS Act is helping meet these needs by expanding national service to support our communities as they respond and recover,” said Jesse Colvin, CEO of Service Year Alliance. “Not only can national service programs like AmeriCorps support critical public health initiatives, combat food insecurity, and fight learning loss, but by mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Americans into national service, we are putting people back to work, addressing record unemployment, and creating pathways to economic opportunity for people of all backgrounds. There’s never been a more important moment to invest in national service, and Service Year Alliance is proud to support this pivotal bipartisan legislation.”  

“We know that the expansion of AmeriCorps will make a real difference in local communities,” said Curt Ellis, CEO of FoodCorps. “We have seen the many ways that AmeriCorps members who share backgrounds, life experiences and relationships with the communities they serve deliver greater impact. So, we are especially encouraged to see the support this bill provides toward broadening access to national service, including increasing service member stipends and expanding local outreach to diverse applicants. We’re pleased to support this bipartisan proposal and thank Sens. Wicker and Coons for their commitment to investing in critical programs like ours in healthy food access that will help our nation as we recover from COVID-19.” 

“Catholic Volunteer Network believes in the transformative power of full-time volunteer service.  We welcome chances to collaborate in new ways that empower more volunteers and strengthen communities across the country,” said Yonce Shelton, Executive Director of Catholic Volunteer Network.  “Catholic Volunteer Network supports the CORPS Act because we know the desire of so many young adults across this country to help communities recover from COVID-19.  Helping them put faith in action for the common good can help our nation recover and become stronger than ever.  Through service experiences on the front lines, volunteers become leaders who will guide communities in a range of ways for decades to come.  Young people of faith want to commit.  They want to transform.  They want to be part of the solution.  The CORPS Act can help them achieve those goals.”  

“During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt said that no country can afford the waste of human resources. Now is a time for our country to come together in a bipartisan manner to address the COVID-19 crisis. Expanding AmeriCorps to its authorized level, will help promote national service as a means to mobilize and unite the American people to confront a myriad of needs, ranging from food pantry operations to public health initiatives, to promoting jobs for youth in conservation and providing workforce and reemployment services,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, President and CEO of The Corps Network. “We extend our appreciation to Senators Coons, Wicker, Booker, Graham, Reed, Rubio, Duckworth, Hyde-Smith, Harris, Cassidy, Baldwin, Cornyn, King, and Collins for introducing The CORPS Act and for championing the critical role AmeriCorps and Senior Corps can play in helping our country through these unprecedented times.  

“In this time of tremendous uncertainty, in the midst of this ongoing health emergency, it is imperative that we use this opportunity to reinvest in our nation’s future as we rebuild,” said Thurgood Marshall College Fund, President and CEO, Harry L. Williams.  “Through significantly expanding our national service programs and increasing both the living allowance and the educational benefit, the Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act tears down barriers that many service-minded low-income students have to participating in these critical programs while opening the doors of education to thousands more students.”

The bill has gained the support of more than 150 additional organizations, including City Year, Habitat for Humanity International, Hunger Free America, Jumpstart, National Health Corps, National Senior Corps Association, National Youth Leadership Council, and YouthBuild. For a full list of supportive organizations, please click here

The CORPS Act is based on the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act, which Senator Coons introduced in May. Specifically, the CORPS Act would:

  • Fund national service positions for a three-year response and recovery period and grow them to the level authorized in CNCS’s bipartisan, most recent reauthorization. Under the CORPS Act, the number of positions could grow from 75,000 to 150,000 the first year and then steadily to 250,000 by year three.
  • Provide flexibilities for programs to grow and respond quickly to dynamic local recovery needs.
  • Prioritize funding for activities directly related to our response and recovery, such as:
    • Public health services,
    • Programs that support economic opportunity,
    • Education support (including for adult learners), and
    • Services that combat nutrition insecurity.
  • Prioritize expanding programs and services in rural and high poverty communities.
  • Help organizations that have not previously hosted AmeriCorps members access the program.
  • Ensure that individuals’ financial resources do not limit participation by temporarily increasing the AmeriCorps living allowance to 175 percent of the federal poverty line and tying the value of the Segal Education Award to twice the value of the maximum Pell grant, 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.
  • Encourage participation by members of low-income and underrepresented communities and extend priority enrollment to Peace Corps, U.S. Fulbright, and AmeriCorps participants whose service or grants was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 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 CORPS Act, please click here