Van Hollen, Coons Legislation to Dramatically Expand National Service Amid COVID-19 Garners Support as Senate Returns
Support is building for an effort by U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) and a working group of senators to significantly expand national service programs as the country works to respond and recover from COVID-19. Today, the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act was introduced in the Senate with seven additional cosponsors: Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) introduced bipartisan companion legislation in the House.
Also today, more than 100 national service and public health organizations voiced their support for the legislation, which was first announced last month by Sens. Coons, Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
“For decades, our national service organizations have provided invaluable assistance to communities across our country and across the globe. With expertise in everything from public health to supply chain logistics to food security programs, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and other national service volunteers are uniquely equipped to help our country battle the coronavirus. We should be doing everything in our power to enlist these men and women – and others who are eager to volunteer – in these efforts. That’s why Senator Markey and I first introduced the UNITE Act, and why I’m proud to build on that effort with this coalition and a comprehensive package,” said Senator Van Hollen.
“We are grateful for the support of our colleagues and more than 100 organizations across the country who understand what we already know: our national service programs can and should play a transformative role in our response and recovery from COVID-19,” said Senator Coons. “I’m convinced that there are hundreds of thousands of people – especially young people – who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work to do the hard work of testing, contact tracing, educating, and re-building our communities. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this legislation in the next relief package.”
“During times of national crisis, Americans have never hesitated to step up and give back,” said Senator Shaheen. “The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception, and by expanding national service programs like AmeriCorps with America’s best and brightest, we can boost our immediate response to this public health emergency and support our recovery through the skills and experiences these young volunteers will gain. I’m proud to join my colleagues in cosponsoring this important bill and urge its inclusion in upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation.”
“At a time when roughly one and five American workers are out of a job, and more than a million new graduates are about to enter the workforce, investing in national service programs means investing in economic opportunity and providing critical assistance to communities in New Mexico and across the country that are deeply in need, particularly in rural communities and Indian Country,” said Senator Udall. “We know that Americans want to help the nation get through this crisis – we have the chance to mobilize that energy with the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act. This legislation puts Americans to work and will empower people of all ages and walks of life to help their neighbors and communities during this challenging moment.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of our society – but America has faced challenges before and come through the other side. That is why now more than ever, we need to empower Americans to serve their communities and their country,” said Senator King. “This proposal almost makes too much sense; by expanding national service and tapping into Americans’ instinct to pitch in, we can build a large-scale infrastructure to fight the spread of the coronavirus, and support American families impacted by the economic downturn in the process. In essence, this is a bet on the American people’s ability to respond to a crisis with dedication, compassion, and ingenuity – and there’s no group I have more faith in.”
“As we work to respond and recover from COVID-19, investing in programs that empower Americans to help their communities should be a top priority,” said Senator Smith. “In Minnesota, we’ve already seen so many people step up and make a difference. By expanding national service programs to help respond to this public health emergency, with activities like contact tracing, we will create opportunity for people in Minnesota and across the country to serve their communities and gain valuable skills along the way.”
“National service volunteers have always stepped in to fulfill the needs of our communities in times of crisis. And while it may be years before the country fully recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, expanding national service will engage more people who are willing and ready to serve now, while strengthening our national service infrastructure for times of need,” said Senator Brown.
“In Hawaii, AmeriCorps and other national service programs support some of our most effective community projects within the health care, housing, education, and environmental sectors—including those that provide real assistance for working and middle class families,” Senator Hirono said. “The pandemic we face will require a bold response and recovery. By creating 750,000 national service positions over the next three years, this bill will help us meet the need and the challenge of both a public health crisis and an economic crisis.”
“This is an unprecedented pandemic and it will take a massive, national effort to help America get through it, recover, and revive our economy. Throughout our history, whenever the nation has been in trouble, Americans have always answered the call to national service. This bill will ramp up our existing service framework and infrastructure for that type of unified, national effort that will expand opportunities, improve communities, and strengthen America,” said Senator Reed.
“National service programs represent the best of our country. As we confront the coronavirus pandemic, we should be expanding these opportunities for Americans to serve their communities,” Senator Klobuchar said. “I am proud to cosponsor the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act, which will expand our national service programs and create major new opportunities for Americans to serve their country – including new digital tools to help Senior Corps members safely continue their service.”
“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 these vital service programs are accessible to all Americans who wish to serve during times of crisis like these. That’s why I’m proud to be working with Senator Coons and my colleagues to include this legislation—which builds on my 21st Century American Service Act—in the next relief package.”
“We all have a role to play in rebuilding thriving communities across our nation in the aftermath of this pandemic,” said Senator Heinrich. “As an AmeriCorps alum myself, I know how much value young people stepping up to national service opportunities can bring to the table. Investing in expanded national service programs will greatly aid in both our immediate response to this emergency and in our long-term recovery. The public health and economic challenges we are facing right now are like nothing Americans have experienced in nearly a century. We need to empower a new generation of leaders to become part of the solution.”
“Throughout our history, Americans have always risen to the challenge to serve their country in times of crisis and the coronavirus pandemic is no different,” said Senator Markey. “I’m pleased that this legislative effort incorporates key aspects of the UNITE Act, which I announced with Senator Van Hollen, through its robust commitment to the flagship AmeriCorps programs to aid our most vulnerable communities and its commitment to increase service opportunities for those left unemployed by the coronavirus emergency.”
“From the streets of communities across Connecticut to disaster relief zones in Puerto Rico, I have seen firsthand the invaluable impact of individuals who have answered the call for their country with fundamentally American acts of service,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Participating in service helps reinforce the value of community and fosters important skills that benefit young volunteers for the rest of their lives. This is especially true during a national crisis, when our communities’ need is greatest and the potential impact of volunteers at its highest. I’m proud to be joining my colleagues in efforts to develop a new class of young leaders ready to respond to a nation in need.”
“For decades, our national service programs have provided valuable assistance and services to communities that needed it the most. These programs have been pivotal in bringing people together who share a common spirit of giving back to the community,” Senator Durbin said. “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be more important than ever to marshal our community leaders and workers to address our health and economic needs. That is why I am proud to cosponsor the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act with Senator Coons and my colleagues.”
“AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs across the country are stepping up to address the critical needs facing communities dealing with the crippling impact of COVID-19. From supporting public health needs such as testing and contract tracing to ensuring that homebound and medically vulnerable populations have food and life-saving medicine, to supporting students trying to keep up academically, America's national service infrastructure is playing an essential role in the response and recovery efforts across the country,” said AnnMaura Connolly, President of Voices for National Service. “The more than 100 organizations who have signed on in support of The Pandemic Response and Opportunity through National Service Act are tremendously grateful to Senator Coons and his colleagues for working in a bipartisan way to get them the support they need to ramp up their service to meet increasing demand for support from states and cities nationwide.”
In addition to Voices for National Service, the bill has gained the support of more than 100 organizations, including America’s Service Commissions, City Year, the Consortium of Universities for Global Health, FoodCorps, Habitat for Humanity International, Hunger Free America, Jumpstart, National Health Corps, National Senior Corps Association, National Youth Leadership Council, Service Year Alliance, Teach for America, and YouthBuild. For a full list of supportive organizations, please click here.
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.
This is one of three proposals developed by a working group of senators to address the urgent need to expand the public health and response workforce during and in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
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