WASHINGTON, DC — In an effort to mobilize the power of national service, assist communities in need, and put more Americans to work combating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and building a better future, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and several others are announcing 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.  The bill would also help grow the next generation of public service leaders by expanding 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 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.  “This will help increase national service and tap into underutilized resources that can help revive communities while providing tangible benefits to those who give back.”

In 2017, Senator Reed, along with U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), established the independent National Commission on Military, National and Public Service in 2017.  This new proposal reflects many of the provisions of his ACTION for National Service Act, which Reed designed to increase America’s capacity to enlist, equip, and empower young people to address pressing challenges while creating opportunities for advancement with respect to their education and job prospects. 

“Americans have a long history of responding to national calls to service in times of crisis,” said Senator 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.” 

“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 proposal—which builds on my 21st Century American Service Act—in the next relief package.”

“Since the start of the public health crisis, Rhode Islanders have supported their neighbors. This legislation would rapidly expand ServeRI programs, administered by the Rhode Island Department of Education, to mobilize Rhode Islanders to do even more to support education, food access, and our public health system, while providing a bridge to further education and careers for those who serve,” said Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. “We stand ready to deploy national service resources and engage the next generation of servant leaders to respond to our state’s and nation's rising needs due to COVID-19.”

“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.”

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 NCCC and CDC modeled on FEMA Corps to provide for rapid 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.