National service programs have a strong history of coming to the rescue in times of crisis and disaster.
AmeriCorps has engaged more than 1 million volunteers in response efforts following hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017; flooding in Missouri and elsewhere in 2016; the 2013 EF-5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma; and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, just to name a few.
Of course, no one in this area can forget the role that AmeriCorps played after the May 2011 tornado — more than 350 AmeriCorps members came to Joplin and coordinated more than 75,000 volunteers who were essential to the city’s recovery.
Now, there's a bipartisan proposal in the U.S. Senate that would give AmeriCorps members and others involved in national service programs increased opportunities for helping this country recover from its current crisis — the new coronavirus pandemic. Called the Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service Act, the legislation would:
• Designate billions of dollars to AmeriCorps to grow the number of positions from 75,000 to 250,000 within three years.
• Prioritize funding for activities directly related to response and recovery, such as public health services, emergency logistics, workforce and reemployment services, education support, and services to address housing and food insecurity.
• Temporarily increase the AmeriCorps living allowance to 175% of the federal poverty line, potentially ensuring that more people would have the financial resources to participate.
Supporters of the legislation — which was introduced in June by U.S. Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss. — are urging the Senate to make it part of the stimulus package it plans to consider when it reconvenes next week. They say it echoes the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, which put hundreds of thousands of people to work during the Great Depression under President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.
"The CORPS Act ... 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."
There's perhaps one more ally that proponents of this legislation can call upon — Missouri's U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. As chairman of the Senate's Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, Blunt has been consistent in supporting (and, in many cases, increasing) federal funding and other important resources for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which includes programs such as AmeriCorps.
Beating the coronavirus will take an all-hands-on-deck approach. Investing in our national service workers and volunteers to provide critical support to our communities that have been hit hard by the virus' effects is a smart idea.
We urge the U.S. Senate — and ask our own senators — to move swiftly to make the CORPS Act a reality.