The following post was contributed by Shirley Sagawa, CEO of the Service Year Alliance and an America Forward Advisory Board Member.
With a global pandemic underway, it would be easy to have missed the release of the final report of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. This bipartisan national commission has worked for two years to study what we ask of our citizens. Their conclusion? Not enough.
Aligned with America Forward’s Policy Playbook, the Commission advances a vision of our country in which “a service year will become a new rite of passage to adulthood, intensive service opportunities for young adults and mid-career professionals will abound, and new and innovative ways to engage older Americans in service to their communities and Nation will be available for all those who want to serve.”
As COVID-19 continues to expose dramatic inequities and injustices in the workforce and education systems across the country, the ability to mobilize Americans in service of advancing vital, equitable relief and recovery policies is especially urgent. The Commission’s proposed expansion of civilian national service to one million serving annually a decade from now could enable the realization of several America Forward proposals, including providing a team of national service corps members for every high-poverty school and scaling AmeriCorps to fields most likely to need assistance in the wake of massive disruption caused by COVID-19.
Additionally, several recommendations made by the Commission to boost national service align with work already being done by America Forward Coalition members. Both the Commission and America Forward embrace the potential of national service to prepare young people for public service jobs – calling for more streamlined pathways from civilian national service to federal employment, and working to harness the ability of our young people to prepare for and respond to national emergencies, like the Coronavirus pandemic. The Commission, like America Forward, recommends targeting opportunity youth and older adults to serve, while increasing national service living allowances and making education awards tax free; thereby, creating more feasible opportunities for individuals from low-income backgrounds to serve. As the workforce continues to face COVID-19-related challenges – and those already at the margins are increasingly pushed further out – these opportunities become all the more critical for both individuals and the economy.
The critical role national service can – and should – play in the recovery from COVID-19 is a major part of the reason that America Forward recently signed on in support of The Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act. Led by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) in the Senate and a bipartisan group of Members in the House of Representatives, the legislation would fund an exponential increase in AmeriCorps and 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 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 bill, along with several other bills recently introduced in the House and Senate, demonstrate the strong commitment congressional leaders have in our national service programs and participants.
America Forward organizations should take note and help promote these important recommendations and legislative efforts. The urgent need for service members to help respond to the crisis, as well as assist in rebuilding and recovering post-COVID-19, makes it all the more important that efforts to expand national service receive the serious consideration they deserve.
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