By Melina Kiper, America Forward Advocacy Manager
Last week, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) were joined by a bipartisan coalition of eight Democrats and seven Republicans to reintroduce the “Cultivating Opportunity and Recovery from the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act.” In addition to increasing national service positions for the next three years to support recovery efforts from COVID-19, the CORPS Act makes service more accessible, equitable, and inclusive.
When reintroducing the bill last week, Senator Coons wrote, “The past year has shown us that America can overcome any challenge so long as we do so together – when we look out for our neighbors, give back to our communities, and unite behind a common purpose.”
His colleague and co-sponsor, Senator Wicker, said, “Our nation’s full recovery from the pandemic will require an all-hands approach.” “Boosting the ranks of our service corps is a cost-efficient way to get communities the help they need,” he continued.
COVID-19 has exposed – and worsened – deep educational and socioeconomic disparities in many communities, and strained public systems almost to the breaking point, especially in historically under-resourced and underserved communities. Recovery will not be easy – it will require intentional, collective effort; but, at the same time, we must seize this opportunity to build greater equity and resilience into systems for the long term.
As the country continues to build back better, national service not only offers a way to support relief and recovery efforts in our communities, but also provides a powerful force to create more accessible, equitable, and sustainable opportunities for students, workers, and seniors. National service at scale can and should be part of the solution.
The CORPS Act “would increase the number of AmeriCorps positions available to support a variety of response and recovery efforts based on community needs, including expanding food bank capacity, mentoring and tutoring students recovering from learning loss, helping to improve housing, and more,” according to the release from Sen. Coons.
In addition to supporting the call to increase the number of AmeriCorps positions available, America Forward has advanced a number of policy proposals to ensure that additional service capacity results in meaningful progress for communities, and growth is accompanied by a concerted effort to increase education, employment, and civic equity through policies that address who is able to serve, who leads service organizations, and who is served.
Among other policy solutions, America Forward has advocated for:
- Broadening participation and expanding access to service opportunities by increasing financial resources to those who wish to serve such as increasing the AmeriCorps living allowance and tie it to the local cost of living; and make the AmeriCorps living allowance and education award exempt from Federal taxes;
- Revising policies that impose barriers to AmeriCorps service and intentionally invest and expand recruitment among underrepresented communities;
- Developing a place-based system that ties national service to locally developed plans;
- Funding and incentivize partnerships that encourage the placement of AmeriCorps members in Title I schools;
- Incorporating the role that national service plays in workforce development to increase employment and providing a pathway into teaching for young people from diverse backgrounds;
- Expanding service programs that support higher education access and completion;
- Increasing funding for AmeriCorps VISTA, which helps build the capacity of nonprofit organizations and public agencies; and,
- Expanding Youthbuild.
Today, schools, communities, and their partners across the country are working to address the impact of the pandemic. At a time when the nation must marshal its resources to tackle profound inequities, we believe that policymakers should embrace the transformational potential of national service to advance equity and move all of America forward. Leveraging national service as one of the core components of our recovery efforts allows for rapid adaptation to address emerging and longstanding needs, and, at the same time, provides a powerful force to strengthen civil society and a viable pathway to more equitable education and workforce.
America Forward will continue working alongside Voices of National Service, Service Year Alliance, the many members of the America Forward Coalition, and policymakers to support legislation like the CORPS Act and advance critical policies that will create a more robust, accessible, inclusive national service system – in the wake of COVID-19, and for generations to come.
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