Shutdown’s Over – Now What?
By Jonathan Pearson on Thursday, October 17th, 2013
Peace Corps staff and other federal employees around the country are returning to work, as President Obama signed legislation early Thursday morning which ended a partial government shutdown, continues government operations until the middle of January and extends the federal debt ceiling until early February.
While the standoff within the executive and legislative branches is behind lawmakers – at least for the moment – here’s what potentially lies ahead on matters pertaining to the Peace Corps and Peace Corps community.
Peace Corps Director Confirmation: Prior to the shutdown, the expectation was that the nomination of Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet to become the agency’s 19th Director would be moving forward in early October. The next step is for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold a confirmation hearing. That hearing is likely to happen in the next few weeks.
Peace Corps Funding: Passage of a continuing resolution to resume government operations means that for the first three months of the new fiscal year (Fiscal Year 2014), Peace Corps will continue to operate at a funding level of $356 million.
What happens after that remains very much up in the air. There remains a nearly $30 million difference between the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on final, Fiscal Year 2014 funding levels for the Peace Corps (the House recommends holding Peace Corps funding at $356 million, while the Senate recommends an increase to $385 million). Peace Corps and other international affairs funding could also be impacted as the leaders of the House and Senate Budget Committees begin to meet and discuss long-term spending in an effort to reduce the deficit and the threat of future debt-ceiling deadlines.
Additionally, a second round of automatic spending cuts (referred to as the sequester) for Peace Corps and other discretionary spending could be triggered in the event that Congress and the President are unable to come to alternative agreements by early next year.
National Peace Corps Association advocates will continue to make the case for strong Peace Corps funding in the budget and appropriations discussions. Meanwhile, we are mobilizing our member group leaders for a sign-on letter to the President, as he begins advance work for his Fiscal Year 2015 budget request.
Key Appropriations Language: While Congress is required to pass spending bills, last year they took another route. Rather than compromise and pass an appropriations bill, Congress passed a year-long continuing resolution. Not only did that result in stagnant funding, it also meant that policy language in appropriations bills was not advanced.
This year, the possibility of another year-long continuing resolution would prevent the possible advance of two key issues. The Senate Appropriations bill calls on Peace Corps to report on the possibility of extending non-competitive eligibility for federal employment for Peace Corps Volunteers. There is also language to fix a current disparity which singles out current volunteers as the only individuals serving our nation overseas who cannot receive support to terminate a pregnancy in the rare cases of rape, incest or life threatening circumstances. While this language would still have to be negotiated with the House, a year-long continuing resolution would end the possibility of advancing these matters.
Other Peace Corps Legislation: There has been strong, bi-partisan support to advance Peace Corps Commemorative legislation. With unanimous passage already in the Senate, companion legislation in the House of Representatives awaits a hearing before the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands.
Meanwhile, we continue to work on building support for the Respect For Peace Corps Volunteers Act in the House of Representatives. A small but growing number of bi-partisan co-sponsors is building momentum for this bill, which would allow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to use the Peace Corps symbol in death notices or at gravesites.
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