One Step Closer: House Passes Peace Corps Health/Safety Legislation

With praise for the mission of the Peace Corps and the work of its volunteers, and acknowledgement that more needs to be done to improve volunteer health care, safety and security, the House of Representatives unanimously passed Peace Corps health/safety legislation (H.R. 2259) late Tuesday afternoon.

The revised House bill, renamed the "Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018", now goes back to the United States Senate for further consideration. Earlier this year, Senators unanimously passed its version of the legislation (S. 2286) introduced by Bob Corker (R-TN) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The Senate can either approve the House version of the legislation and send it on to the president, or negotiate with the House on a final compromise bill, in order to address several issues where differences remain.

A CRUCIAL STEP

Speaking on the House floor, the sponsor of H.R. 2259, Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) noted that he, like many members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), try to meet with volunteers when traveling overseas. "One thing is universally true," he said. "They love being a Peace Corps Volunteer." Congressman Poe added that over the years when he has met volunteers who share stories of when the agency or other parts of the federal bureaucracy let them down and bad things happen, those volunteers would make clear and still speak of their love for the Peace Corps. 

But Poe also emphasized more needs to be done to assist volunteers - who he often refers to as "America's Angels Abroad." During his floor remarks, the congressman reflected on the experiences and ongoing challenges of RPCVs Jennifer Mamola and Sara Thompson, who along with founder Nancy Tongue are leaders of the affiliate group Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers, which has led efforts for years to bring attention to the needs of returning volunteers who come home injured or sick. He also reflected on the death of China volunteer Nick Castle, who fell ill and did not get adequate medical attention (Nick's parents Sue and Dave have also been leading advocates in advancing the legislation). In noting he has heard too many stories of volunteers struggling to get needed care, Poe emphasized that "Our government should work to help the Peace Corps Volunteers."

Similar sentiments were expressed on the other side of the aisle. RPCV Congressman Joe Kennedy (D-MA), the lead co-sponsor of H.R. 2259, spoke of the friendship he received from people who did not know him nearly fifteen years ago as he began his Peace Corps service in the Dominican Republic, while also recognizing the "extraordinary generosity of spirit" volunteers bring to countries around the world. The Ranking member of the HFAC, Eliot Engle (D-NY) said volunteers "show our values, generosity and compassion" to the world, adding that "we must do what we can to keep our current volunteers safe."

BILL BACKGROUND

Both bills will strengthen the criteria in Peace Corps' selection of overseas medical staff, re-authorize important provisions of the 2011 Kate Puzey Act which established an Office of Victim Advocacy and Sexual Assault Advisory Council, advance additional reporting - and more transparency - on the experiences of serving and returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), and extend existing health care coverage for service related injuries to four months for RPCVs. Read this press release from Congressman Poe.

NPCA supports final passage of the House version of the bill, which in several instances has stronger, more impactful language to protect and support those volunteers who are applying for and serving with the Peace Corps. 

In securing unanimous passage in both chambers, key provisions to further address the health needs of RPCVs who come home with service related health issues were removed from the legislation, due to cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and/or jurisdictional issues with other legislative committees.

TAKE ACTION NOW:

With only a few months of legislative business remaining in the current session of Congress, it is important that you let lawmakers know the time has come for final passage of these bills.

Follow this link and write to your members of Congress, urging final passage of Peace Corps health/safety legislation and adoption of the House version of the bill, while also noting more work needs to be done in the future to address the needs of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who come home with service related illnesses or injuries.