Senators Robert Menendez, Jim Risch, and colleagues have reintroduced the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2023. If passed, this would be the first comprehensive reauthorization of the Peace Corps agency for the first time in over 20 years.
By Jonathan Pearson
On Wednesday, April 19, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and James Risch (R-ID), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, re-introduced the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (S. 1203), which would be the first comprehensive reauthorization of the Peace Corps in over twenty years. “Today, we’re reintroducing legislation that will reauthorize the Sexual Assault Advisory Council, mandate security briefings, improve whistleblower protections, and add a new authority to suspend Peace Corps personnel without pay in the event of misbehavior — all important efforts to ensure the Peace Corps can better support Volunteers at home and abroad,” said Senator Risch.
“The Peace Corps plays an invaluable role in U.S. public diplomacy, and it is critical that we modernize the program to best support the selfless Volunteers who dedicate their time and talents to fostering peace, cultural exchange, and friendship around the world.”
— Senator Robert Menendez
“The Peace Corps plays an invaluable role in U.S. public diplomacy, and it is critical that we modernize the program to best support the selfless Volunteers who dedicate their time and talents to fostering peace, cultural exchange, and friendship around the world,” said Senator Menendez. Last year, hard work to pass this legislation — which received unanimous support within the Foreign Relations Committee — came up short.
“As a growing number of citizens are returning to service with the Peace Corps, this is exactly the right time to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act. We are grateful to Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Risch, and the other original co-sponsors of this legislation for their leadership.”
— NPCA President & CEO Dan Baker
The re-introduction of this year’s legislation is already showing signs of bipartisan support, with Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Todd Young (R-IN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joining as original co-sponsors. “As a growing number of citizens are returning to service with the Peace Corps, this is exactly the right time to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act,” said NPCA President and CEO Dan Baker. “We are grateful to Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Risch, and the other original co-sponsors of this legislation for their leadership.”
Read the April 19 press release from Senator Menendez.
Read the Senate legislation (S. 1203).
As Senate legislation begins to move, National Peace Corps Association staff and community advocates continue to hold meetings with members of the House of Representatives in an effort to build bi-partisan momentum for House Bill 1273 (H.R. 1273), the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2023. H.R. 1273 was introduced on March 1st – Peace Corps Day – by Returned Peace Corps Volunteer John Garamendi (D-CA) and fellow Congressman Garret Graves (R-LA). The Senate legislation closely mirrors the language of the House bill.
The Reauthorization Act: What’s In? What’s Out?
Passage of the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act will need strong bi-partisan support to pass the current Congress. That means increasing co-sponsors, including and especially among members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and with House members who voted to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act last year.
The Senate legislation, like H.R. 1273, has a number of important provisions that support the new generation of Peace Corps Volunteers before, during, and after service:
- Sexual Assault Advisory Council: The important work of the congressionally mandated Sexual Assault Advisory Council – currently scheduled to expire later this year – would be extended until October 2028.
- Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE): The legislation codifies two years of NCE for federal employment for all Volunteers who successfully complete their service. It also includes provisions to “stop the NCE clock” for returning Volunteers during periods of federal government shutdowns or hiring freezes, or if the returning Volunteer comes home with service related illness or injuries that don’t allow them to work.
- Support for Evacuated Volunteers Who Wish to Serve Again: The Peace Corps will be required to establish a safe return to service process for those whose service is interrupted due mandatory evacuations from catastrophic events or global emergencies like COVID-19.
- In-Service Health Care: The legislation includes provisions to further address consultation and training on malaria prophylactics and their side effects. It also requires the Peace Corps to establish policies to ensure all Volunteers have access to hygiene products.
- Volunteer Protections: The legislation further enumerates procedures and policy to protect Volunteers against reprisal and retaliation.
- Indo-Pacific Region: Under the legislation, the Peace Corps will report on strategies for the expansion of Peace Corps service opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region. It also expands Peace Corps eligibility to include United States citizens who are nationals of American Samoa.
- Suspension Without Pay: The legislation includes a provision allowing the Peace Corps Director to suspend (without pay) any employee determined to have engaged in serious misconduct. The provision includes an appeal process.
- National Advisory Council/DE&I: The legislation would re-establish a high-profile National Advisory Council. Duties would include considering and making recommendations to strengthen diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) efforts at the Peace Corps.
At the same time, securing the necessary bi-partisanship to pass the bill came with difficult and disappointing compromises:
- Peace Corps Funding: While the Peace Corps secured a $20 million funding increase (to $430.5 million) for the current fiscal year, this legislation would authorize funding for the Peace Corps back to $410.5 million through Fiscal Year 2028. (NOTE: On a positive note, if passed, the legislation would statutorily establish $410.5 million as the new minimal funding level for the Peace Corps; Furthermore, Congress still has the ability to appropriate funds above the authorization level each year).
- Workers Compensation: Once again, a longstanding and long overdue effort to provide increased workers compensation to a subset of returning Volunteers who are not able to work upon return due to service related illness/injury has been thwarted, primarily by Republican opposition in the House.
- Student Loans: Among the provisions removed were those that clarified Peace Corps Volunteers are eligible in the federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Also removed was a provision to allow Volunteers to defer not just federal student loan payments during service, but also interest on those loans.
- Post-Service Health Insurance: A proposal to increase paid post-service health insurance by the Peace Corps from one month to two months, was also removed.
Take Action — Let’s Get This Done!
In a divided Congress facing many pressing and controversial policy challenges, there are no guarantees that any particular piece of legislation will pass. That’s why we need to redouble our efforts to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act in 2023. You can take action by:
- Flooding Congress With Messages: Visit our Action Center and tell your Representative and Senators that it is time to co-sponsor and pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act!
- Adopting a Lawmaker: Contact us if you are willing to “adopt” one of your representatives through the rest of the year to make sure they are on board with getting this priority Peace Corps legislation passed in 2023.
Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Write him at [email protected].