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  • Steven Saum posted an article
    The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act now moves forward. see more

    The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act now moves forward. It would bring critical reforms to better protect Volunteers and put Peace Corps on the path toward a budget to bolster the number of Volunteers around the world. Though when it comes to health insurance and the Volunteer readjustment allowance, today’s changes provide a little less support.

    By Jonathan Pearson

     

    The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1456), bipartisan legislation introduced by Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) and fellow Representative Garret Graves (R-LA), cleared its first significant hurdle on September 30th, when the House Foreign Affairs Committee moved the bill out of committee with a favorable vote.

    The committee advanced the bill with a strong bipartisan showing in a vote of 44 to 4. Eighteen Republicans joined all committee Democrats in supporting the legislation, which will next go to the House Education and Labor Committee for review and then to the House floor for further consideration.

    In bringing the legislation to the committee today, Garamendi noted that in communities across the globe, Volunteers have served in education, agriculture, and public health programs. “Peace Corps Volunteers are the face of America in these communities, building trust and goodwill,” he said. And the legislation would provide additional federal funding and resources “to advance the Peace Corps’ mission around the world and better support current, returning, and former Peace Corps Volunteers.”

     

     

    Committee Approves Amended Version of Legislation

    While the  Garamendi-Graves legislation was approved, it came in the form of a substitute amendment presented by Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), which contained significant additions and other substantive changes in the bill’s original language. ( Read the original legislation here. And see the full amendment here.)

     

    “This bill helps realize President John F. Kennedy’s vision of Americans ready to serve their nation in new and innovative ways.”
    — Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY)

     

    In opening debate on the measure, Chairman Meeks said, “This bill helps realize President John F. Kennedy’s vision of Americans ready to serve their nation in new and innovative ways.” Meeks also spoke to the effort by the committee to engage various stakeholders in crafting the legislation, including National Peace Corps Association.

    The lead Republican filling in for Ranking Member Michael McCaul (who represents Texas and was attending to a family health matter) was Ann Wagner (R-MO), who also expressed support for the legislation. “Many members of this committee represent Peace Corps Volunteers,” Wagner said. “We are grateful for their service and we honor the many sacrifices they make in leaving behind their friends and their families to make the world a better place.”

     

    “H.R. 1456 makes long overdue changes and updates to one of America’s best diplomatic and humanitarian programs.”
    — Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY)

     

    Wagner was joined by fellow committee member Andy Barr (R-KY) in expressing support for the bill. “H.R. 1456 makes long overdue changes and updates to one of America’s best diplomatic and humanitarian programs,” Barr said. Barr also praised the robust work of the leaders of the Kentucky Peace Corps Association, an NPCA affiliate group of returned Volunteers. Barr singled out the impact of Jack and Angene Wilson, who both served in Liberia in the 1960s, and Will and Amy Glasscock, who both served in Indonesia within the past decade. “I am personally very much indebted to the Glasscocks and the Wilsons in particular for their engagement with my office and their advocacy for the Peace Corps,” Barr said. “They are really terrific ambassadors for our United States as they promote the Peace Corps and its mission.”

    In a  press release issued October 4, Rep. Garamendi thanked Chairman Meeks and members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee for passing this critically important legislation with strong bipartisan support — and he noted the powerful impact that serving as a Volunteer in Ethiopia had for him and his wife, Patti Garamendi, who also served in the Peace Corps.

     

    “Congress has not reauthorized the Peace Corps in over 20 years. It is vital for the ‘Peace Corps Reauthorization Act’ to become law so the Peace Corps can redeploy Volunteers worldwide once safe and prudent to do so and realize President Kennedy’s vision of generations of young Americans ready to serve their nation and make the world a better place.”
    —Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA)

     

    “Congress has not reauthorized the Peace Corps in over 20 years,” Garamendi noted. “It is vital for the ‘Peace Corps Reauthorization Act’ to become law so the Peace Corps can redeploy Volunteers worldwide once safe and prudent to do so and realize President Kennedy’s vision of generations of young Americans ready to serve their nation and make the world a better place … I will continue to work tirelessly until the ‘Peace Corps Reauthorization Act’ is on President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.”

     

     

    Sexual assault is a central concern — as it needs to be.

    Along with high praise and the importance of the Peace Corps, today’s debate also brought renewed focus to the deep concerns about Volunteers who have been victims of sexual assault.

    While lawmakers noted important reforms are included in the legislation, committee members cited recent journalistic investigations and Peace Corps Inspector General reports as far back as 2013 indicating that sexual assault in the agency remains as a serious problem — and that more needs to be done

    Citing the April 22, 2021 in-depth investigative story in USA Today on sexual assault within the Peace Corps, Rep. Wagner said, “Tragically, one out of every three Volunteers who finished service in 2019 reported experiencing a sexual assault; Volunteers have also reported a hesitancy to describe these cases to the Peace Corps due to fear of retaliation or criticism. This is devastating.”

     

    “Tragically, one out of every three Volunteers who finished service in 2019 reported experiencing a sexual assault; Volunteers have also reported a hesitancy to describe these cases to the Peace Corps due to fear of retaliation or criticism. This is devastating.”
    — Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO)

     

    An amendment introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) proposed withholding agency funding outlined in the legislation until the Peace Corps satisfied all recommendations made by the agency Inspector General to further address sexual assault mitigation strategies. Noting that no Volunteers are currently serving overseas, Perry said, “If we are going to do it, now is the time.”

    The Perry amendment was defeated by a vote of 26 to 21 along party lines. In opposing the amendment, Chairman Meeks noted the amendment was issued 10 minutes before the start of the committee meeting. He said staff reached out to the Office of the Inspector General for Peace Corps, which said in part that interruptions in funding could interfere with the agency’s ability to satisfy all IG recommendations. Meeks also cited reforms in the amended bill — such as language to protect Volunteers from reprisals or retaliation, and the extension of the Sexual Assault Advisory Council to continue its work through 2025 — as examples of reforms that further address Volunteer safety and security.

    The committee’s very necessary focus on addressing sexual assault in the Peace Corps comes just days after National Peace Corps Association hosted a global conference for the Peace Corps community that included a panel tackling safety and security for Volunteers 10 years after the passage of the Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act. A key takeaway in that panel discussion, too: Peace Corps needs to do better — but there is never a time when the agency can check off a box and say the work is done.

     


    A better and stronger Peace Corps

    Following Thursday’s committee action, National Peace Corps Association released this statement from President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst:

    “This is a very good day for the Peace Corps and its future. While we are continuing to review and consider some of the alterations made to the original version of the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, all of the foundational elements of this landmark legislation remain. We want to thank Chairman Meeks, Ranking Member McCaul, Representative Wagner, committee staff, and all members of the committee who voted in favor of H.R. 1456 and took this first, critical step toward passing this legislation. From protecting whistleblowers to providing Peace Corps the robust funding it needs to help our country re-engage with the world, these are important reforms. 

     

    “To our community and other friends of the Peace Corps, make no mistake. Today’s action was a significant step, but it is only one step in a lengthy process to pass this legislation in both chambers of Congress and send the bill to the president for his signature. Every individual who believes in a stronger and better and well-resourced Peace Corps needs to help us pass H.R. 1456.”
    —Glenn Blumhorst, NPCA President & CEO

     

    “We are most grateful to our RPCV friend, Representative John Garamendi, his bipartisan counterpart Garret Graves, and their hardworking staff for their months-long dedication and determination in which they consulted, collaborated, and created this comprehensive Peace Corps legislation. Representative Garamendi has often noted that he wants his legislation to be about and for the Peace Corps Volunteer. In so many important ways related to health and safety, Volunteer and RPCV support, strengthened reporting guidelines and professional resources, and respecting and honoring Peace Corps service, this legislation advances those causes. It supports those Volunteers forced home prematurely by the pandemic who want to return to their service as soon as possible, and also supports the next wave of Peace Corps Volunteer recruits who anxiously await word on their opportunity to serve our nation.

    “To our community and other friends of the Peace Corps, make no mistake. Today’s action was a significant step, but it is only one step in a lengthy process to pass this legislation in both chambers of Congress and send the bill to the president for his signature. Every individual who believes in a stronger and better and well-resourced Peace Corps needs to help us pass H.R. 1456.”

     

     

    What has changed in the bill?

    The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 was originally introduced in March. Today, items from the original bill that were altered include the following:

    Recommended Peace Corps Appropriations: While the amendment retains language supporting regular, annual calls for increased funding for the Peace Corps reaching $550 million through Fiscal Year 2024, the new language drops the recommended target of $600 million in funding by Fiscal Year 2025.

    Volunteer Readjustment Allowance: The amendment would set the current Volunteer readjustment allowance ($375/month) as the statutory minimum allowance for Volunteers going forward. It removes the proposal to mandate raising that minimum to $417, retaining the agency’s authority to determine when the allowance should be increased.

    Post-Service Health Coverage for Returned Volunteers: The traditional period in which the Peace Corps pays for post-service health insurance for returning Volunteers would be increased from 30 days to 60 days under the amendment. That’s one month less than the 90 days proposed in the original Garamendi-Graves bill.

    Protection of Peace Corps Volunteers Against Reprisals or Retaliation: Language in the Garamendi-Graves legislation pertaining to whistleblower protection has been amended so that it now outlines recommended procedures and policies to protect Volunteers from acts of reprisal or retaliation.

     

     

    What has not changed in the bill?

    Items from the original bill that were unchanged include the following:

    Workers Compensation Increase: The Meeks amendment retains language calling for an increase in the rate of compensation for RPCVs who come home and are unable to work due to service related illness or injury. This provision is a primary reason why the legislation will next be considered by the House Education and Labor Committee.

    GAO Reporting on Mental Health: The amendment retains language requesting a report by the Government Accountability Office on the status and possible improvements related to mental health services provided to RPCVs upon coming home from service. Better mental health support is one of the community-driven recommendations NPCA provides in the report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.”

    Menstrual Equity Act: The amendment continues to include text of H.R. 1467, the Menstrual Equity in the Peace Corps Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). This legislation requires the Peace Corps to ensure access to menstrual products for Volunteers who require them, either by increasing stipends or providing the products for affected Volunteers.

    Anti-Malarial Drugs: The amendment retains language stating that the Peace Corps shall consult with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on recommendations in prescribing malaria prophylaxis, and that the agency shall address training of medical personnel in malaria countries on side effects of such medications.

    Respect for Peace Corps Volunteers Act: The amendment continues to include text of H.R. 4188, the Respect for Peace Corps Volunteers Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA). This would confirm that an allowable use of the Peace Corps name, official seal, and emblem would include its use at gravesites or in death notices.

     


    What’s been added to the bill?

    Items that were added to the original bill include the following:

    Increased Duration for Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE): The amendment retains language in the Garamendi-Graves bill that would protect the full NCE benefit for new Volunteers should they be unable to work due to illness or injury upon returning home, or if there is a federal government shutdown or hiring freeze. The amendment would also extend the general length of NCE from one year to two years.

    Extension of Sexual Assault Advisory Council: The Kate Puzey Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 created  the Peace Corps’ Sexual Assault Advisory Council. In 2018, the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act extended the work of of the council through 2023. The Meeks amendment would extend the work of the council through 2025.

    Peace Corps Service Deployments in the U.S.: Given the emergency deployment of Peace Corps Volunteers in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the service by Volunteers to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency with COVID relief in 2021, the Meeks amendment would codify into law the allowance of future Volunteer deployment in the U.S. at the request of another federal agency.

    Expanded Language on Virtual Service Opportunities: The amendment expands language regarding virtual volunteer opportunities and incorporates it into the Peace Corps Act. It notes that this expands opportunities to recruit individuals who face barriers to serving physically in a country outside the U.S.

    Additional Reporting Requirements: Along with the reporting requirements already outlined in the Garamendi-Graves legislation, the amendment includes additional reporting requirements on Peace Corps guidelines and standards used to evaluate the mental health of Peace Corps applicants prior to service. It calls for more detailed information on the number of evacuations due to medical or mental health circumstances, and associated costs. 

     

    READ MORE: Text of the full amended version of H.R. 1456 approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee on September 30, 2021. 

    YOU MIGHT ALSO BE INTERESTED IN: Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings and NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst: “After the fall of Afghanistan, we need the rise the Peace Corps.” Guest essay in The Hill on September 30, 2021.

     

    Story published Sept. 30, 2021. Updated October 6, 2021 to include press release by John Garamendi.


    Jonathan Pearson is the Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. If you’d like to get involved in advocating for H.R. 1456, email him:  advocacy@peacecorpsconnect.org

     September 30, 2021
  • Steven Saum posted an article
    A statement from the Chair of the Board of Directors of National Peace Corps Association. see more

    An in-depth work of investigative journalism has shone light on a horrific problem. There are steps we can take now. A statement from the Chair of the Board of Directors of National Peace Corps Association.

    By Maricarmen Smith-Martinez

     

    Today USA Today published an in-depth investigative piece chronicling the experiences of multiple women who have been victims of sexual assault while serving as Peace Corps Volunteers. Their stories are devastating. And the statistics cited in the article about the prevalence of sexual assault are profoundly disturbing.

    We owe it to these women to read their stories — and to truly hear what they are saying. Those of us who have been victims of sexual assault know firsthand that it takes immense courage to come forward, especially given how the initial reports of these women were handled. And let us be unequivocal: There must be zero tolerance when it comes to sexual misconduct within the ranks of Peace Corps staff.

    We owe it to all Volunteers — past, present, and future — as well as their families, to ensure that Peace Corps does better.

    Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn issued a statement today outlining how the agency is addressing these very serious issues. All of the incidents chronicled in the story have been referred to the Peace Corps Inspector General for investigation. And Spahn has made sure that returned Volunteers know they can reach out directly to the Inspector General, as well as to the agency. 

    We underscore that call throughout the Peace Corps community: We must ensure your voices are heard. And on behalf of myself, the board and staff at National Peace Corps Association, we want you to know that you can reach out to us as well. We are here to listen — and to support you. 

     

    Following the Letter of the Law

    Just a few weeks ago, at an event marking the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps, former Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet recounted once again how, while she served as a Volunteer in Western Samoa in the 1980s, she was a victim of repeated sexual assault by a Peace Corps staff member. And again, she recounted how the Peace Corps failed to take action.

    Since that time we know that progress has been made. The Kate Puzey Act led to the establishment of a sexual assault advisory council in 2013. The Sam Farr/Nick Castle Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act was passed in 2018 and includes strengthened criteria for hiring overseas doctors and medical support staff and lays down a number of critical requirements:

    • evaluation of all medical staff for compliance to all relevant policies and guidelines
    • accessible health and safety information for Peace Corps applicants before they are assigned to a particular country
    • designated staff at each post to serve victims of sexual assault
    • authority for the Sexual Assault Advisory Council to conduct case reviews. 

    In this moment, when there are no Volunteers in the field, it provides an opportunity and a responsibility for Peace Corps to conduct a thorough review of the Farr/Castle law and other previously passed legislation to ensure full compliance in all aspects. We are very concerned that this is not the case at this time.

    The statement issued today by the Peace Corps notes that a new Security Incident Management System is being deployed. We know from conversations with the agency that, in lay terms, this will integrate systems for reporting and tracking sexual assaults and other crimes. That is part of the solution. A broader effort on implementing better tech-driven systems to serve Volunteers and communities is also underway while there are no Volunteers in the field. But, again, this is only part of the solution.

     

    We Must Protect Whistleblowers

    What is also part of the solution: legislation introduced to the House of Representatives on March 1 — H.R. 1456 — which provides whistleblower protection for Volunteers. As noted by bill sponsor John Garamendi (D-CA), the bill “Extends whistleblower and anti-retaliatory protections that currently apply to Peace Corps contractors to Peace Corps Volunteers, including protections against reprisals by any Peace Corps employee, Volunteer supervisor, or outside contractor.” This legislation also directs the Peace Corps and U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security to update plans and protocols for Peace Corps Volunteer security support and protection in foreign countries.

    As Emma Tremblay, one of the women who shares her heartbreaking story in the USA Today piece notes, passing this legislation is one way to show support for her and other Volunteers.

     

    We know that beyond this legislation much work remains to be done. And we know that it is our responsibility as engaged members of the Peace Corps community to ensure that efforts continue. After all, it is in the mission of National Peace Corps Association to ensure that Peace Corps is the best that it can be. An agency where sexual assault metastasized in recent years has tremendous work to do.

    It shouldn’t escape notice that April is sexual assault awareness month. This is not something that we should think about in the abstract. Every victim of an assault — like the women who share their stories in this article — is a person whose life has been deeply harmed.

    It should not escape notice that only this week Kathy Buller, Peace Corps Inspector General — and executive chair for the Council of the Inspector General on Integrity and Efficiency’s legislation committee — was testifying before Congress regarding the importance of the independence and reinforcement of the work by inspectors general throughout the government.

    And it absolutely should not escape notice that, while this particular USA Today piece focuses on the stories of women who are white, Peace Corps and others must ensure that victims who are people of color receive the full support throughout their service and afterward. Racial justice and equity demand it.

    Let’s take to heart what legal scholar Catharine MacKinnnon wrote in The Atlantic two years ago, reflecting on the rise of the #MeToo movement: “Conceive a revolution without violence against domination and aggression. Envision a moment of truth and a movement of transformation for the sexually violated toward a more equal, therefore a more peaceful and just, world.”


    Maricarmen Smith-Martinez is Chair of the Board of Directors for National Peace Corps Association. She served as a Volunteer in Costa Rica 2006–08.

    • Joanne Roll It is important to note the Office of the Inspector General of the Peace Corps has been investigating the problems associated with implementation of these laws for ten years. There is one page... see more It is important to note the Office of the Inspector General of the Peace Corps has been investigating the problems associated with implementation of these laws for ten years. There is one page which lists all the reports done. The OIG has no enfocement power. Here is a link to that page: www.peacecorps.gov/about/inspect...
      5 months ago
  • Steven Saum posted an article
    We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine the agency see more

    With our allies in Congress, we’re working to ensure that the administration understands this is no time to return to the status quo. We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine, reshape, and retool for a changed world.

    By Glenn Blumhorst

     

     

    Many of us in the Peace Corps community took note of the pledge in President Biden’s inaugural address to “engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And, we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” 

    Those words resonate with the Peace Corps mission, not with a sense of “be like us!” but with a sense of solidarity and commitment to working and learning alongside one another, wherever we serve. One of the messages we’re driving home to members of Congress and the Executive Branch: If we’re reengaging with the world, let’s do it with ideals that are supposed to represent what’s best about this country — even as we work in our communities and at the national level to build a more perfect union. 

    That said, if we value the role of the Peace Corps, we have to be serious about reimagining, retooling, and reshaping the agency for a changed world. As the administration appoints new leadership for the agency, it is critical that it brings on board not only a director but top staff who reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice, and that these leaders come equipped with global experience and a deep understanding of — and commitment to — the Peace Corps community.

     

    Equity, experience, and community

    At the Peace Corps agency, January 20 marked the departure of Director Jody Olsen, who led the agency during unprecedented times, including the global evacuation of Volunteers in spring 2020. Last fall she was optimistic about Volunteers returning to the field as early as January 2021. But by December it was clear that was no longer a possibility. Plans are now for Volunteers to return in the second half of 2021. The health and safety of communities and Volunteers is paramount.

    Carol Spahn has been named Acting Director of the Peace Corps. The Biden Administration has also begun to announce new political appointments. We’re meeting with Spahn and the leadership team as it takes form to ensure that we keep moving forward with the big ideas the Peace Corps community has outlined to meet the needs of a world as it is, not as it was. For Peace Corps, as with so much in this country, now is not the time to return to the status quo. Now is the time for historic changes.

    When many hundreds of members of the Peace Corps community came together in summer 2020 for a series of town hall meetings and a global ideas summit, it was with a sense of an agency, a nation, and a world facing multiple crises. From those meetings came “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” a community-driven report that brings together big ideas and targeted, actionable recommendations for the agency and the Executive Branch, Congress, and the wider Peace Corps community — particularly NPCA. 

     

    Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential.

     

    Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential: that many of them address longstanding issues and sorely needed changes, but there never had been the opportunity to undertake them on a major scale. Now is that time.

    Whom the Biden Administration appoints to top posts at the agency sends a powerful signal to the community. Will the leaders reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice — and a serious commitment to the quarter million strong Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community? Members of Congress who have been champions for Peace Corps funding are watching as well. 

     

    A roadmap for change

    The report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” provides a roadmap for change. While the report is far-ranging in point-by-point recommendations that are grouped into eight separate chapters, here are three overriding themes that emerged. We’re working to ensure that the administration and new staff at the agency take these to heart: 

     

    1. The Peace Corps community must be a leader in addressing systemic racism.

    The Peace Corps agency, like American society as a whole, is grappling with how to evolve so that its work fulfills the promise of our ideals. This means tackling agency hiring and recruitment, and greater support for Volunteers who are people of color, to ensure an equitable Peace Corps experience. It also means ensuring that perceptions of a “white savior complex” and neocolonialism are not reinforced. These are criticisms leveled at much work in international development, where not all actors are bound by the kinds of ideals that are meant to guide the Peace Corps. Conversely, many in the U.S. bristle when hearing these terms; but it’s important to both recognize the context and address them head-on to enable a more effective and welcome return for Volunteers. 

     

    2. The Peace Corps agency needs to stand by its community — and leverage it for impact. 

    The agency’s work is only as good as the contributions of the people who make it run. This does not mean only staff but includes, in particular, the broader community of Volunteers and returned Volunteers. In programs around the world, it absolutely includes the colleagues and communities that host Volunteers. NPCA has demonstrated that it is both possible and beneficial to become community-driven to promote the goals of the Peace Corps. Community-driven programming will keep the work both current and relevant to the world around us, ensuring that the agency succeeds in its mission in a changed world.

     

    3. Now is the moment for the Peace Corps agency to make dramatic change. 

    The opportunity for a reimagined and re-booted Peace Corps now exists and it should be taken.

     

    Who is there to lead the change matters. From the Peace Corps community, this message came through clearly: When it comes to the permanent director, they should be an individual of national stature, preferably a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, who is committed to transformational change at the agency. They must have the gravitas to advance the Peace Corps’ interests with both Congress and the White House while also making the case to the American people about the value of a renewed Peace Corps for the United States — and communities throughout the world.

    In an unprecedented time, the Peace Corps community has come together with an unparalleled response. With the new administration, there are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with years of experience already taking on key roles in the U.S. Department of State, Department of Labor, and National Security Council. These appointments show a value placed on experience and racial equity — and a commitment to leading with the best. Let’s ensure that commitment carries over to Peace Corps as well. 


    Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    Our May advocacy agenda includes thank you messages, targeted legislative advocacy and media work! see more

    Now is a good time to thank representatives who signed on to the House Dear Colleague Letter. And there’s work ahead on bolstering support for the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act — and ensuring a robust budget to provide critical support for Volunteers — particularly when it comes to health and safety.

    By Jonathan Pearson

     

    Our National Days of Advocacy in Support of the Peace Corps included more than 90 events and activities in March and April, with more scheduled for May — and more still being planned. Now is a good time to say thank you to Representatives who signed the House Peace Corps Funding Dear Colleague Letter.

    We still have important work ahead on bolstering support for the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (House Bill 1456), with the possibility of similar legislation being introduced in the Senate this month.

    And when President Biden releases a proposed budget for Peace Corps, we’ll need your help to ensure that Peace Corps has the funds to provide critical support for Volunteers — particularly when it comes to health and safety. 

    So, what’s next? Here’s our May agenda:

     

    Say thank you!

    Over the last few weeks we received an outpouring of support from representatives who signed the annual House Peace Corps Funding Dear Colleague Letter. If your member signed the letter, join us in thanking them for their support, and encouraging them to continue to champion Peace Corps–related legislation in order to improve and strengthen the Peace Corps. We are awaiting the release of a similar Senate Dear Colleague letter and will need your mobilization when the letter is issued.

     

    More House co-sponsors and Senate legislation?

    We still have some very important work to do with the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (House Bill 1456). With 45 confirmed co-sponsors (only three fewer than in the previous Congress), we must continue to encourage our representatives to co-sponsor this bill strengthening Peace Corps funding, programming, and Volunteer support. The proposed funding increases over four years would allow for us to build back a better Peace Corps that is capable of enacting many of the crucial changes that the Peace Corps community has raised as priorities. 

    May could also be the month when a similar reauthorization bill is introduced in the Senate. We hope that more information will be available soon. Keep an eye out for this anticipated legislation — and join us in supporting it! 

     

    Biden budget and media mobilization

    President Biden has already provided an overview of his much anticipated Fiscal Year 2022 budget, including a recommended 12 percent increase in our nation's international affairs programs. In the next two weeks, the White House is expected to send a fully detailed budget to Congress, including recommended funding for the Peace Corps.

    As the president's budget release will likely garner significant media attention, we want to be prepared to respond to news stories with letters-to-the-editor highlighting the Peace Corps portion of the budget. Can you plan to help us?  Write to us at advocacy@peacecorpsconnect.org to express your willingness to help. Include the city and state where you reside.

     

    Other actions

    Our action center continues to promote other issues through which you can raise your voice with your elected officials. Members of our community who have significant student loan debt can share your experiences with Congress as it debates this issue. You can also raise your Peace Corps community voice to your Senators, who have the House-passed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act before them now.

     


    Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Write him.

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    A momentous anniversary. And we are coming together to commemorate, celebrate, and act! see more

    This year we mark 60 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the legislation creating the Peace Corps. Celebrate the moment in the morning. Take part in special advocacy programs throughout the day. And stay tuned for special news and commemorations from Capitol Hill.

    By Jonathan Pearson

     

    PHOTO: President John F. Kennedy signs the Peace Corps Act on September 22, 1961. Courtesy JFK Presidential Library and Museum

     

    As you prepare to join National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) for the 60th anniversary Peace Corps Connect conference September 23–25, we also invite you to take part in a special commemoration on September 22 — the anniversary of the signing of the Peace Corps Act.

    While plans are being finalized, here is the programming you can expect, with individual links to register for each event throughout the day.

     

    SEPTEMBER 22, 2021 | SCHEDULE 

    Events and timing subject to change. 

     

    Mark the Moment

    9:30 AM – 10:30 AM (Eastern)

    September 22, 1961 at 9:45 AM. That was the moment when President John F. Kennedy signed congressional legislation that formally established the Peace Corps. Join NPCA to celebrate this moment. Former Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, and Peace Corps pioneers Bill Josephson and Bill Moyers are scheduled to join us. Register here.

     

    Social Media Mobilization

    1:30 PM – 2:30 PM (Eastern)

    Have a Twitter account? Are you a regular on Facebook or Instagram? Got connections that run far and wide on LinkedIn? Make plans to be part of a nationwide social media mobilization to amplify the importance of the Peace Corps at this historic 60th anniversary moment. While activity is likely and encouraged throughout the day, you can also plan to stop by anytime during an hour-long zoom gathering to say hello to others, hear the latest from NPCA leaders and citizen advocates, and celebrate 60 years of the Peace Corps! Whether you stop by the virtual gathering or not, help amplify Peace Corps through social media: Register here and we’ll keep you in the loop.

     

    Honor Those Who Have Served | In-Person Wreath Laying at John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery

    4:00 PM – 5:30 PM (Eastern)

    Northern Virginia Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (NOVARPCV) host a wreath-laying ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Speakers include Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn; former Congressman and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Sam Farr;  returned Volunteer Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); and NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst, who will speak on the legacy of the Peace Corps to honor President John F. Kennedy. Following speeches, attendees will walk together to the grave site of President John F. Kennedy, where a wreath and flowers will be placed. This is an in-person event. Learn more and register here.

     

    Learn the Ropes: How to Become a Citizen Advocate

    8:00 PM – 9:00 PM (Eastern)

    If you’re interested in becoming a citizen advocate but aren’t sure how — or if you’re just wading in — this is the most important hour of the day. We need to substantially build our ranks to score significant victories in Congress in this key moment in Peace Corps’ history. Don't think you alone will make a difference? In this program, you’ll hear from NPCA advocates who absolutely have bringing on board legislators who have never supported Peace Corps in the past. Don't think lawmakers listen to what you say? We will hear from RPCV Capitol Hill staff on that topic. Not sure if you can make a difference? Hear some success stories from RPCV advocates. Interested in other issues? Meet members of RPCV special interest affiliate groups on how they bring their Peace Corps voice to the conversation.  

    (UPDATE) We are happy to announce this program will begin with remarks from RPCV Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA), with an appeal to our community to help pass his Peace Corps Reauthorization Act legislation! Register here.

     

    60th Anniversary Live ... from Capitol Hill?

    Times TBD  

    We will be monitoring Capitol Hill for possible Peace Corps-related actions and news on or about September 22 — related to advancing the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, support for Peace Corps funding, or commemorating the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Corps Act. Register here to be notified about any key Peace Corps developments that will be broadcast live from Capitol Hill.

      

    Story updated September 21, 2021 at 5:00 PM


    Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association.

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Sixty Years of Peace Corps see more

    Letters, emails, LinkedIn and Instagram comments, Facebook posts, tweets, and other missives: Readers respond to the stories in words and images in the Spring 2021 edition of WorldView. We’re happy to continue the conversation here and on all those nifty social media platforms. One way to write us: worldview@peacecorpsconnect.org

     

    Sixty Years of Peace Corps


    Thanks for another great issue! Glad you included “If I had three minutes to talk to President Biden about the Peace Corps…,” which we heard in March, and then lots of other good stories such as “Once More, with Feeling” in Moldova and “Triage, Respite, and Isolation” at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. Glad, too, to be able to read on paper! Hoping for some in-person meetings in D.C. in September.

    Peace,

    Angene Wilson

    Liberia 1962–64

     

    While we’re not able to gather for Peace Corps Connect in person in September, some affiliate groups representing individual countries of service are holding their own reunions. And a wreath-laying ceremony will take place in person at the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. More info, including a schedule for the conference and registration: bit.ly/peace-corps-connect-2021 —Ed.

     


    US capitol with red and blue stripes in skyLegislation for a Changed World

    Much thanks to NPCA for drawing our attention to the current effort to reauthorize the Peace Corps Act (H.R. 1456). This important legislation has been introduced by John Garamendi (D-CA; Ethiopia 1966–68) and co-sponsored by Garret Graves (R-LA). It has been decades since the Peace Corps’ organic legislation was last comprehensively reviewed and updated in 1999. The world has changed a lot since then, and the Peace Corps Act needs to be updated to keep up with those changes.

    Between the two of us (father and daughter) we have extensive Peace Corps experience, including two tours as Volunteers, five years of work in Peace Corps Recruitment, Peace Corps Employee Union work, and currently one of us is a Peace Corps Response candidate. Our work with the Peace Corps has given us insight into the deficiencies of the current law governing the Peace Corps. We desperately need an airing of any systemic problems so that reasonable solutions can be implemented. This effort will make the program more efficient and effective in the 21st century.

    So … consider the baton passed! NPCA has alerted the Peace Corps community to the reauthorization effort. It is now incumbent upon us to contact our congressional representatives and encourage its passage. If you are reading this letter, stop now and go do it! What are you waiting for?

    Aaron King

    Ghana 1981–83

     

    Natasha King

    Morocco 2017–19

     


    Vaccine Distribution

    I served in Ghana in the mid-’70s and have followed President Biden in his COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. He was asked if he would consider sending the vaccine overseas once we got the virus under control and we accumulated a surplus. The president’s response was quick in the affirmative, since we are aware that it is a global pandemic. I would like to suggest that the priority list for countries receiving our surplus should be countries that currently host Peace Corps Volunteers. It would be beneficial to both the host countries and the Volunteers.

    As a side note, my daughter was also a Volunteer. She served in Botswana 2008–10.

    Leebrick Nakama

    Ghana 1976–78

     


    stopwatch“If I had three minutes to talk to President Biden about the Peace Corps…”

    I’d say: 1) We know you support Peace Corps; thank you. 2) Please double the budget. 3) Lead retooling, re-entry, and re-engagement into host nations with public health efforts at the forefront.

    Nate Engle

    Madagascar 2004–06

    via LinkedIn

     

    What is the cost of public benefit/value and global net welfare gain via supranational peace in the long run? That’s just one reason I’m proud not only to have served in the Peace Corps, but to be an American. Many nations make allies to go to war. The U.S. decidedly makes allies to not go to war, while also promoting friendship across borders.

    Jesse Fowler

    Mexico 2020

    via LinkedIn

     

    If I had three minutes I would tell the president to definitely not expand the Peace Corps. Typical of government and organizations: If it’s working, let’s just expand it until it’s dysfunctional. Rather, put more young and old people to work in this country and keep the international portion selective and efficient.

    Jerry Wager

    Guyana 1967–69

     


    Peace Corps Connect to the Future

    Peace Corps Connect to the Future

    I read through your whole Winter 2021 publication and do want to tell you how much I appreciated it. I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with all of your  proposals for the future of Peace Corps; there is definitely a generation gap. 

    I am now 95 years old (and was obviously an “older” Volunteer), yet I still feel very much in tune with the concept and the actual organization. I served in the Dominican Republic 1987–89 in rural development, and before the electronic age. Yet, as I read the stories of the various recent Volunteers, their experiences don’t seem so different from mine.

    Thank you for keeping us returned Volunteers informed.

    Rose-Marie Ullman

    Dominican Republic 1987–89

     

    Thank you for amplifying the discussion of diversity in the Peace Corps community. That spurred our minimally-diverse TCP Global team to look beyond the ranks of RPCVs. Not too surprising, adding two Kenyan Americans and one representative each from Uganda, Nigeria, Niger, and Nepal helps all of us to better address the different challenges and opportunities in different regions. Their presence on the team serves as a welcome sign for site administrators to offer their own suggestions for improving service, much as Colombia Project administrators helped to perfect our model over the first seven years in Colombia. We are still a work in progress and are fortunate to have natives of five countries we serve helping us chart the course ahead.  

    Helene Dudley

    Co-Executive Director, TCP Global

    Colombia 1968–70, Slovak Republic 1997–99 

     


    Corrections: Politics, and that would be March 2021

    Our Spring 2021 roundup of returned Volunteers serving in state government (page 47 in print) should have included one who recently made the move from the hospital to the capitol in Wisconsin: Sara Rodriguez was elected to the state legislature in 2020. She served with the Peace Corps in Samoa 1997–99, as a health education Volunteer focused on HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. She has worked as a nurse, in epidemiology with the CDC, and as a healthcare executive. 

    In print, “What Lies Ahead for the Peace Corps” (page 15) contained a slip of the year in the intro: Carol Spahn’s remarks were given at the Shriver Leadership Summit in March 2021, not 2020. 

     

    WRITE US: worldview@peacecorpsconnect.org

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    In June, legislation was introduced to enlist the Peace Corps U.S. assistance against Covid-19. see more

    The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 is the biggest, most sweeping piece of legislation affecting the Peace Corps in years. Here are some individual pieces of legislation that you should also know about.

     

    By NPCA Staff

     

     

    A Sign of Respect

    Though they may not realize it, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to display the Peace Corps emblem on a grave marker or in an obituary. And unauthorized use of the Peace Corps logo, even for memorial purposes, carries the risk of a $500 fine or jail time. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) has again presented legislation to change that. On June 25, he and Garret Graves (R-LA) introduced the bipartisan Respect for Peace Corps Volunteers Act (H.R. 4188), along with five co-sponsors. The bill would amend the Peace Corps Act to allow use of the name and logo of the Peace Corps on grave markers and in obituaries alike.

    “The service and commitment shown by these Volunteers displays the best of our country and has earned them the right to proudly display their insignia,” Sires notes in a release. From Graves: “Our Peace Corps Volunteers make incredible commitments to help developing countries around the globe. Their mission is a powerful demonstration of America’s values. Providing them this honor is justified based on their service to our country.”

    Sires originally introduced the legislation in 2013. The provisions it stakes out are also incorporated into the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 (H.R. 1456), introduced in March by Rep. John Garamendi, who served as a Volunteer in Ethiopia 1966–68. 

     

    NOVID Against COVID

    In June, legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate that would enlist the Peace Corps as part of an effort to expand U.S. assistance to other countries battling COVID-19. The Nullifying Opportunities for Variants to Infect and Decimate (NOVID) Act is sponsored by Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) in the House and by Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in the Senate. In principle, the legislation takes a cue from the Lend-Lease Act in the Second World War; in approach, it’s modeled on a program introduced in 2003, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has helped save 20 million lives. 

    Peace Corps Volunteers have long been involved with PEPFAR-related efforts to combat AIDS. The new program would establish the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Program (PanPReP) to coordinate U.S. efforts involving the Peace Corps and other agencies, including the State Department, USAID, and the CDC, along with international NGOs and foreign governments. It calls for investments to increase production, procurement, and end-to-end distribution of vaccines in nations eligible to receive vaccines through the COVAX program. 

    “So long as COVID-19 continues to thrive anywhere, it’s a threat to everyone everywhere,” Krishnamoorthi said in a statement. “That means we need the global response the NOVID Act would provide.”

     

    Absent from the Budget Bill: Helms Amendment

    When the House of Representatives passed the State Department and foreign assistance spending bill at the end of July, notably missing from the text was the Helms Amendment, a half-century-old provision that blocks U.S. funding for women’s health services related to abortions. Per a ruling in 1978, that amendment has prohibited funding for abortions for Peace Corps Volunteers; the amendment was updated in 2015 to allow abortions for Volunteers when the life of a woman is endangered by a pregnancy, or in cases of rape or incest. 

    The legislation passed by the House this summer also included a permanent repeal of what’s known as the Global Gag Rule, a measure that since 1984 has prohibited U.S. funding for organizations that provide access to or information about abortions, even if U.S. funds are not used for those services. 

    The Senate has yet to introduce a State/foreign assistance bill — so it remains to be seen whether these measures will carry forward.

     

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Two returned Volunteers in the Midwest reach out to Congress for the first time. see more

    This year, for the first time, two returned Volunteers in the Midwest reached out to their members of Congress to talk about Peace Corps. That effort made a difference at a critical moment.

     

    By Jonathan Pearson

     

    From her home in central Illinois, Nikki Overcash had written to her elected representatives in the past, but she had never asked for a meeting or directly engaged with them. She heads up academic services at Illinois College, not far from the state capital, Springfield. This past spring, when National Peace Corps Association put out a call for returned Volunteers to seek meetings with their members of Congress during the National Days of Advocacy, she decided now was the moment.

    She reached out to Rep. Rodney Davis, the Republican who represents Illinois’ 13th district, which stretches from the city of Champaign west to the Mississippi River. 

    “A significant part of who I am today can be attributed to my Peace Corps experience,” Overcash says. Peace Corps service took her to China 2007–09 as an education Volunteer. She forged deep friendships. And more broadly, she says, “Serving allowed me to better understand myself, America, China, and global connections with much more nuance.”

     

    “Serving allowed me to better understand myself, America, China, and global connections with much more nuance.”

     

    Maria Arnaiz is no novice when it comes to meetings with members of Congress. For her, home is northeast Ohio, near Akron. She serves as a legislative and advocacy chair for the Ohio State PTA and, as a board member of three nonprofit organizations, has participated in annual congressional meetings. Peace Corps service took her to the Democratic Republic of Congo 1984–88; she worked as a fisheries extension Volunteer. 

    When NPCA called on returned Volunteers to arrange meetings with Congress in the spring, she put in a request for a meeting with Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who represents the state’s 18th district and calls Akron home.

    Why this year? Part of Arnaiz’s motivation was another, future member of the Peace Corps community. “My son, Emilio Bloch, has been accepted to serve in Rwanda in the maternal and infant health program,” she says. “He was supposed to have left in August 2020.” 

    But as COVID-19 swept the globe in March 2020, Peace Corps temporarily suspended all programs around the world; Volunteers have yet to return to service overseas. Arnaiz’s son grew up hearing about her experience in the Peace Corps; it’s something he wants to understand firsthand. So, Arnaiz says, “Organizing the congressional meeting and advocating for Peace Corps funding so that Volunteers could return to the field was an obvious way for me to help him get that opportunity.”

     

     

    Illustration by John S. Dykes

     

     

    See People as People

    What difference could a couple of meetings make? When the annual House of Representatives Peace Corps funding “Dear Colleague” letter was issued in April — a letter requesting $40 million in additional funding for the agency, to ensure financial support for important reforms — a dozen Republicans were among the 156 lawmakers who signed. Representatives Rodney Davis and Anthony Gonzalez were on board. For both, it was a first. 

    In Illinois, Nikki Overcash worked with Rodney Davis’s district office to arrange one of the first in-person meetings the congressman had held since the pandemic began. During their conversation, Overcash learned that Davis had a friendly relationship with fellow Republican Garret Graves of Louisiana, the lead Republican on both the Peace Corps funding letter and the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1456).

    And, as often happens in congressional meetings, mention of the Peace Corps led to a personal connection. One of Davis’s staff members knew another returned Volunteer from Illinois who was now in Washington, D.C., working for the Peace Corps agency.

    Arnaiz used materials and talking points provided by NPCA and put together a personalized introductory document, which she sent to Anthony Gonzalez’s office. Arnaiz is also a member of the Northern Ohio RPCVs, an affiliate group of NPCA; she recruited Ann Jankowski, a fellow Gonzalez constituent and returned Volunteer (Guatemala 1988–91), for the meeting. Naturally, Arnaiz’s son Emilio also took part.

     

    “He believes national service, like the Peace Corps, is a way to bridge the divide in our society, an opportunity for people with different backgrounds to work together. He’s a big believer in getting people to see others beyond the caricatures; to see people as people.”

     

    Soon after the meeting began, Representative Gonzalez told us he would support the Peace Corps funding letter because he believes in national service,” Arnaiz says. “He told us a bit of his experience in the Capitol building during January 6th. He was disturbed by the anger and violence. He believes national service, like the Peace Corps, is a way to bridge the divide in our society, an opportunity for people with different backgrounds to work together. He’s a big believer in getting people to see others beyond the caricatures; to see people as people.”

    When it comes to arranging meetings with members of Congress, Overcash says that fellow returned Volunteers shouldn’t let limited experience give them pause. “National Peace Corps Association has your back throughout the process! Even if you only have a little time to give, that time will be used fruitfully thanks to the strong support and resources offered by the wonderful team.”

    Arnaiz says that while it sounds like a cliché, her advice to other RPCVs is: “Just go ahead and do it. Meeting your representative and advocating for things you believe in is an effective way to be the solution to the problem. Representative Gonzalez, like other political actors I have met, said that a personal story that humanizes the numbers really makes an impact.”

     


    Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Get involved in advocacy by dropping him a line: advocacy@peacecorpsconnect.org

     September 10, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Peace Corps Funding: The House Says It’s Time to Invest in More see more

    It has been six years since the Peace Corps received a meaningful increase in its baseline funding. Could this be the year that changes?

     

    By Jonathon Pearson

    Illustration by John S. Dykes

     

    In December 2015, President Obama signed an appropriations bill that provided $410 million for the Peace Corps, an increase of about $30 million. Since then, the agency has received a mere $500,000 bump in annual appropriation — one-tenth of 1 percent. Indeed, the Peace Corps community has spent much time in recent years fending off proposed cuts while some needed reforms languished — due, in part, to lack of funding.

    In May, the Biden administration put forth its Fiscal Year 2022 budget recommendation: yet another year of flat funding for the Peace Corps. However, thanks to National Peace Corps Association’s advocacy network and congressional champions, the outlook has brightened. In July, the House of Representatives completed work on the State/Foreign Operations spending package, approving a $20 million jump in Peace Corps funding — about 5 percent. That was half the increase promoted by a bipartisan list of 156 House members who earlier in the year submitted their annual “Dear Colleague” letter to House appropriators.

    The $430.5 million House funding proposal aligns with this year’s Senate Peace Corps funding letter, with 39 senators on board. This news is promising. However, the Senate has yet to take formal action on its State/Foreign Operations appropriations bill. When senators resume work in mid-September, there is no guarantee they will follow the House’s lead. Experience shows that hearing from citizen advocates makes a difference. And an assessment of what’s ahead for the Peace Corps — relaunching Volunteer programs in scores of countries, with safety and security paramount — means a heavy lift.

     

    Write your senator

    Visit NPCA’s Action Center and urge support for no less than $430 million for the Peace Corps as we move toward redeployment of global operations and implementation of key reforms

     September 09, 2021
  • Ana Victoria Cruz posted an article
    National Service includes programs such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and YouthBuild. see more

    By Mark Gearan

     

    The bipartisan, 11-member National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service was created by Congress to find ways to increase participation in military, national, and public service and to review the military selective service process. Our goal is to ignite a national conversation about the importance of service as we develop recommendations for the Congress and the President by March 2020. 

    I am honored to serve as vice chair for national and public service and was privileged to deliver opening remarks during two national service hearings held by the Commission in March 2019. From my years as Peace Corps director, I know RPCVs will have a strong interest in our work and I appreciate this opportunity to update the community on our efforts.

    From February to June of this year, the commission held 14 public hearings and released eight staff memoranda on various topics related to our mission. In March, the commission held two hearings on national service and released a staff memorandum summarizing research and outlining potential policy options the commission is considering on increasing Americans’ propensity to participate in national service.  

    National service is defined in the commission’s mandate as “civilian participation in any non-governmental capacity, including with private for-profit organizations and non-profit organizations (including with appropriate faith-based organizations), that pursues and enhances the common good and meets the needs of communities, the states, or the nation in sectors related to security, health, care for the elderly, and other areas considered appropriate by the Commission.” 

    National Service includes programs such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and YouthBuild. The Commission is also considering ways to include faith-based, non-profit, and private-sector organizations in creating and promoting national service opportunities. 

    As the vice chair for national and public service, former Peace Corps director, and a former college president, our hearings on national service were close to my heart, especially as we hosted them at the Bush School of Government and Public Service. President George H.W. Bush lived his life in service to others and as a leader who believed service could unite Americans. He served as a champion of national service, and it was an honor for the commission to host both hearings at the school that honors his legacy. And I note with pride, that Texas is fourth in the list of top Peace Corps volunteer-producing states with 350 individuals serving in the Peace Corps in 2018.

     

    Reducing Barriers to Service

    A study commissioned by Service Year Alliance in 2015 demonstrated that fewer than one third of 14 to 24-year-olds are aware of service year options. The Commission wants to assure access to these opportunities for all Americans. To do this, the Commission is interested in minimizing barriers to serve, such as stipends and benefits. Improving access to national service will ensure that the diversity of national service volunteers reflects that of the nation.

    When the Peace Corps was established in 1961, it was an innovative and bold idea. Today, more than 230,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers demonstrate the enduring strength of that idea. Peace Corps Volunteers have represented the United States in 141 countries and have left behind a legacy of peace and friendship. 

    At our hearing, Michelle Brooks, Peace Corps chief of staff, testified and argued that federal government investment in programs such as Peace Corps and the various programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service ultimately results in the development of passionate and informed global citizens. Each Peace Corps Volunteer returns to the United States with a proven track record of working in a cross-cultural setting and appreciating and respecting the richness of working across differences. 

    Brooks also shared recommendations the agency would like the commission to consider. Two of those suggestions were: extending Noncompetitive Eligibility status to three years for RPCVs, bringing it in line with most other authorities granting that status; and an NCE Service Registry, an idea Peace Corps is piloting with two federal agencies.

    Ms. Brooks’ full testimony can be found on the Commission’s website at  www.inspire2serve.gov. Do you have additional recommendations to those provided by the Peace Corps during our March hearings on national service? 

     

    Join the Discussion

    I invite you to join us in this important conversation. Our hope is to spark a movement: every American — especially young Americans — inspired and eager to serve. Talk to your friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues and fellow returned Volunteers about the commission, your service experience, and how we can create more national service opportunities for Americans. We want to hear from all of you! 

    Share your ideas with the commission through our website on any aspect of the commission’s mission. For example, how can we create more national service opportunities for Americans, and how can we improve the current national service policies and processes?

    Stay up to date on the commission’s activities and download the Interim Report at www.inspire2serve.gov. Our final report will be released in March 2020 with recommendations for the national service community — and that includes Peace Corps. Stay tuned! We also invite you to follow the commission on Facebook and Twitter via @Inspire2ServeUS and join the digital conversation on service by using the hashtag #Inspire2Serve.


    Mark Gearan currently serves as the vice chair for National and Public Service for the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School and served as the 14th director of the Peace Corps from 1995 to 1999. 

    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Fall 2019 issue.

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    It's the first step in congressional consideration of Peace Corps funding. And the news is good. see more

    On July 28 the House of Representatives approved a $430.5 million Peace Corps budget for 2022 — an increase of 5 percent. It points to the first meaningful increase in funding in six years.

    By Jonathan Pearson

     

    (UPDATE – July 28, 2021, 9:00 PM Eastern): On a mostly party-line vote, the House of Representatives approved a Fiscal Year 2022 spending package for the Department of State and other foreign operations. Included in the $62.2 billion State/Foreign Operations bill is a $20 million funding increase for the Peace Corps — nearly 5 percent. The Senate has not yet taken up its version of a State/Foreign Operations spending bill.

     

    (UPDATE – July 1, 2021, 2:00 PM Eastern): The full House Appropriations Committee today approved a $62.2 billion State/Foreign Operations spending package for Fiscal Year 2022 that includes a recommended $20 million funding increase for the Peace Corps — nearly 5 percent.

    The package was approved on a 32–25 party line vote. It will next head to the full House of Representatives — at a date yet to be determined — for further debate and voting.

    No similar action has been taken yet by the Senate Appropriations Committee in advancing its version of the State/Foreign Operations spending plan for the fiscal year that begins October 1, 2021.

     

    (UPDATE – June 28, 2021, 8:30 PM Eastern): On a voice vote, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for State/Foreign Operations approved a $62.2 billion international affairs budget for Fiscal Year 2022. This represents a 12 percent, $6.7 billion increase over the current fiscal year. Included in this budget is $430.5 million for the Peace Corps, a $20 million increase over current funding. In brief remarks, Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) referenced the Peace Corps as one of several programs that will provide “needed humanitarian assistance” around the world. No amendments to the bill were made, but that could possibly change when the full Appropriations Committee considers this funding package on Thursday morning.

     

    The House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee for State/Foreign Operations had recommended a Fiscal Year 2022 funding package that includes $430.5 million for the Peace Corps.

    This recommendation represents a $20 million increase — nearly 5 percent — in funding for the agency for the fiscal year that begins October 1. A subcommittee vote on this recommendation is expected on Monday evening. Should this figure be eventually approved, it would mark the first meaningful funding increase for the agency in six years. That’s good news for the Peace Corps.

     

    “The Peace Corps is on the way back,” says Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association, upon learning the news. 

     

    “The Peace Corps is on the way back,” said National Peace Corps Association President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst, upon learning the news. “This recommendation by the State/Foreign Operations Subcommittee reinforces congressional support — not only for the robust redeployment of Peace Corps Volunteers — but the importance of providing the agency with funding that will allow for many improvements and reforms that will build a stronger program for the next generation of volunteers. Our community needs to stay engaged to make sure this strong commitment by the subcommittee is advanced.”

    Read the subcommittee’s press release on its entire $62 billion spending package for U.S. international affairs programs. 

    Today’s action was bolstered by the annual Peace Corps funding Dear Colleague letter, a bipartisan action issued earlier this year by Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA).

     

    Updated July 1, 2021 at 2 p.m. Return to this post for updates this week on actions and reactions on FY 2022 Peace Corps Funding in the House of Representatives.


    Jonathan Pearson is the Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    Take action to urge an increase in Peace Corps funding! see more

    As Congress begins to turn its attention to Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations bills, is the Peace Corps poised for a funding increase?

     

    By Jonathan Pearson

     

    There’s a long way to go in the annual appropriations process. But the possibility of a meaningful Peace Corps funding increase — which would be its first in six years — got a boost recently through the annual Senate Peace Corps funding letter.

    Led by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D–CA) and Susan Collins (R–ME), the letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee for State/Foreign Operations requests “appropriate robust funding in Fiscal Year 2022 of at least $430 million.”  Here’s a release with more about the letter. And here’s the full text of the letter itself.

    Earlier this year, 156 members of the House of Representatives signed a similar letter, requesting $450 million for Peace Corps in the fiscal year that begins October 1, 2021. However, earlier this month, President Biden requested continued flat funding for the Peace Corps — which would not provide the kind of robust support needed as Peace Corps prepares to return Volunteers to the field and enact needed reforms. 

     

    Take Action: Contact members of the Senate and the House

    We urge you to write to your members of Congress and ask them to provide the Peace Corps with a long overdue raise in Fiscal Year 2022. It is especially important to write to lawmakers who serve on the Senate/House Appropriations Committees.

     

    Who Signed the Senate Letter?

    Here's the state-by-state list of signers of this year’s Senate letter:

    Arizona: Sinema

    California: Feinstein, Padilla

    Colorado: Bennet

    Connecticut: Blumenthal, Murphy

    Delaware: Carper

    Georgia: Warnock

    Hawaii: Hirono, Schatz

    Illinois: Duckworth, Durbin

    Maine: Collins, King

    Maryland: Cardin, Van Hollen

    Massachusetts: Markey, Warren

    Michigan: Stabenow

    Minnesota: Klobuchar, Smith

    Nevada: Rosen

    New Hampshire: Hassan, Shaheen

    New Jersey: Booker, Menendez

    New Mexico: Heinrich, Lujan

    New York: Gillibrand

    Oregon: Merkley, Wyden

    Rhode Island: Reed, Whitehouse

    Vermont: Sanders

    Virginia: Kaine, Warner

    Washington: Cantwell

    West Virginia: Manchin

    Wisconsin: Baldwin

     


    Jonathan Pearson is the Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Contact advocacy@peacecorpsconnect.org to find out how you can help.

  • Braeden Waddell posted an article
    Parents of Nick Castle, who died while serving as a Volunteer, advocate for a better Peace Corps. see more

    The parents of Nick Castle, who died while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in China, trace how they began their ongoing work to ensure that Peace Corps lives up to the ideals that their son believed in.

     

    By Sue and Dave Castle

    Photo: Dave and Sue Castle flanking Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)

     

    Sue and I never thought of becoming involved in politics or advocacy until our son Nick died while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in China on February 7, 2013.

    Nothing could have been further from our minds. 

    For all of you who have suffered a significant loss of a loved one, you can understand grief and pain. There is no preparation for the loss of your child.

    After considerable effort to get the facts and determine how Nick could have died while being cared for by a Peace Corps Medical Officer, we became committed to making sure no other family would have to lose their child, parent or sibling due to medical incompetence and negligence.

    It was apparent the Peace Corps that Nick joined failed to follow the guidelines and procedures established by their own policies and practices.  We were surprised to learn there had been no update in legislation pertaining to health care since the Peace Corps was established by Congress in 1961.

     

    Our reform efforts began almost four years ago to change the culture of the Peace Corps and re-define the medical services provided to volunteers.  

    So where do you begin?

    We began by reaching out to our Senators in California: Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein. And we didn’t begin with a direct phone or in-person conversation with our Senators. 

    We had no experience in lobbying. One of the early lessons learned is if you are willing to give up and go away no one is going to stop you. But if you are persistent, continue to write and call Congressional offices, people begin to recognize you are serious and committed to addressing a problem. 

    You also must have some suggestions for your Congressional representative as to what is needed to improve the current condition.  

     

    Putting a face and a voice to the cause is so important to advancing your efforts. That is something that cannot be duplicated in an e-mail or phone call. 

    It is not always about a political party either. We are not constituents of the two most significant Congressional people who offered their help and committed to our efforts. It happens to be two Republicans: Representative Ted Poe and Senator Bob Corker. Their involvement comes from realizing a need for the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act of 2018.

    We also worked with the previous Director of the Peace Corps, the interim Acting Director of the Peace Corps, and now the current Director, Dr. Jody Olsen. Director Olsen sees the necessity for the legislation. During our recent meeting with her, she expressed her full support and commitment to see the needed changes included in the legislation are implemented.

    This, along with the partnership with the National Peace Corps Association, has made our goal a reality. There are countless individuals who have worked towards seeing this bill pass through Congress. We are almost there. We realize this bill does not include all the issues currently affecting Peace Corps Volunteers, mainly raising the disability rate from GS7 to GS 11; however, we remain committed to working for reform. This bill is just the first step.

     

    The Peace Corps’ Mission

    To promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:

    To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women

    To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served

    To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

     

    The Fourth Goal:

    To be supportive, show compassion and advocate for Volunteers who may have had a different experience.

     

    The Fourth Goal was started by us to create awareness of healthcare issues and act as a resource for volunteers and their families. We are in the infancy stage of developing this organization. There is a need to advocate and support Peace Corps Volunteers who return from service with issues not easily remedied by traditional Peace Corps resources. We hope to be able to work with Peace Corps on policy and with Congress to develop legislative measures. We hope to work with current and RPCVs to identify not only areas of concern but also positive experiences to learn from and share.

    We have learned that two voices are more powerful than one. Imagine what can be done with a thousand voices.

    Connecting with another human being face to face with honesty and sincerity makes a difference.

    Doing something because it is the right thing to do. Isn’t that what the Peace Corps is all about?

     

    SUPPORT YOUR COMMUNITY: 

    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.

     


    The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the National Peace Corps Association or its members.

    Story updated with copy edits June 3, 2021.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    This proposal comes up short, if we’re serious about building a better and stronger Peace Corps. see more

    The budget proposed today by the White House comes up $40 million short of where it needs to be to implement critical reforms staked out in the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021.

     

    By Jonathan Pearson

     

    President Joe Biden has sent his Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget request to Congress. Included in his budget is a request of $ 410.5 million for the Peace Corps. By all measures, to build a better and stronger Peace Corps that can help the United States reengage with the world, this comes up short.

    The President’s request represents flat funding — and a maintenance of the same level of support that the Peace Corps has received for the past six years. It stands in stark contrast to bipartisan House legislation introduced in March that would provide $450 million in funding to ensure the implementation of critical reforms. 

    “We are grateful to the Peace Corps’ congressional champions for setting out a vision of a Peace Corps that is renewed, revitalized, and reformed, buttressed by a budget that meets the goals of the Peace Corps community,” said National Peace Corps Association President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst. “But proposed level funding will not enable us to build a better, stronger, and more inclusive Peace Corps for a changed world.”

    Indeed, as the Peace Corps community has underscored time and again, long-needed reforms have not been adequately addressed in part because of a lack of funding. 

     

    Congress has shown: This is where we need to be.

    The bipartisan support for Peace Corps in Congress includes the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1456) legislation, introduced by Representatives John Garamendi (D-CA) and Garret Graves (R-LA), which calls for $450 million to support the Peace Corps in FY 2022. ( Here’s a link you can use to reach out to your lawmaker to ask them co-sponsor this legislation.) Garamendi and Graves also sponsored an annual Peace Corps funding Dear Colleague letter, signed by a bipartisan group of 156 lawmakers, which also urges at least $450 million for the coming fiscal year.

    Strong support for the Peace Corps was also reinforced by every living past Peace Corps director who signed this letter to President Biden. That group includes those who served under Republicans and Democrats alike going back to the Nixon administration. A revitalized Peace Corps, they wrote, “advances our nation’s critical foreign policy goal of world peace through international cooperation and service. We believe that now is the right time for the Peace Corps to build back better than it ever was before.

    Earlier this spring, on the 60th anniversary of the day that President Kennedy created the Peace Corps by executive order, all living directors also convened for a conversation about the past, present, and future of the Peace Corps. One question they tackled: Given three minutes with President Biden to talk about the Peace Corps, what would they say? They spoke about the value of national and public service in uniting a nation, about the role Volunteers can play in public health efforts around the world, about the return on investment for decades to come — and one shared the perspective of the president of Guinea, who spoke of how the presence of Volunteers in communities is worth far more than millions in foreign assistance alone.

     

    “We have an opportunity to build back better and reengage with the world. And when it comes to Peace Corps, we need to put our money where our mouth is.” 

     

    While the budget proposal from the White House is disappointing, we’ll take this moment to note that over the past several years the Peace Corps community has worked closely with champions and members of Congress to sustain the Peace Corps through tough times. And Congress has laid out a clear goal of where we need to be for a better and stronger Peace Corps.

    “We will work closely with these champions to ensure that the Peace Corps’ budget is robust for the future,” said Glenn Blumhorst. “We have an opportunity to build back better and reengage with the world. And when it comes to Peace Corps, we need to put our money where our mouth is.”

     

    READ MORE: Key reforms — some of which require robust funding to become reality — are staked out in the community-driven report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future.”


    Jonathan Pearson is the Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Contact advocacy@peacecorpsconnect.org to find out how you can help.

  • Communications Intern 2 posted an article
    An open letter from hundreds of returned Volunteers and three former U.S. ambassadors see more

    An open letter from 350 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Ethiopia and Eritrea — signed by former U.S. ambassadors and more

     

    By Jake Arce

     

    AS BLOODSHED IN THE TIGRAY REGION of Ethiopia drew toward the end of its third month, more than 350 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and a trio of former U.S. ambassadors issued an appeal to Congress asking for the U.S. to condemn the violence and demanding better humanitarian access, heightened protection of civilians, a U.N. investigation into human rights violations, and the lifting an information blockade. The returned Volunteers were joined by scores of former Fulbright fellows and other concerned citizens. They did not advocate for any political entity but “in support of human dignity.” 

    Violence in the region was triggered by an election in Tigray in November 2020 that the government of Ethiopia deemed unconstitutional. Fighting flared between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and government forces, sending tens of thousands of people fleeing into neighboring countries. Now more than 2 million people have been displaced.

     

    “We ask that the United States does not forget that its strongest allies are not simply constituted of politicians in Addis Ababa,” the letter states. “They are also the students, teachers, farmers, and healthcare workers that Peace Corps Volunteers collaborated with in the urban and rural communities currently embroiled in turmoil.” 

     

    There have been extensive reports of civilians killed, tortured, or internally displaced, as well as destruction of infrastructure, including health clinics, which are crucial during a deadly COVID-19 pandemic. In late March the prime minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, confirmed the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray, with many organizations reporting human rights abuses — including extrajudicial killings and the ransacking of Eritrean refugee camps by these forces. 

     

    Mother and child, refugees in Sudan: some of the more than 2 million people displaced by violence in Tigray. Photo by Nariman El-Mofty / Associated Press

     

    The letter was written by returned Volunteers who served in Ethiopia and Eritrea and sent in February. It urged humanitarian aid to Tigray amid reports of starvation. Over 5 million people remain food insecure; famine stalks.

    “We ask that the United States does not forget that its strongest allies are not simply constituted of politicians in Addis Ababa,” the letter states. “They are also the students, teachers, farmers, and healthcare workers that Peace Corps Volunteers collaborated with in the urban and rural communities currently embroiled in turmoil.” 

    In March, the U.S. State Department declared it was looking into cases of human rights abuse in Tigray and offered additional humanitarian aid in response to the conflict.