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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Communications Intern posted an articleMark your calendars for March 3, 2022. And watch for news in January. see more
National Peace Corps Association hopes to host in-person meetings as part of Capitol Hill Advocacy Day on March 3, 2022.
This is an opportunity to meet with members of Congress and staff. The last in-person meetings were in March 2020, just days before the Capitol shut down. Health and safety concerns mean we can’t yet confirm in-person meetings in 2022, but NPCA hopes to announce definitive plans in January.
Check back with the NPCA website for updates — or head to our homepage and scroll down to sign up for the NPCA Newsletter.
Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders have a conversation on Peace Corps, race, and more. see more
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Leading in a Time of Adversity. A conversation convened as Part of Peace Corps Connect 2021.
Image by Shutterstock
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are currently the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S., but the story of the U.S. AAPI population dates back decades — and is often overlooked. As the community faces an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and the widening income gap between the wealthiest and poorest, their role in politics and social justice is increasingly important.
The AAPI story is also complex — 22 million Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, each with unique histories, cultures, languages, and other characteristics. Their unique perspectives and experiences have also played critical roles in American diplomacy across the globe.
For Peace Corps Connect 2021, we brought together three women who have served or are serving as political leaders to talk with returned Volunteer Mary Owen-Thomas. Below are edited excerpts from their conversation on September 23, 2021. Watch the entire conversation here.
Rep. Grace Meng
Member, U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York’s sixth district — the first Asian American to represent her state in Congress.
Julia Chang Bloch
Former U.S. ambassador to Nepal — the first Asian American to serve as a U.S. ambassador to any country. Founder and president of U.S.-China Education Trust. Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia (1964–66).
Former Director of the Peace Corps (1991–92). Former Secretary of Labor — the first Asian American to hold a cabinet-level post. Former Secretary of Transportation.
Moderated by Mary Owen-Thomas
Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines (2005–06) and secretary of the NPCA Board of Directors.
Mary Owen-Thomas: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the United States. This is not a recent story — and it’s often overlooked. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, and I happen to be Filipino American.
During my service, people would say, “Oh, we didn’t get a real American.” I used to think, I’m from Detroit! I’m curious if you’ve ever encountered this in your international work.
Julia Chang Bloch: With the Peace Corps, I was sent to Borneo, in Sabah, Malaysia. I was a teacher at a Chinese middle school that had been a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. The day I arrived on campus, there was a hush in the audience. I don’t speak Cantonese, but I could understand a bit, and I heard: “Why did they send us a Japanese?” I did not know the school had been a prisoner of war camp. They introduced me. I said a few words in English, then a few words in Mandarin. And they said, “Oh, she’s Chinese.”
I heard a little girl say to her father, “You promised me I could meet the American ambassador. I don’t see him.”
In Nepal, where I was ambassador, when I arrived and met the Chinese ambassador, he said, “Ah, China now has two of us.” I said, “There’s a twist, however. I am a Chinese American.” He laughed, and we became friends thereafter. On one of my trips into the western regions, where there were a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers and very poor villages, I was welcomed lavishly by one village. I heard a little girl say to her father, “You promised I could meet the American ambassador. I don’t see him.” He said to her, “There she is.” “Oh, no,” she said. “She is not the American ambassador. She’s Nepali.”
Those are examples of why AAPI representation in foreign affairs is important. We should look like America, abroad, in our embassies. We can show the world that we are in fact diverse and rich culturally.
Mary Owen-Thomas: Secretary Chao, at the Labor Department you launched the annual Asian Pacific American Federal Career Advancement Summit, and the annual Opportunity Conference. The department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting the employment data on Asians in America as a distinct category — a first. You ensured that labor law materials were translated into multiple languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. Talk about how those came about.
Elaine Chao: Many of us have commented about the lack of diversity in top management, even in the federal government. There seems to be a bamboo ceiling — Asian Americans not breaking into the executive suite. I started the Asian Pacific American Federal Advancement Forum to equip, train, prepare Asian Americans to go into senior ranks of the federal government.
The Opportunity Conference was for communities of color, people who have traditionally been underserved in the federal government, in the federal procurement areas. Thirdly, in 2003 we finally broke out Asians and Asian American unemployment numbers for the first time. That’s how we know Asian Americans have the lowest unemployment rate. Labor laws are complicated, so we started a process translating labor laws into Asian, East Asian, and South Asian languages, so that people would understand their obligations to protect the workforce.
We are often seen as invisible. In Congress, there are many times I’ll be in a room — and this is bipartisan, unfortunately — where people will be talking about different communities, and they literally leave AAPIs out. We are not mentioned, acknowledged, or recognized.
Grace Meng: I am not a Peace Corps Volunteer, but I am honored to be here. My former legislative director, Helen Beaudreau (Georgia 2004–06, The Philippines 2010–11), is a twice-Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I am incredibly grateful for all of your service to our country, and literally representing America at every corner of the globe.
I was born and raised here. This past year and a half has been a wake-up call for our community. Asian Americans have been discriminated against long before — starting with legislation that Congress passed, like the Chinese Exclusion Act, to Japanese American citizens being put in internment camps. We have too often been viewed as outsiders or foreigners.
I live in Queens, New York, one of the most diverse counties in the country, and still have experiences where people ask where I learned to speak English so well, or where am I really from. When I was elected to the state legislature, some of us were watching the news — a group of people fighting. One colleague turned to me and said, “Well, Grace knows karate, I’m sure she can save us.”
By the way, I don’t know karate.
We are often seen as invisible. In Congress, there are many times I’ll be in a room — and this is bipartisan, unfortunately — where people will be talking about different communities, and they literally leave AAPIs out. We are not mentioned, acknowledged, or recognized. I didn’t necessarily come to Congress just to represent the AAPI community. But there are many tables we’re sitting at, where if we did not speak up for the AAPI community, no one else would.
At the root of hate
Julia Chang Bloch: I believe at the root of this anti-Asian hate is ignorance about the AAPI community. It’s a consequence of the exclusion, erasure, and invisibility of Asian Americans in K–12 school curricula. We need to increase education about the history of anti-Asian racism, as well as contributions of Asian Americans to society. Representative Meng, you should talk about your legislation.
Grace Meng: My first legislation, when I was in the state legislature, was to work on getting Lunar New Year and Eid on public school holidays in New York City. When I was in elementary school, we got off for Rosh Hashanah; don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to have two days off. But I had to go to school on Lunar New Year. I thought that was incredibly unfair in a city like New York. Ultimately, it changed through our mayor.
In textbooks, maybe there was a paragraph or two about how Asian Americans fit into our American history. There wasn’t much. One of my goals is to ensure that Asian American students recognize in ways that I didn’t that they are just as American as anyone else. I used to be embarrassed about my parents working in a restaurant, or that they didn’t dress like the other parents.
Data is empowering. We can’t administer government programs without understanding where they go, who receives them, how many resources are devoted to what groups.
Julia Chang Bloch: I wonder about data collection. We’re categorized as AAPI — all lumped together. And data, I believe, is collected that way at the national, state, and local levels. Is there some way to disaggregate this data collection and recognize the differences?
Elaine Chao: A very good question. Data is empowering. We can’t administer government programs without understanding where they go, who receives them, how many resources are devoted to what groups.
Two obstacles stand in the way. One is resources. Unless there is thinking about how to do this in a systemic, long-term fashion, getting resources is difficult; these are expensive undertakings. Two, there’s sometimes political resistance. Pew Charitable Trust, in 2012, did an excellent job: the first major demographic study on the Asian American population in the United States. But we’re coming up on 10 years. That needs to be revisited.
Role models vs. stereotypes
Elaine Chao: Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch and Pauline Tsui started the organization Chinese American Women. I remember coming to Washington as a young pup and seeing these fantastic, empowering women. They blazed so many trails. They gave voice to Asian American women.
I come from a family of six daughters. I credit my parents for empowering their daughters from an early age. They told us that if you work hard, you can do whatever you want to do. We’ve got to offer more inspiration and be more supportive.
Julia Chang Bloch: Pauline Tsui has unfortunately passed away. She had a foundation, which gave us support to establish a series on Asian women trailblazers. Our inaugural program featured Secretary Chao and Representative Judy Chu, because it was about government and service. Our next one is focused on higher education. Our third will be on journalism.
I want, however, to leave you with this thought. The Page Act of 1875 barred women from China, Japan, and all other Asian countries from entering the United States. Why? Because the thought was they brought prostitution. The stereotyping of Asian women has been insidious and harmful to our achieving positions of authority and leadership. That’s led also to horrible stereotypes that have exoticized and sexualized Asian women. Think about the women who were killed in Atlanta.
That intersection of racism and misogyny that has existed for way too long is something we need to continue to combat.
Grace Meng: There was the automatic assumption, in the beginning, that they were sex workers — these stereotypes were being circulated. I had the opportunity with some of my colleagues to go to Atlanta and meet some of the victims’ families, to hear their stories. That really gave me a wake-up call. I talked about my own upbringing for the first time.
I remember when my parents, who worked in a restaurant, came to school, and they were dressed like they worked in a restaurant. I was too embarrassed to say hello. Being in Atlanta, talking to those families, made me realize the sacrifices that Asian American women at all levels have faced so that we could have the opportunity to be educated here, to get jobs, to serve our country. And that intersection of racism and misogyny that has existed for way too long is something that we need to continue to combat.
Julia Chang Bloch: We’ve talked about the sexualized, exoticized, and objectified stereotype — the Suzie Wongs and the Madame Butterflys. However, those of us here today, I think would fall into another category: the “dragon lady” stereotype. Any Asian woman of authority is classified as a dragon lady — a derogatory stereotype. Women who are powerful, but also deceitful and manipulating and cruel. Today it’s women who are authoritative and powerful.
Mary Owen-Thomas: Growing up, I was sort of embarrassed of my mom’s thick Filipino accent; she was embarrassed of it, too. I was embarrassed of the food she would send me to school with — rice, mung beans, egg rolls, and fish sauce. And people would ask, “What is that?” Talk about how your self-identity has evolved — and how you view family.
You do not need to have a fancy title to improve the lives of people around you. I became stronger myself and realized that it was my duty, my responsibility, as a daughter of immigrants, to give back to this country and to give back to this community.
Grace Meng: I don’t know if it’s related to being Asian, but I was super shy as a child. And there weren’t a lot of Asians around me. I was the type who would tremble if a teacher called on me; I would try to disappear into the walls. When I meet people who knew me in school, they say, “I cannot believe you’re in politics.”
What gave me strength was getting involved in the community, seeing as a student in high school, college, and law school that I could help people around me. After law school I started a nonprofit with some friends. We had senior citizens come in with their mail once a week, and we would help them read it. It wasn’t rocket science at all.
I tell that story to young people, because you do not need to have a fancy title to improve the lives of people around you. I became stronger myself and realized that it was my duty, my responsibility, as a daughter of immigrants, to give back to this country and to give back to this community.
Julia Chang Bloch: At some point, in most Asian American young people’s lives, you ask yourself whether you are Chinese or American — or, Mary, in your case, whether you’re Filipino or American.
I asked myself that question one year after I arrived in San Francisco from China. I was 10. I entered a forensic contest to speak on being a marginalized citizen. I won the contest, but I didn’t have the answer. At university, I found Chinese student associations I thought would be my answer to my identity. But I did not find myself fitting into the American-born Chinese groups — ABCs — or those fresh off the boat, FOBs. Increasingly, my circle of friends became predominantly white. I perceived the powerlessness of the Chinese in America. I realized that only mainstreaming would make me be able to make a difference in America.
After graduation, I joined the Peace Corps, to pursue my roots and to make a difference in the world. Teaching English at a Chinese middle school gave me the opportunity to find out once and for all whether I was Chinese or American. I think you know the answer.
My ambassadorship made me a Chinese American who straddles the East and the West. And having been a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have always believed that it was my obligation to bring China home to America, and vice versa. And that’s what I’ve been doing with the U.S.-China Education Trust since 1998.
We should say representation matters. Peace Corps matters, too.
WATCH THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION here: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Leading in a Time of Adversity
Mirror the Face of Our Nation: Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International CareersThe program you may not know that inspired JFK. And how we change what America looks like abroad. see more
The past: The program you may not know about that inspired JFK. The future: How we change what America looks like abroad.
Photo: Rep. Karen Bass, who delivered welcoming remarks for the event, part of the Ronald H. Brown Series, on September 14, 2021.
On September 14, 2021, the Constituency for Africa hosted, and National Peace Corps Association sponsored, a series of conversations on “Strategies for Increasing African American Inclusion in the Peace Corps and International Careers.” Part of the annual Ronald H. Brown Series, the event brought together leaders in government, policy, and education, as well as some key members of the Peace Corps community.
Constituency for Africa was founded and is led by Melvin Foote, who served as a Volunteer in Eritrea and Ethiopia 1973–76. In hosting the program, he noted how the Peace Corps has played an instrumental role in training members of the U.S. diplomatic community. “Unfortunately, the number of African Americans serving in the Peace Corps has always been extremely low,” he wrote. By organizing this forum, he noted that CFA is attempting to build a community of Black Americans “who served in the Peace Corps in order to have impact on U.S. policies in Africa, in the Caribbean, and elsewhere around the world, and to form a support base for African Americans who are serving, and to encourage other young people to consider going into the Peace Corps.”
Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, delivered opening remarks. “I have traveled all around Africa, as I know so many of you have,” she said. “And we would love to see the Peace Corps be far more diverse than it is now. Launching this effort now, diversity and inclusion has to be a priority for all of us, including us in Congress. And we have to continue to try and reflect all of society in every facet of our lives … I am working to pass legislation to diversify even further the State Department, and looking not just on an entry level, but on a mid-career level. This effort that you’re doing today is just another aspect of the same struggle. So let me thank you for the work that you’re doing. And of course, Mel Foote as a former Peace Corps alum, and I know his daughter is in the Peace Corps. You’re just continuing a legacy and ensuring the future that the Peace Corps looks like the United States.”
“You’re continuing a legacy and making sure that in the future the Peace Corps looks like the United States.”
— Karen Bass, Member, U.S. House of Representatives
Read and Explore
The 2021 Anniversary Edition of WorldView magazine includes some keynote remarks and discussions that were part of the event.
Reverend Dr. Jonathan Weaver | Pastor at Greater Mt. Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church; Founder and President, Pan African Collective
Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley | Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, U.S. Department of State
Aaron Williams | Peace Corps Director 2009–12
“First Comes Belonging”
Watch the Program
Remarks were also delivered by Melvin Foote, founder and CEO of Constituency for Africa; Glenn Blumhorst, President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association; Dr. Darlene Grant, Senior Advisor to National Peace Corps Director; and Kimberly Bassett, Secretary of State for Washington, D.C., who welcomed participants on behalf of Mayor Muriel Bowser. Watch the entire event here.
The Constituency for Africa was founded in 1990 in Washington, D.C., when a group of concerned Africanists, interested citizens, and Africa-focused organizations developed a strategy to build organized support for Africa in the United States. CFA was charged with educating the U.S. public about Africa and U.S. policy on Africa; mobilizing an activist Constituency for Africa; and fostering cooperation among a broad-based coalition of American, African, and international organizations, as well as individuals committed to the progress and empowerment of Africa and African people.
CFA also founded and sponsors the annual Ronald H. Brown African Affairs Series, which is held in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Legislative Week each September. The series honors the late U.S. Commerce Secretary for his exemplary accomplishments in building strategic political, economic, and cultural linkages between the United States and Africa. More than 1,000 concerned individuals and organizational representatives attend each year, in order to gain valuable information and build strategic connections to tackle African and American challenges, issues, and concerns.
House Foreign Affairs Committee passes the bill with ringing bipartisan approval: a vote of 44 to 4 see more
In a time of partisan rancor, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passes the bill with ringing bipartisan approval: a vote of 44 to 4.
By Jonathan Pearson
It is a sweeping piece of Peace Corps legislation, addressing everything from Volunteer health, safety, and security, to enhanced support and recognition, to expanded opportunities through Peace Corps service, to prioritizing recent evacuees who wish to resume their service as Peace Corps begins redeployment. And over the next year, it is also a top priority on National Peace Corps Association’s advocacy agenda.
The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 (H.R. 1456), bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressmen John Garamendi (D-CA) and Garret Graves (R-LA), cleared its first legislative hurdle in late September when the House Foreign Affairs Committee overwhelmingly approved the legislation by a vote of 44 to 4. The legislation awaits consideration before a second committee before possible consideration by the full House of Representatives. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), is working to introduce companion legislation.
“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
“Congress has not reauthorized the Peace Corps in over 20 years,” said Representative Garamendi in a press statement following the vote in the Foreign Affairs Committee. “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.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the legislation in the form of an amendment put forth by Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), who praised Representative Garamendi for the bill, saying, “This bill helps realize President John F. Kennedy’s vision of Americans ready to serve their nation in new and innovative ways.”
Read the original legislation here.
House Foreign Affairs: Chair Gregory Meeks (D-NY), speaking, and ranking member Michael McCaul (R-TX). Photo by J. Scott Applewhite / AP
What’s in the Legislation?
The 41-page bill includes provisions to address both long-standing proposals and new ideas as the agency prepares for global redeployment.
Among proposals for health, safety, and security:
Extend work of the previously mandated Sexual Assault Advisory Council through 2025; right now that council’s authorization will sunset in 2023.
Promote consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and improve staff training on anti-malarial drugs.
Require reporting on the status of mental healthcare services as well as possible improvements to them.
Implement procedures and policies to protect Volunteers from acts of reprisal or retaliation when they report concerns or problems.
Past proposals that are also included in this legislation:
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers coming home with service-related injuries or illness may be eligible for workers’ compensation. However, the compensation rate is exceedingly low, leaving some destitute and desperate. In 2014, RPCV Nancy Tongue, founder of the group Health Justice for Peace Corps Volunteers, met with then Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and Deputy Labor Secretary Christopher Lu, resulting in a proposal to provide some relief through an increase in the workers’ compensation rate. While introduced in previous legislation, this provision was stripped out in the past and has not been approved by Congress. H.R. 1456 once again includes this proposed compensation increase.
Every year since 2013, Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) has introduced the Respect for Peace Corps Volunteers Act. This one-paragraph legislation would simply amend the Peace Corps Act to honor Volunteers by allowing the Peace Corps emblem to be used at gravesites and in death notices. The text of the Respect Act is included in H.R. 1456.
For many years, RPCVs have sought an enhancement of Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE) opportunities for federal hiring, beyond the standard one year provided many years ago through an executive order. H.R. 1456 would codify the executive order and extend NCE status for qualified RPCVs from one to two years.
Other initiatives included:
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-19 relief in 2021, H.R. 1456 would codify into law the allowance of future Volunteer deployment in the U.S. at the request of another federal agency.
H.R. 1456 expands language regarding virtual volunteer opportunities and incorporates it into the Peace Corps Act. It notes that this provision will increase opportunities to recruit individuals who face barriers to physically serving in a country outside the U.S.
Time to Mobilize
NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst issued a call to action following the vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “To our community and other friends of the Peace Corps, make no mistake. (This) 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.”
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association.
November Update: Important Peace Corps Funding Letter Circulating in the House, Calling for Robust Funding to Make Reforms and Meet the Needs of a Changed WorldYour outreach to Capitol Hill will help support robust Peace Corps funding see more
While the House and the Senate seek to reconcile funding recommendations, Rep. Betty McCollum calls on colleagues to back $430.5 million in Peace Corps funding. This increase is crucial for ensuring that the Peace Corps returns to the field better than before, she says, while also making crucial and long overdue reforms.
By Jonathan Pearson
On Capitol Hill, Senate and House negotiators are trying to reconcile differences in their recommendations for federal spending for the new fiscal year (FY 2022). Their timeline to reconcile differences was extended when Congress voted keep the government funded at current levels through February 18, 2022. This includes the Peace Corps. The House of Representatives proposes a 5 percent, $20 million increase for the Peace Corps, which would bring the agency’s annual budget to $430.5 million. The Senate is recommending flat funding of $410.5 million, however — which would mark the seventh consecutive year without an increase in Peace Corps funding.
Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) is seeking to bring her colleagues in the House on board to back the original House recommendation for increased Peace Corps funding. “This increase is crucial for ensuring that the Peace Corps returns to the field better than before while also making crucial and long overdue reforms,” she has written in a “Dear Colleague” letter to other members of the House.
“Strong funding for the Peace Corps will demonstrate U.S. leadership and commitment towards rebuilding a more resilient global community, ensuring the agency can continue to modernize to meet current challenges, and re-establish that America’s history of service continues to be a priority.”
—Rep. Betty McCollum
Further, McCollum’s letter notes, “As we continue to combat COVID-19, and as eventual success requires containment of the pandemic around the entire world, strong funding for the Peace Corps will demonstrate U.S. leadership and commitment towards rebuilding a more resilient global community, ensuring the agency can continue to modernize to meet current challenges, and re-establish that America’s history of service continues to be a priority.”
Download a copy of the letter here or read the full text below.
Signatures on the letter were collected through December 10, 2021. Now that the letter is concluded, what can members of the Peace Corps community do to help now? Write to your members of Congress now and urge them to support the House funding level for the Peace Corps!
42 members of Congress signed the House Dear Colleague Letter.
Last year, 34 House members signed a similar letter, helping to avoid proposed cuts in funding for the agency. This year, because of your efforts, the McCollum letter secured 42 signatures.
Thanks to those who asked their member of the House of Representatives to sign the letter!
Who signed the letter?
Here are the members of the House of Representatives who have signed the McCollum Peace Corps Funding Letter (This letter is now closed):
California: Bass, Brownley, Costa, Eshoo, Garamendi, Khanna, LaMalfa, McNerney, Peters
Colorado: DeGette, Neguse
Delaware: Blunt Rochester
District of Columbia: Norton
Georgia: Bishop, Johnson, McBath
Massachusetts: Keating, McGovern, Moulton, Neal
Minnesota: McCollum (author), Phillips
New Jersey: Kim, Malinowski
New York: Morelle, Suozzi
Rhode Island: Cicilline
Wisconsin: Kind, Moore
Here’s the text of the Dear Colleague letter.
December 9, 2021
The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Senate Committee on Appropriations
S-128, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Rosa DeLauro
House Committee on Appropriations
H-307, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Richard Shelby
Senate Committee on Appropriations
S-128, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Kay Granger
House Committee on Appropriations
1026 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Leahy, Vice Chairman Shelby, Chairwoman DeLauro, and Ranking Member Granger,
As you work to finalize the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations bill, we respectfully urge you to support the House-passed funding level of $430,500,000 for the Peace Corps that was included in the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill. This funding would represent a modest, five percent funding increase, following six years of flat funding. This increase is crucial for ensuring that the Peace Corps returns to the field better than before while also making crucial and long overdue reforms.
In particular, these reforms align with the new Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1456), which was overwhelmingly approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee with a bipartisan 44–4 vote on September 30th. The bill currently has 110 House cosponsors and reflects the broad consensus view within the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community on how best to reform the agency.
These reforms include: enhanced readjustment allowance paid to volunteers; noncompetitive eligibility for returned volunteers for federal civil-service positions; health care benefits, including adequate access to menstrual products, and mental health care during and after service; expedited re-enrollment of involuntarily terminated volunteers; strengthening of volunteer safety; expanded whistleblower protections; increased rate of pay that applies to a volunteer's workers compensation claim, and deeper investment in the leveraging the internet in Peace Corps programs.
To meet the expectations of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community, these reforms must be funded. Now is the best opportunity to provide such resources to the agency, so that when it returns volunteers to the field, it will do so in a manner that modernizes not just volunteer service in the field, but also how the agency serves its volunteers.
Established in 1961, the Peace Corps has sent more than 240,000 Americans to serve as Volunteers in 142 host countries, carrying out its mission to promote world peace and friendship. The Peace Corps represents a vital component to American diplomacy and engagement abroad. Accounting for less than one percent of the United States’ International Affairs Budget, the Peace Corps is also a cost-effective, high-impact program helping to promote American democratic values in developing countries around the world.
As you know, due to COVID-19, the Peace Corps evacuated its 7,334 Volunteers in March 2020, marking the first time in its history in which no volunteers are serving overseas. Fortunately, the agency plans to start redeploying volunteers during FY22 in a deliberate and responsible manner, in concert with host countries and with the health, wellbeing, and success of future volunteers (and the countries where they will serve) of paramount importance.
As we continue to combat COVID-19, and as eventual success requires containment of the pandemic around the entire world, strong funding for the Peace Corps will demonstrate U.S. leadership and commitment towards rebuilding a more resilient global community, ensuring the agency can continue to modernize to meet current challenges, and re-establish that America’s history of service continues to be a priority.
Returning volunteers to the field is costly. So are the long overdue reforms that both Congress and the Peace Corps community are seeking. That is why now is precisely the right moment for a deeper investment in the Peace Corps. We therefore urge you to take advantage of this inflection point to reaffirm the value that the Peace Corps — and each of its Volunteers — has brought to our country and the world by funding the agency at $430,500,000 in FY22.
Thank you for your consideration.
Story and list of signatories last updated Thursday, December 30, at 3:30 PM.
Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Write him here.
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
LISTEN on Spotify to the converation with Bill Josephson, Bill Moyers, Joe Kennedy III, and Marieme Foote from September 22, 2021.
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.
UPDATE: LISTEN on Spotify to the converation from September 22, 2021.
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?
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.
LISTEN on Spotify to the converation from September 22, 2021.
Story updated December 22, 2021 at 1:30 PM.
Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association.
Takeaways from the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on October 27, 2021. see more
Takeaways from the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on October 27, 2021
Words by Jonathan Pearson
Transcript editing by Rachel Edwards
Video editing by Orrin Luc
Acting Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on October 27, 2021, for a hearing on Peace Corps’ operations. Spahn fielded a range of questions, including diversity initiatives, recruitment strategies, decolonizing U.S. foreign assistance, and — not surprising — the status of redeployment of Volunteers internationally.
Along with the Peace Corps, the three hour hearing also included representatives of the Millenium Challenge Corporation and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.
Below are excerpts from the hearing.
Watch a playlist of clips from the hearing focusing on the Peace Corps.
Bipartisan Praise From the Top
In their opening remarks, Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX) praised the work of the Peace Corps and its Volunteers. Chairman Meeks noted the strong, bipartisan passage of “much needed” Peace Corps reauthorization legislation, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1456) introduced by RPCV Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). “With a $400 million-plus budget, the Peace Corps has been able to reach the most remote parts of our world,” Meeks said, “spreading American values and working with local communities to promote and create sustainable development.”
While noting the agency still has much work to do to improve its operations — including addressing sexual assault of Volunteers — Ranking Member McCaul praised the Peace Corps on its 60th anniversary. “Congratulations, Ms. Spahn and to the Peace Corps, and all of your officers on this milestone event,” McCaul said. “I want to thank the incredible Peace Corps Volunteers, especially those from my home state of Texas who have selflessly given their time to do good work for other human beings across the world.”
Spahn on the historical Role of the Peace Corps — and meeting current needs
“As the Peace Corps celebrates its 60th anniversary, we are building on a solid foundation to meet this historic moment, and to set the stage for the next 60 years,” Carol Spahn said. “Our primary focus is to safely return Volunteers to service and to apply our resources in combating the impacts of COVID-19, which are disproportionately affecting countries where Volunteers serve.”
Historically, Spahn said, Peace Corps Volunteers “have been and will be at the last mile reaching some of the most isolated and underserved populations … The pandemic has set back years of development progress and produced unprecedented challenges. It has also underscored our world’s profound interdependence and shared future. Recovery will require international cooperation not only at the government level, but also at the community level. And that is where the Peace Corps as a trusted community partner will return to service in new and time-tested ways.”
When will Volunteers begin to redeploy?
A question on everyone’s mind was raised during an exchange with Rep. Dean Phillips (D–MN) and Acting Director Carol Spahn: What are the plans for Volunteer redeployment and how long will it take for Peace Corps to fully return to the field?
“We will gradually build up.”
—Acting Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn
Spahn did not provide a specific date when redeployment will begin, but she noted the process will be gradual. “We are returning on a country by country basis, based on the conditions in that country — so the initial ramp up will be slow, so that we can test our systems,” she said. “And we will gradually build up after we’ve learned from some of those initial inputs.”
Spahn cited several factors that are being taken into consideration in making decisions on redeployment, including the ability to adapt programming to maximize health and safety; having emergency action plans in place should health conditions in a country deteriorate; and access to stable medical hubs, as well as backup hubs.
“We know that we will be living with COVID for some time,” Spahn said. “There are urgent needs out there, and we believe that we can return Volunteers safely to some countries. And we’ve begun that process.”
Spahn added that some of the 60 countries where Volunteers were serving remain locked down. “Those will be the ones that we will need to push back a little bit further.”
China, South Asia, and the Pacific Region
In response to general questions or statements from committee members regarding growing regional and global influence from China, Spahn outlined parts of agency planning for the South Asia Pacific region. “We are currently looking to get back into countries that we left: Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu,” she said. “We have also opened new country programs in Sri Lanka, and expect to welcome volunteers to Vietnam for the first time. We’re also negotiating a country agreement with Solomon Islands.”
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Recruiting Volunteers and working with the wider Peace Corps community
Chairman Meeks noted that a key priority for him is that the foreign affairs committee examine diversity, equity, and inclusion programs across our nation’s international assistance programs. He praised Spahn and the Peace Corps for its efforts. “I understand also that the Peace Corps has instituted this robust program that you’ve talked about in your opening statement — intercultural competence, diversity, equity, and inclusion — and that you’ve been leading these efforts. You know, and you probably, from my examination, are ahead of a lot of other agencies.”
“Intercultural competence, diversity, equity, inclusion is really at the core of who we are as an agency.”
—Acting Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn
Spahn told the committee that the Peace Corps has redoubled its commitment during the suspension of operations to address intercultural competence, diversity, equality, inclusion (ICDEI), and accessibility. This work, she said, “is at the core of who we are and what we do. Our approach encourages deep humility and builds transferable skills as our staff and volunteers partner at a grassroots level with people from 64 different countries.”
Spahn testified that in the past ten years the percentage of volunteers who identified as people of color increased from 16 percent to 34 percent. She said the agency is expanding outreach to minority-serving institutions of higher education and removing significant financial barriers to service through efforts such as increasing the reimbursements for the cost of medical clearance. She said all worldwide staff have received unconscious bias training, while 80 percent of posts have received five day intensive ICDEI training. Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) asked Spahn to drill down on what the percentages mean — and she asked how the agency is working with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community to recruit Volunteers who are people of color.
Spahn pointed to collaboration with groups of returned Volunteers — in particular National Peace Corps Association — that play a critical role in supporting returned Volunteers.
Representative Kathy Manning (D-NC) asked about support for Volunteers who are women, people of color, or identify as LGBTQ. Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL) asked about the focus of Peace Corps on recruiting college graduates — and if that was the best way to meet the needs of communities around the world. Likewise, he asked Spahn to address how Peace Corps Volunteers were playing a role to tackle climate change. Spahn noted that is a priority in environment and agricultural programs as well as education, and that Volunteers frequently serve in communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change.
Decolonizing Foreign Assistance
Citing Peace Corps’ history of being founded at the height of the Cold War, Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) asked Spahn how the agency is addressing this issue. Spahn replied by saying this is an ongoing process, and something “we all need to wrestle with.”
“We’ve just gone through an extensive process to revise each and every one of our project frameworks, developing that logical project framework,” said Spahn. “And in that, in developing those frameworks, we have representatives from the government, we have representatives from NGOs, from counterparts from communities that are impacted, as well as from Volunteers, helping to design where our niche is, and … where we can be most helpful.”
“It has never been about Volunteers going in to make a difference on their own. It is about that partnership, about that deep respect and humility.”
Spahn added that central to Peace Corps service is the spirit of understanding and collaboration. “It has never been about Volunteers going in to make a difference on their own,” she said. “It is about that partnership, about that deep respect and humility. And that is why our Volunteers learn local languages. It is why they live and work at the level of the communities that they serve, but this is a time to ask those important questions.”
‘Development, Democracy, Diplomacy, and Diversity’
In concluding the hearing, Chairman Meeks noted that his priority in taking on the chairmanship of the committee, “I said that my priorities can be categorized into four D’s: development, democracy, diplomacy, and diversity.” Meeks underscored that this work actually saves U.S. taxpayers money; it is far more expensive when the U.S. sends in the military instead of the Peace Corps.
Support and guidance of the Peace Corps and its work “is something where I believe that we can really work in a bipartisan way,” Meeks said. “Because the issues and what your charge is not a partisan issue at all, as often on this committee when we're dealing with foreign affairs. We should not have a partisan divide. And so it is my hope, as the chairman of this committee, that we continue to work with you and you continue to follow up with all of our members, so that we can come in one accord, and focus on the goodness of the people of the United States of America, and continue to lead in that vein. And I think what your agencies do is what demonstrates who we are and why democracy, development, and diplomacy is what should take the lead.”
Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Rachel Edwards is an Advocacy Intern with NPCA. Orrin Luc serves as Digital Content Manager with NPCA.
Action Alert: Let’s Make sure Congress Supports House Efforts to Fund Peace Corps to Meet the Needs of a Changed WorldNow’s the time to write Congress and ask for support for robust Peace Corps funding see more
The House of Representatives proposes robust Peace Corps funding of $430.5 million. But Senate Appropriations proposes flat funding of $410.5 million that lacks support for needed reforms. Now’s the time for the Peace Corps community to take action.
By Jonathan Pearson
As Congress continues to work on federal spending packages for the fiscal year that began October 1, 2021, a disagreement on the spending level for the Peace Corps has emerged between the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee released its remaining funding bills for FY 2022. Along with a lower recommendation than the House for international affairs programs, the committee is also proposing a seventh consecutive year of flat funding for the Peace Corps.
In July the House of Representatives approved robust funding of $430.5 million for the Peace Corps. That’s an increase of $20 million for the agency, or 5 percent.
But the $410.5 million Senate recommendation is for flat funding. It does not provide financial backing for needed reforms. With a current deadline of December 3, 2021, the House and Senate will need to reconcile this difference. For Peace Corps to meet the needs of a changed world, funding should align with the House recommendation.
“In order to restore the agency’s purchasing power, begin the important and safe redeployment of Volunteers, and invest in necessary improvements and reforms, we need to support the $20 million funding increase recommended by the House of Representatives.”
—NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst
“It has been six years since the Peace Corps has received any meaningful increase in funding,” says National Peace Corps Association President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst. “In order to restore the agency’s purchasing power, begin the important and safe redeployment of Volunteers, and invest in necessary improvements and reforms, we need to support the $20 million funding increase recommended by the House of Representatives. We ask all supporters of the Peace Corps to contact Congress and ask them to support $430 million for the agency in the ongoing deliberations on federal spending for the current fiscal year.”
Join NPCA’s efforts to ensure Peace Corps is the best it can be by writing to your members of Congress. Urge them to support the House recommendation of $430.5 million for the Peace Corps.
Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association.
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
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 email@example.com to express your willingness to help. Include the city and state where you reside.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: email@example.com
Here’s Some of the Latest Peace Corps Legislation: Respect for Peace Corps Act, NOVID Against COVID, and an Amendment Missing from the BudgetIn 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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