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Garret Graves

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

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


    By NPCA Staff



    A Sign of Respect

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

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

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


    NOVID Against COVID

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

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

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


    Absent from the Budget Bill: Helms Amendment

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

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

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


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

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


    By Jonathan Pearson


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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



    Illustration by John S. Dykes



    See People as People

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

     September 10, 2021