Communications Intern posted an articleIt has been decades since Congress tackled Peace Corps legislation this sweeping. see more
It has been decades since Congress tackled Peace Corps legislation this sweeping. Along with important reforms, it would lead to 10,000 Volunteers serving in the field — a number not seen in half a century.
By Jonathan Pearson
Illustration by traffic_analyzer
On March 1 of this year, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and California Congressman John Garamendi introduced H.R. 1456, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021. Co-sponsored by Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), who serves as co-chair of the House Peace Corps Caucus with Garamendi, H.R. 1456 will serve as the foundation for National Peace Corps Association’s 60th anniversary legislative agenda.
The date it was introduced carries weight; it was on 3/1/61 that President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10924 establishing the Peace Corps.
What’s significant about this new bill? Over the years, Congress has passed Peace Corps–related legislation on a variety of individual subjects, including bills that strengthened the agency’s response to sexual assault, authorized a commemorative work near the National Mall to recognize Peace Corps service, improved certain health and safety protocols, and provided necessary funding and provisions to safely bring home and support evacuated Volunteers in March 2020. But it has been decades since Congress has come together to pass comprehensive legislation to address a wide range of issues that support and honor Peace Corps service.
In a press release, Congressman Garamendi said, “Now more than ever, Congress must support the Peace Corps’ mission and realize President Kennedy’s vision of generations of young Americans ready to serve their nation and make the world a better place. Our reauthorization bill does exactly that, and provides much-needed resources to Volunteers.”
In a post-COVID world with a global recession, with healthcare problems around the world, particularly in developing countries, the Peace Corps mission is going to be more critical than ever.
Garamendi spoke to members of the Peace Corps community on March 1, as NPCA kicked off its annual National Days of Advocacy in Support of the Peace Corps. Congressman Graves sent a video message, in which he noted how important Peace Corps’ mission will be moving forward: “In a post-COVID world with a global recession, with healthcare problems around the world, particularly in developing countries, the critical nature of your mission is going to be (greater than ever).”
As of May 14, 45 members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation. Consideration is underway for companion legislation in the Senate.
Think big, follow through
Here are some of the provisions included in the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021:
Steady, Sustainable Funding Increases
Recommends increased funding of approximately 10 percent in each of the next four fiscal years, aiming for $450 million in Fiscal Year 2022 and reaching $600 million in Fiscal Year 2025. This would move toward the stated minimum target of 10,000 Volunteers in the field — a number proposed in the original Peace Corps Act, and a figure not realized in more than 50 years. This would also provide funding for many of the needed and overdue reforms called for in this legislation — as well as reforms that were called for in previous legislation but were never implemented.
Increased Volunteer Benefits
Would increase Volunteers’ readjustment allowance to $417 for each month of service, raising the total allowance for two years of service from $8,000 to $10,000. Paid post-service health care would be extended to three months upon completion of service.
Calls upon the Peace Corps to consult with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concerning recommendations for prescribing malaria prophylaxis. And it requires health personnel in countries where malaria is present to receive adequate training in the side effects of such medication. The legislation also incorporates the language of the Menstrual Equity in the Peace Corps Act (H.R. 1467) introduced by Representative Grace Meng (D-NY). This bill 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.
In the long-standing effort to provide more support for returned Volunteers disabled by service-related illness or injury, H.R. 1456 would increase the monthly workers’ compensation rate for these individuals.
Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE) Protections
For RPCVs seeking to utilize NCE for federal job opportunities, H.R. 1456 would pause the one-year benefit in times of a federal government shutdown or hiring freeze. It would also delay the start of NCE eligibility for RPCVs unable to work when coming back home due to service-related illness or injury.
Support for Current and Future Evacuated Volunteers
Codifies that Volunteers who face evacuation and the end of their service through no fault of their own — as happened to Volunteers globally in March 2020 — receive benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, determined by the Peace Corps director; and that these Volunteers should be given expedited consideration for redeployment if they so choose.
National Advisory Council
Would reestablish a National Advisory Council to bring more exposure to the agency and its work. The council would also be charged with considering key issues related to the Peace Corps’ future, including agency progress in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion; and it would examine financial barriers that might prevent individuals from applying to the Peace Corps.
Extends whistleblower and anti-retaliatory protections that currently apply to Peace Corps contractors to Peace Corps Volunteers, including protections against reprisals by any Peace Corps employee, Volunteer supervisor, or outside contractor.
Includes the language of the Respect for Peace Corps Volunteers Act sponsored by Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) since 2013. This bill 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.
Concrete Steps from a Community-Driven Report
John Garamendi served as a Volunteer in Ethiopia 1966–68, as did his wife, Patti. Joining him and Garret Graves as original co-sponsors on this legislation are Grace Meng (D-NY), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Ed Case (D-HI), Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS). Radewagen represents American Samoa today, and she has a Peace Corps connection; she served on Peace Corps staff in the Northern Mariana Islands 1967–68.
National Peace Corps Association has been a key player in helping shape this legislation as well. Drawing on actionable recommendations in the community-driven “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report, NPCA worked with congressional staff to begin to address priorities developed through eight town halls and a Global Ideas Summit in 2020. Some previous calls for reform have not been fully implemented; this would make them law—and provide funds to follow through.
Notably, the legislation is also endorsed by the National Whistleblower Center.
Notably, the legislation is also endorsed by the National Whistleblower Center.
“Passing this legislation will require every member of the Peace Corps community to take five minutes to write or call their members of Congress urging support for these reforms,” says NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst. “It will require hundreds of advocates to reach beyond our community and speak to the importance of Peace Corps and its mission through traditional and social media.”
The landmark legislation is of a scope not seen in many years. To give it momentum in Congress, the Peace Corps community will need to do some heavy lifting.
“We will need dozens of advocates willing to continue organizing and conducting meetings to bring forth the importance of this legislation directly to members of Congress and their staff,” Blumhorst says. “And we need additional, highly committed individuals willing to volunteer as state and regional advocacy coordinators, joining more than 40 current advocacy leaders who have sparked legislative victories, past, present, and future.”
Story updated May 14 at 3 PM: number of members of the House who have signed on as co-sponsors of H.R. 1456
Jonathan Pearson is Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. You can be a leader in passing H.R. 1456 and charting the course for Peace Corps’ future. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleLegislation in Maryland Would Bring Equity for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Seeking In-State TuitionLegislation would extend in-state tuition to Marylanders returning from service see more
NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst and former Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen testified before a committee in the Maryland State Senate on January 19 to argue that returning Volunteers should receive in-state tuition benefits. Those who serve in the military and AmeriCorps already do.
By Jonathan Pearson
Far too often, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are left behind at the state government level when it comes to benefits that are afforded to others for their service to our nation. In the state of Maryland, a legislative effort is underway to address one of those inequities: who qualifies for in-state tuition.
Marylanders seeking in-state tuition have to prove they have lived in the state for the past two years. Because returning Peace Corps Volunteers are required to serve our nation overseas, they have been found to be ineligible for the tuition benefit once they come home — because of the residency requirement. This is despite the fact that other forms of public service, including military service and AmeriCorps, have an exemption to this rule.
Legislation to bring Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) in line with others regarding in-state tuition passed last year in the Maryland House of Delegates, but time ran out for passage in the Senate. This year, the legislation has been introduced in both chambers, with public hearings held just two weeks into the 2022 session.
Senate Hearing Testimony
On Wednesday, January 19, the Maryland Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs held a hearing to take up the legislation. The sponsor of the legislation, Senator Ronald Young of Frederick, told committee members that he viewed this legislation as a “technical correction” to fix an omission that should have been included in the first place. “What we’re trying to do is to allow these Peace Corps Volunteers to retain their in-state status when they return to Maryland.”
“What we’re trying to do is to allow these Peace Corps Volunteers to retain their in-state status when they return to Maryland.”
— State Senator Ronald Young
National Peace Corps Association President Glenn Blumhorst testified in support of the legislation, citing both the importance of Peace Corps service around the world, and the added domestic dividend returned Volunteers bring to their communities. “The benefits that RPCVs are provided as they return back are really modest, they’re quite limited in many ways,” said Blumhorst. “They do not compare closely to those of other forms of national service. One of our goals is to really address this challenge of having Peace Corps service addressed as a form of national service and seeking fair and equitable treatment for those alums who have served in the Peace Corps.”
Former Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen also testified. Prior to becoming the 20th director of the Peace Corps, Olsen was on the faculty of the University of Maryland–Baltimore School of Social Work. “I watched the value that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers brought to their graduate education,” she said. “They offered so much in the classroom, they offered much with the faculty. In fact, faculty would tell me they are some of the strongest students they had in their master’s degree program.”
Olsen also testified from first-hand experience that RPCVs bring added benefits to the state of Maryland. “I watched many of the RPCVs who chose Maryland and then stayed. They bought houses, they started families, they took professional jobs in the school systems, in mental health, and stayed as strong Maryland residents once they got their degree.”
Watch a recording of the public hearing here. (Peace Corps bill is the first considered, beginning at 0:55 and ending at 13:00.)
Written Testimony Includes Voices of Maryland RPCVs
Along with verbal testimony given before the Senate committee, National Peace Corps Association also submitted written testimony to both the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates. This testimony included comments and statements of support collected in a 24-hour period from more than 50 members of the Maryland Peace Corps community.
Marylanders Can Take Action Here
Jonathan Pearson is the Director of Advocacy for National Peace Corps Association. Write him.
Orrin Luc posted an articleProgress, failures, and what’s on the horizon: a conversation convened for Peace Corps Connect 2021 see more
Progress, failures, and what’s on the horizon: a conversation convened for Peace Corps Connect 2021
Illustration by Anna + Elena = Balbusso
On September 26, 2011, as the Peace Corps community marked 50 years of Volunteers serving in communities around the world, the U.S. Senate passed the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, which was signed into law later that year. Three years ago, Congress completed work on the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act. These two pieces of legislation were designed to bring about improvements and reforms pertaining to the health, safety, and security of Volunteers. What made them necessary were two tragedies: Volunteer Kate Puzey was murdered after she reported a Peace Corps employee for sexually abusing children; Volunteer Nick Castle died when he did not receive appropriate medical care in time.
National Peace Corps Association brought together this panel on September 25, 2021, to discuss progress, shortcomings, and future steps needed to further support and protect Volunteers as Peace Corps prepares for global redeployment. Below are edited excerpts.
Watch the entire discussion here: Peace Corps Safety and Security: A Decade of Legislation for Change
Susan Smith Howley, J.D.
Project Director, Center for Victim Research at Justice Research and Statistics Association
Mother of fallen Volunteer Nick Castle
Casey Frazee Katz
Volunteer in South Africa 2009
Founder of First Response Action
Moderated by Maricarmen Smith-Martinez
Volunteer in Costa Rica 2006–08
Chair of the NPCA Board 2018–21
Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: Issues relating to sexual assault and violence against women, and to inadequate healthcare, span the globe. Peace Corps is not immune to these challenges. We want to review the passage of laws aimed at improving and addressing challenges in Volunteer safety and health; consider how successful those laws have been in bringing about progress and change; explore where those efforts have fallen short; and consider steps to take moving forward — and identify opportunities in this unique moment.
My first foray into advocacy for Volunteer health and safety began as a member of Atlanta Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, after hearing Kate Puzey’s mother speak at Peace Corps 50th anniversary events in 2011. One activist who led the charge in securing the passage of the Kate Puzey Act is Casey Frazee Katz; she created First Response Action and built a grassroots movement to push this legislation forward. What did you hope to achieve?
Casey Frazee Katz: During my service as a Volunteer in South Africa, I was sexually assaulted. I found quickly that there were other Volunteers in South Africa and across the African continent and the globe who had also been sexually assaulted or harassed. What I couldn’t find were rules, laws, information, resources for someone who had been sexually assaulted as a Volunteer. So I founded First Response Action to work toward getting protections, support resources, and information codified for Volunteers.
We initially started working with Peace Corps administration. Quickly it became obvious that we needed to take a step up. We began working with legislators and pulled in other returned Volunteers and families, including Kate Puzey’s family. We drafted the initial legislation, which went through many rounds before that was signed in 2011 to codify some supports for Volunteers—and to establish victim advocacy. I’m grateful that 10 years later, victim advocacy exists within the Peace Corps. This is an issue that is ongoing. So I’m grateful NPCA is keeping this issue top of mind.
Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: One outcome of that legislation was creation of the Sexual Assault Advisory Council.
Susan Howley: I was a victim advocate at the national policy level for more than 25 years, working with people around the country as they passed their first victims rights laws: the first Violence Against Women Act, then the second, then the third. Now there’s a fourth. I worked with people who helped name and develop a response to stalking and human trafficking; worked to address the DNA backlog; worked with those raising awareness and calling for change in the military, on college campuses, in churches, in youth organizations, about sexual assault. I now work in the Center for Victim Research, trying to build an evidence base for how we can better support victims and survivors. In 2012, I was part of the first Sexual Assault Advisory Council and served during its first four years.
By the time that council first met, the Peace Corps had already taken steps to stand up an office for victim advocacy; they developed and piloted their first training; there was already a risk reduction in response programming beginning to be put in place; and there were plans to research and monitor impacts. We were asked to advise on certain things; one was creation of a restricted reporting process, where Volunteers could report confidentially and access services and supports.
What struck me were the complexities involved. There’s no uniform justice system around the world. Peace Corps has no criminal jurisdiction over foreign actors. The recognition of sexual assault was far from universal.
What struck me were the complexities involved. There’s no uniform justice system around the world. Peace Corps has no criminal jurisdiction over foreign actors. The recognition of sexual assault was far from universal, especially for crimes that don’t involve penetration; certainly no uniform understanding of what sexual harassment is, or that it’s wrong. Mental health response wasn’t consistently available in countries. Unlike the military, there was no universal authority over anyone who might be involved in an assault — or response. Even where one Volunteer assaulted another, the Peace Corps didn’t have the same ability to hold someone accountable that you might have in the military. Unlike on a college campus, there are only one or two opportunities to reach the bulk of Volunteers for training. Peace Corps wanted to do a survey of RPCVs to find out more about the extent of sexual assault and harassment; that was a heavy lift, because RPCVs are no longer affiliated with the Peace Corps. You had to go through a whole process with the Office of Management and Budget before you could even think about having a survey.
How do you train in-country staff? How often do they get together? Now we’re used to doing trainings by Zoom. It was a different world 10 years ago. There were a lot of issues that came up when Peace Corps was developing things like restrictive reporting; the Inspector General didn’t understand why they didn’t automatically get all reports — even confidential. It took time for country directors to understand they could not automatically get all information about confidential or restricted reports.
With the Sexual Assault Advisory Council, each year we would come together and get a briefing on new adjustments, progress, evolutions in trainings or policies. We would hear what happened to the previous year’s recommendations: Which ones had the Peace Corps agreed with and were adopting? Which ones did the Peace Corps partially agree with? Which ones did they disagree with — and why? Then we would meet to review everything new and make recommendations.
We would help identify best practices and adapt them. But the term “best practices” is really “best that we know right now.” Often you’re pointing to a program that worked for that group in that context. Does it work here with these people? Where there were no best practices, the Peace Corps and the Sexual Assault Advisory Council relied on key principles of trying to be as transparent as possible and trying to give victims options wherever possible. You create the best trainings and policies that you can at the moment; you implement them and monitor them. Then see where things aren’t working and adjust.
I can’t think of a single area of crime victim response where advocates have been able to say, “Now we’re done. We have a system where every crime victim gets a just and compassionate response.” The most we can say in any arena is: “This is an improvement. What’s next?”
I mentioned Zoom. There are new opportunities for virtual response and training. There’s new understanding of what it means to be trauma-informed, victim-centered. You can’t have a system of continual improvement without hearing from those for whom the system is not working. There have to be systems to identify and learn from cases where risk reduction failed, or response was harmful. We have to support victims who come forward after being failed, recognize their courage, and advocate for them.
Improvements in our system of response to victims and survivors of crime in all kinds of settings, including the Peace Corps, have largely occurred because someone who was harmed or was close to someone who was harmed said, “This has to change.” Even where we make major improvements, the struggle for all of us is to recognize that “this has to change” is a repeated theme. There’s always more to do to ensure a victim-centered response and working support system. I can’t think of a single area of crime victim response where advocates have been able to say, “Now we’re done. We have a system where every crime victim gets a just and compassionate response.” The most we can say in any arena is: “This is an improvement. What’s next?”
Illustration by Anna + Elena = Balbusso
Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: In addition to safety, we want to discuss healthcare for Volunteers. I first met Sue Castle several years ago through NPCA advocacy efforts; she and her husband, Dave, were working closely with members of Congress to draft and advance legislation that is now named after their son. They have been fully engaged with NPCA efforts to support it. I’ve seen firsthand the powerful impact of their story when shared with members of Congress. I’ve also seen how difficult it can be to repeat this story over and over again.
Sue Castle: I must thank everyone who has dedicated their time and effort in supporting reform efforts. Yet it’s pretty disheartening, because it is 10 years after the Kate Puzey Protection Act was signed into law, and we’re still trying to see it followed.
A month after graduating from U.C. Berkeley, in 2012, my son Nick was sent to China as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He became quite ill while serving, and he died in February 2013. Medical care he received by a Peace Corps medical officer (PCMO) was poor and contributed to his death. My primary goal in being involved in advocacy was to make sure what happened to Nick could never happen to another Volunteer. Sadly, that did not happen.
No one wants to have to share some of the worst moments of their life.
In 2018, another Volunteer, Bernice Heiderman, died due to poor medical care. Policies were not being followed. It’s heartbreaking to see this. Peace Corps is supposed to be about what is best about American service: to learn about the cultures, values, and traditions of other countries. But the Peace Corps fails when it comes to taking care of Volunteers who have had a difficult service. Volunteers who return home ill or disabled have difficulty receiving healthcare. Volunteers who are a victim of a crime or sexual assault have difficulty seeing any resolution to their case, and in receiving proper mental health services to move forward in processing their trauma. Many times these Volunteers take their case public, hoping to get help. No one wants to have to share some of the worst moments of their life.
In 2018, the Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act was signed into law. It extends some provisions in the Kate Puzey Act. Yet some of these provisions remain vague. I’ve talked to members in Congress about that. Some issues remain confidential and are unable to be discussed — such as performance reviews of PCMOs. I want to see better healthcare in training before any growth or expansion of the Peace Corps. I want to see professional PCMOs; less encouragement to tough it out or be ignored; and a more thorough examination of the patient. I want to see medical training that reflects current standards, and reviews that accurately reflect the competency of the PCMO.
Cultural bias can be difficult to overcome. There needs to be more training in regard to that. Voices with more recent experience in regard to safety and sexual assault need to be acknowledged and not dismissed. The approach that the Peace Corps has taken has not translated into long-standing change. New ways of dealing with these issues need to be explored. The cost of advocacy is high when you have to retell your story over and over again. Peace Corps shouldn’t have to wait for a response because of a story in The Daily Beast or The New York Times or USA Today. They need to do better.
Where’s the data?
Casey Frazee Katz: When I started talking to people in my group about being assaulted, some shared that they knew of other people who had come through South Africa who had also been assaulted, or had been in other countries and medevaced to South Africa. But we didn’t have data. So I created a basic survey where I asked Volunteers to share as widely as they could, to get better data: Who had been assaulted? Which countries had hot spots or particular issues? What was the response? Do they feel supported or not? The vast majority — three-quarters of people — felt they were not supported. We were hopeful to go in the direction of the quarter of people who did feel supported: What happened there, and how are they connected? How are they resourced? Then we know what to do next.
Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: Do you think that the efforts the council is taking are setting the stage for an evidence-based approach?
We were hopeful to go in the direction of the quarter of people who did feel supported: What happened there, and how are they connected? How are they resourced? Then we know what to do next.
Susan Howley: There’s always more to be done. There’s now a fully functioning RPCV survey, which will be very helpful. There’s about to be a new database that will make it easier to keep victims’ information confidential but allow pulling out more data about what happened, the kinds of responses people are getting. You still need a system that makes it comfortable for people who feel that they were failed to come forward and report — whether that’s anonymously or identifying themselves.
Just like there’s no best practice in response, there’s also no best practice in gathering this kind of data. We’ve tried national victimization surveys, local victimization surveys, college victimization surveys. There’s always a better way to improve response rates, accuracy, and understanding. The Peace Corps is about to undertake a more formal evaluation of its programs. That’s important, because one step is to try to articulate: What are the outcomes we are looking for? What are the indicators we’ll be able to gather that will show whether we are getting those outcomes? The outcomes are typically: We want people who have been victimized to thrive in the future. What is it that they might tell us is happening in the short term that is an indicator they’ll thrive in the future? You have to keep working at it and refining it.
Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: If things are not documented appropriately, we are liable to repeat mistakes.
Sue Castle: What they need to do is hold people accountable for when they aren’t documenting. It tends to come out later that they did not document a safety and security or healthcare incident. There’s no accountability for not documenting. We’re going to have a new security management system. Training is critical. But I think there’s a cultural bias to dismissing some health or security concerns; that’s why they’re not documented. They need to document everything and make it clear: You’re not going to be punished for documenting, but you are going to be held accountable if you’re not documenting.
Is this a matter of needing more legislation — for example, for the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act? Or is it a matter of better implementing legislation we have passed — the Kate Puzey Act, the Farr-Castle Act? What types of measures would help support improved implementation?
The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act is a great piece of legislation. It covers a lot: increase in the workers’ compensation rate from GS 7 to 11 for RPCVs who come home and are unable to work because of a service-related illness or injury; it extends whistleblower protection; it includes the Respect for Peace Corps Act. As far as prior legislation: That shouldn’t take this long to implement.
Maricarmen Smith-Martinez: The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act would also increase the period in which Peace Corps would pay for post-service insurance from one month to three months. We saw that post-evacuation — so trying to make that permanent. The legislation proposes further reporting on post-service mental healthcare provided to returned Volunteers. What might the gradual reintroduction of Volunteers into the field mean when it comes to improving the safety and security and piloting measures?
Sue Castle: They’re already working on improving behavioral health resources for Volunteers — a good first step.
Casey Frazee Katz: What comes to my mind, especially thinking of the council working on risk reduction, is evaluating sites. I wouldn’t say that Peace Corps is inherently unsafe for anyone. Sexual assault, sadly, and sexual harassment, are issues that tend to have several commonalities. One is sometimes just opportunity. If Volunteers are in a rural area with limited cellphone reception, no independent way to get out of their site, that makes someone a little bit of a sitting duck to someone who knows that. As no Volunteers are in the field now, that gives a unique opportunity to evaluate how safe a site is, how many risk factors exist, what resources someone has access to — safety or support.
There ought to be a law. Implemented.
Casey Frazee Katz: Ten years ago, it surprised me that people we thought would be natural allies in Congress were not necessarily immediate supporters of our efforts. People were afraid that maybe we wanted, in bringing up this issue, to dismantle the Peace Corps. None of us wanted that. We believe in Peace Corps as an institution. We believe that Peace Corps does good work. We just wanted to make sure that Peace Corps was also accountable and supportive. These are reasonable measures. What Sue is talking about in terms of PCMO training is very reasonable. However, there is a pandemic and the current political climate, which can make things more challenging. In the best-case scenario, Peace Corps can be a model for supporting survivors, infrastructure, sustainability, and economy. Legislation is one part; implementation, follow-through, training, and assessment matter, too.
We just wanted to make sure that Peace Corps was also accountable and supportive. These are reasonable measures.
Sue Castle: My point has always been to make the Peace Corps better for Volunteers. I’ve done recruiting events and shared my story. I want people to be aware, but I also want people to be involved. Everybody’s voice needs to be acknowledged, whether you agree with it or not. They’re painful conversations — but necessary, and it’s only going to make the Peace Corps better.
Casey Frazee Katz: Pushing the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act forward is certainly critical. With the advocacy work we did 10 years ago, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, in addition to the Volunteers and returned Volunteers, we were supported by a legal team who helped us prepare for the hearing and get affidavits from survivors. These are complex issues and sometimes require complex solutions.
Susan Howley: The voice of the individual is key in advocacy efforts. Legislators and policymakers tell you that they want data, facts; they want to see the logic. But it’s the real story that brings it home, that really makes that data and research come alive for a legislator and their staff — and makes them care.
WATCH THE ENTIRE DISCUSSION here: Peace Corps Safety and Security: A Decade of Legislation for Change
This story appears in the 60th-anniversary edition of WorldView magazine.
Story updated January 17, 2022.
Communications Intern posted an articleJohn Garamendi, only returned Volunteer in Congress, is introducing Peace Corps legislation see more
The 2020 congressional elections mark the end of an era for Peace Corps in Congress: Now there’s only one. And he is working on new legislation to support and improve the Peace Corps.
By Jonathan Pearson
Photo: John Garamendi
The 2020 congressional elections mark the end of an era for Peace Corps in Congress: Since 1975, at least two returned Volunteers served simultaneously in the halls of Congress. Until now.
Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), who served as a Volunteer in Ethiopia 1966–68, was reelected with a relatively comfortable victory, securing 58 percent of the vote in California’s Third District. But he’s the sole RPCV to return.
Donna Shalala (D-FL), who served as a Volunteer in Iran 1962–64, lost her bid for reelection, one of 14 incumbents to do so.
Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), who served as a Volunteer in Dominican Republic 2004–06 and in the House since 2012, lost a primary bid for U.S. Senate. His departure marks the end of another era: Since 1947, a Kennedy has had a seat in Congress, with only two brief interruptions. The first, Joe Kennedy’s great-uncle John F. Kennedy, created the Peace Corps by executive order in March 1961.
Garamendi is Updating the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act
Congressman Garamendi is in the process of updating and reintroducing comprehensive legislation to support and improve the Peace Corps. The legislation is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks. He introduced the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2019 (H.R.3456), with bipartisan support, in the last session of Congress.
In introducing the bill, Garamendi said, “My wife Patti and I owe so much to our service in the Peace Corps. It inspired a lifetime of service that began in Ethiopia during the late 1960s and continued into state government in California, the Clinton Administration, and now the U.S. Congress. Now more than ever, Congress must support the Peace Corps’ mission and realize President Kennedy’s vision of generations of young Americans ready to serve their nation and make the world a better place. Our reauthorization bill does exactly that, and I thank my fellow Peace Corps Caucus co-chairs and Congressional colleagues for their support as original cosponsors.”
That bill did not come to a vote. Read more about it here.
The evacuation of all Volunteers from posts around the world in March 2020 has changed the landscape for Peace Corps. And as the community-driven report Peace Corps Connect to the Future stakes out, this is a time to retool and reshape the agency. The report contains recommendations for Congress, the Executive Branch and the agency, as well as the wider Peace Corps community. Garamendi and others have been briefed on those recommendations.
Here are more legislative updates regarding the Peace Corps community.
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleUpdated: House Unanimously Passes Act to Carry Forward Work on Peace Corps Commemorative. Senators Call for Bipartisan Support. Funding for the Peace Corps Agency Still Uncertain.A victory for the Peace Corps community. And urgent action needed for funding. see more
Legislation introduced by Joseph Kennedy III will enable a project years in the making to be seen through to completion. Senators Portman and Shaheen call on their colleagues to pass the bill as well. But funding for the Peace Corps Agency is still at risk for 2021, with the Senate having put forth a $51 million cut.
By Jonathan Pearson
After Dominican Republic Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA) was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, one of the first pieces of legislation he introduced and passed provided congressional authorization for the creation of a Peace Corps Commemorative in Washington, D.C.On the afternoon of December 17, 2020 in the closing days of his fourth – and final – term in the House of Representatives, one of Congressman Kennedy’s final accomplishments included securing House passage of a time extension that will allow work on the commemorative to move forward without interruption.
The Peace Corps Commemorative Work Extension Act (H.R. 7460) passed unanimously on a voice vote. Final passage of the legislation still needs Senate approval and a presidential signature to become law.
The Senate sponsors of companion legislation, Rob Portman (R-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) issued a press release after the House vote paying tribute to Peace Corps Volunteers and calling upon the Senate to pass the bill as well. “For more than 50 years, the Peace Corps has served as a powerful vehicle for volunteers who wish to use their talents to carry America’s humanitarian values to other parts of the world,” said Senator Portman. “I am pleased that this legislation was approved by the House today, and I urge my Senate colleagues to support it so that it can head to the President’s desk for his signature.”
Watch: “A lasting tribute” — Representative Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA) pay tribute to the service of Peace Corps Volunteers over 60 years and ask for passage of the bill.
The Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation has made great progress on this project, with design selection, site selection near the National Mall, and unanimous approval by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in September on the revised design concept.
Rendering of Peace Corps Commemorative at Peace Corps Park. Courtesy of Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation.
“A lasting tribute to the legacy of the Peace Corps”
Congressman Kennedy’s departure marks the end of an era. Since 1947, a Kennedy has had a seat in Congress with only two brief interruptions. The first, Joe Kennedy’s great uncle John F. Kennedy, created the Peace Corps by executive order in March 1961.
Speaking on the House floor, Representative Rob Wittman (R-VA) noted that it is fitting for the Peace Corps Commemorative legislation to be sponsored by President Kennedy’s grand-nephew. Representative Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) said the commemorative will serve as a “lasting tribute to the legacy of the Peace Corps.”
On December 9, Joe Kennedy delivered his farewell remarks to the House and spoke of how it is the task of each generation to expand the meaning of “we” in the phrase “We the people,” the opening words of the U.S. Constitution. “Our future is big and bright,” Kennedy said, “bit it will take everything — and everyone — to reach it.”
“Today the House unanimously passed a seven-year Commemorative authorization extension, among Rep. Kennedy’s final bills before ending his House term," said Roger Lewis, President of the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation. “Americans who have served as Volunteers, worked for the Peace Corps or share Peace Corps ideals and values, are profoundly grateful for Rep. Kennedy’s steadfast commitment to and support of the Peace Corps and its historic mission.”
Peace Corps Funding Under Threat
As the 116th Congress races to a close, Peace Corps-related activities in need of congressional action include advocating for full funding for the agency in 2021.
The current deadline for Congress to complete its work on a Fiscal Year 2021 spending plan is midnight Friday, December 18. There are signs Congress might pass another continuing resolution to extend that deadline into the weekend and possibly early next week. Among the many items at stake is Peace Corps’ budget. While the House recommended level funding of $410.5 million, the Senate put forth a $359 million allocation – a $51 million cut.
Make your voices heard with your lawmakers to urge them to support level funding for Peace Corps.
Peace Corps Redeployment and Evacuees
High on the congressional priority list for passage each year is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Included in the 4,500 page document that has passed both chambers is reporting requirements pertaining to Peace Corps redeployment and Volunteers who were evacuated earlier in 2020.
Introduced by Congressman Dean Phillips (D-MN), the legislation calls for a report to Congress from Peace Corps three months after bill passage on efforts of the agency to:
- Provide an update on offering a redeployed Peace Corps assignment to all evacuees who wish to continue service;
- Obtain approval from countries of service to allow the return of Peace Corps Volunteers;
- Provide adequate health and safety measures including COVID-19 contingency plans; and
- Identify any need for additional appropriations or new statutory authorities and the changes in global conditions that would be necessary to achieve the goal of safely enrolling 7,300 Peace Corps Volunteers during the one-year period beginning on the date on which Peace Corps operations resume.
President Trump has indicated that he will veto the NDAA on issues not related to Peace Corps. The president has until December 23 to do so. Congress is contemplating strategies to overturn the veto should it be issued.
Last Updated December 18, 2020 at 4 PM. Watch this story for updates.
Steven Saum posted an articleSupport and encouragement for evacuated Volunteers from members of Congress see more
In addition to legislation to support evacuated Volunteers, members of Congress have also taken time to share encouragement.
Peace Corps Volunteers dedicate two years of their lives to serve their country abroad and are an important component of American foreign policy and international aid efforts. I’ve been a proud supporter of the Peace Corps for many years and hope to see Volunteers return to the field as soon as it’s safe to do so. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s important we support Volunteers and keep working to make emergency benefits available to them. I’ll keep working to find ways to make sure this program continues.”
—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Senator Feinstein co-authored the 2020 Peace Corps funding Dear Colleague letter and is a co-sponsor of S. 3700. She is a 2020 recipient of NPCA’s Congressman Sam Farr Congressional Leadership Award.
As a 30-year veteran and co-chair of the For Country Caucus, I know firsthand the importance of giving back to our country though national service. The Inspire to Serve Act is just one of many ways to promote public and military service on a national and global level. I commend our Peace Corps and the thousands of Volunteers who have been helping our nation’s communities during this difficult time. Through selflessness, resilience, and love for our country, we will persevere.”
—Representative Don Bacon (R-NE)
Representative Bacon is the lead Republican sponsor of H.R. 6415, the Inspire to Serve Act of 2020.
I deeply regret the hardship faced by 7,300 Peace Corps Volunteers evacuated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Van Hollen and I introduced our UNITE Act to ensure that Peace Corps will offer readmission to each Volunteer evacuated due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I am pleased that the Peace Corps had since committed to do so once it is safe. The legislation also calls for prioritizing the hiring of evacuated Volunteers so they can apply the skills they developed abroad here at home — aiding vulnerable communities in their time of need and helping to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
—Senator Edward Markey (D-MA)
Senator Markey is the lead sponsor of S. 3642, the UNITE Act.
For decades, our Peace Corps Volunteers have been answering the call to service, and selflessly making a difference across the world. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of these Volunteers to leave their posts and return to the United States. Faced with a deteriorating economy, these hardworking public servants may require assistance navigating these unprecedented times. Peace Corps Volunteers show the world American values, and I am proud to join my colleagues on this legislation to ensure they have access to health care, employment opportunities, and a redeployment process.”
—Representative Don Young (R-AK)
Representative Young is the lead Republican sponsor of H.R. 6833, the Utilizing and Supporting Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers Act.
Time and again, Peace Corps Volunteers demonstrate the best of America — sharing hope, lifting each other up, and empowering people to live healthy, fulfilling lives. Now is no different, and Peace Corps Volunteers are prepared with the skills and experience to be redeployed to combat the pandemic. I introduced the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act to expand national service by building on existing infrastructure to respond to the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. We are facing a period of unprecedented disaster that is taking lives, crippling the economy, and upending daily life. Peace Corps and other National Service volunteers can and should be a critical link in our recovery.”
–Representative David Price (D-NC)
Representative Price is the lead sponsor of H.R. 6702. He is co-chair of the National Service Caucus.
As we confront a global health pandemic and challenges we have never envisioned before, the Peace Corps and thousands of Volunteers spanning every corner of the world will help us rebuild. For decades, Peace Corps Volunteers have served and sacrificed in pursuit of our greater good and that commitment has never been more important. To all those who were evacuated and all those who are considering the Peace Corps, we are deeply grateful for your compassion, your empathy, and your drive to build a better world.”
—RPCV Representative Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA)
Representative Kennedy, who served in the Dominican Republic, is a co-chair of the House Peace Corps Caucus and co-author of the 2020 House Peace Corps funding Dear Colleague letter, which was signed by 167 representatives.
Our nation’s Peace Corps Volunteers live and work around the world, making a lasting difference in the lives of countless individuals through grassroots development projects that promote healthy living, entrepreneurship, and education. The burden the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on these public servants should not be overlooked during this economically challenging time. I will continue to advocate for legislation to support Volunteers, such as a bipartisan bill I sponsored to help ensure that Volunteers who have been evacuated due to COVID-19 are eligible for financial assistance offered through the CARES Act.”
—Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)
Senator Collins co-authored the 2020 Peace Corps funding Dear Colleague letter, signed by 42 Senators; She is the lead Republican of S. 3700, which seeks to address health care and job opportunities for evacuees, and expedite their applications if they wish to redeploy for service.
To be a Peace Corps Volunteer, it takes character, determination, an open mind, and a deep commitment to serve humanity in the furthest corners of the world. Peace Corps Volunteers are some of our best ambassadors of American values, goodwill, diplomacy and development around the globe. That’s why lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have supported the Peace Corps since its founding over a half a century ago. The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented challenge, but the Peace Corps is resilient, and I know the day will come when we can resume operations and Volunteers can safely return to the field. A heartfelt thank you to all who have served and embodied the best of American ideals. We are a better nation for your service.”
—Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY)
Staff of Representative Engle, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, have worked closely with NPCA and the Peace Corps community in advancing Peace Corps related legislation.
The Peace Corps is, and has always been, one of the best tools we have to spread cooperation and understanding between Americans and the global community. The COVID-19 pandemic has frustrated this critical purpose and forced the evacuation of thousands of Volunteers at a time when the Peace Corps’ mission is more important than ever. I am confident that Volunteers will soon return to building lasting goodwill among the people of the world.”
–RPCV Representative Donna Shalala (D-FL)
Representative Shalala, one of the first Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in Iran, is a member of the Peace Corps Caucus and leading voice of support on Peace Corps issues, including her co-sponsorship of H.R. 6702.
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Steven Saum posted an articleHere’s how we’ve been advocating for evacuated Volunteers — and a Peace Corps in a changed world. see more
Here’s how we’ve been advocating for evacuated Volunteers — and a Peace Corps in a changed world.
By Jonathan Pearson and Steven Boyd Saum
The coronavirus pandemic and temporary suspension of all Peace Corps programs marks the greatest existential threat to the agency in its history. When Volunteers were evacuated, they were ripped from communities with hardly any notice; in March they came back to a pandemic and an economic maelstrom. Regulations typically would not allow them to be eligible for unemployment insurance; their health insurance coverage would expire in a month. In some cases they had no home to come back to.
Supporting those Volunteers became top priority. As part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed into law March 27, we lobbied for $88 million in additional funding to support the safe evacuation and immediate readjustment needs of Volunteers. Thanks to help from supporters in Congress, new regulations were issued by the Department of Labor declaring that evacuated Volunteers are eligible for unemployment insurance. Health insurance coverage was extended. We have also sent letters to governors of some states where evacuated Volunteers have had trouble receiving the unemployment assistance they should.
Thanks to help from supporters in Congress, new regulations were issued by the Department of Labor declaring that evacuated Volunteers are eligible for unemployment insurance. Health insurance coverage was extended.
What’s ahead? A concerted, lengthy mobilization is required to ensure the future of Peace Corps. And as nationwide protests against the killing of George Floyd and racial injustice have made profoundly clear since the end of May, we need to uphold Peace Corps values of equity and justice here at home — as well as abroad — as we work to support Peace Corps in a changed world. That’s an essential part of our advocacy work as well.
On the Hill
It may seem a lifetime ago, but it was only on March 5, 2020 that 200 members of the Peace Corps community took part in our annual Day of Action on Capitol Hill. Groups of returned Volunteers — including 35 Volunteers from China, evacuated five weeks earlier — met with members of Congress. For the first time ever, we delivered materials to every senator and representative. Returned Volunteers also presented the NPCA Sam Farr Congressional Leadership Award to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Congressman Hal Rogers of Kentucky for their leadership on Peace Corps issues.
Ink on paper: some of the bipartisan support for Peace Corps last year.
Community advocacy was essential in getting a record 42 senators to sign the annual “Dear Colleague” letter in support of Peace Corps, co-authored by Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). It also bolstered efforts by the Peace Corps Caucus in the House — led by RPCVs John Garamendi (D-CA) and Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), and Representative Garrett Graves (R-LA) — to secure 167 signatures on a House letter requesting $450 million for Peace Corps in fiscal year 2021.
As it turns out, our Day of Action was about the last big day of meetings for anyone on Capitol Hill before COVID-19 began to shut down Washington, D.C. The crisis that pandemic created for Volunteers has meant our advocacy work is more important than ever. That work just doesn’t happen in person right now.
The following section outlines positive legislation for Peace Corps and evacuees. But there’s one instance when we’ve asked the community to raise their voices against legislation: the Working Under Humanity’s Actual Needs (WUHAN) Rescissions Act introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) that would take back the funding used to support evacuated Volunteers
In the Works
There’s a great deal of national legislation in the works that our community can get behind — some that we helped shape.
UNITE Act (S.B. 3642)
Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) developed legislation with NPCA to mobilize U.S. citizens — especially evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers — to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by expanding response programs. Extends opportunities for evacuees to purchase health insurance to six months. Calls for expedited procedures to redeploy evacuees. House Bill 6560 parallels it. Introduced by RPCV John Garamendi.
Senate Bill 3700
Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Addresses unemployment and health care benefits for evacuees, expands service opportunities, promotes return of Peace Corps programs.
Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act (S.B. 3624)
Chris Coons (D-DE), joined by Chris Van Hollen and others. Has drawn national media attention amid increasing calls for national public service programs.
Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act (S.B. 3964)
Senators Chris Coons, Roger Wicker (R-MS), and others. Expands national public service programs with priority enrollment for evacuated Volunteers.
Reauthorize Peace Corps Commemorative Project
Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Representatives Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) and Garret Graves (R-LA) ask to extend time for work on a commemorative and park near the Capitol, celebrating the mission and ideals of the Peace Corps.
Letters: Combat COVID-19
National Health Corps Letter (April 21) to House leadership
Representatives Ami Bera (D-CA), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), Susan Brooks (R-IN), and Bill Foster (D-IL). Calls for a National Health Corps to combat COVID-19, specifically referencing evacuated RPCVs as a resource.
Bi-Cameral Letter (April 2)
Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Dean Phillips state the need for evacuees to have jobless protections and opportunities to use their skills to combat COVID-19.
Inspire to Serve Act of 2020 (H.R. 6415)
Introduced by Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and joined by Don Bacon (R-NE), Chrissy Houlahan, Michael Waltz (R-FL), and others.
Incorporates some recommendations offered by the Commission on Military, National and Public Service in a report issued in March 2020. Extends non-competitive eligibility for Peace Corps service from one to three years; proposes pilot program for Peace Corps Response Volunteers to work remotely; involves Peace Corps leadership in a national Council on Service.
Utilizing and Supporting Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers Act (H.R. 6833)
Introduced by Representatives Dean Phillips (D-MN) and Don Young (R-AK). Extends opportunity for evacuated RPCVs to continue to purchase health insurance through Peace Corps beyond three months. Calls for expedited opportunities for evacuated RPCVs in programs aimed at combating the COVID-19 pandemic here at home. Expedited opportunities to return to Peace Corps service. Also includes language of the no-cost, bi-partisan Respect for Peace Corps Volunteers Act to allow the Peace Corps logo on grave markers or death notices.
Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act (H.R. 6702)
Introduced by David Price (D-NC) and joined by more than 15 cosponsors. Funds 750,000 national service positions over three years to support pandemic relief and recovery. Gives placement priority to Peace Corps Volunteers, Fulbright grantees, or AmeriCorps participants whose service or grant was interrupted by COVID-19.
In the weeks ahead we will be calling on our community to support Peace Corps and its values. We hope you’ll join us and take action: advocacy.peacecorpsconnect.org
Jonathan Pearson is the Advocacy Director for National Peace Corps Association. Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView magazine. This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:
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