April 22, 2020

Duckworth, Durbin Help Introduce Legislation to Significantly Expand National Service Programs to Respond to COVID-19


[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and six of their colleagues in announcing the introduction of legislation to expand national service programs as the country works to respond and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act would fund 750,000 national service positions over a three-year response and recovery period, in part to meet the projected need for as many as 300,000 community public health workers. Under the bill, the number of AmeriCorps and national service positions could expand from 75,000 to 150,000 the first year and double to 300,000 in years two and three. Duckworth also helped secure two of the bill’s provisionsone that would allocate funding for new online tools for Senior Corps to safely move the organization to a teleservice model and another that would encourage CNCS to specifically target diverse populations and ensure that a portion of new program slots are available to those in low-income and minority communities and individuals with diverse abilities. The Senators are actively working to include this bill in the next COVID-19 relief package set to be considered by the Senate.

Just as picking up a rifle to defend our country is ‘American Service,’ so is helping out a food pantry for those at risk of hunger, assisting students with remote education and helping patients make critical health care decisions,” Duckworth said. “We should be doing everything we can to make sure these vital service programs are accessible to all Americans who wish to serve during times of crisis like these. That’s why I’m proud to be working with Senator Coons and my colleagues to include this proposal—which builds on my 21st Century American Service Act—in the next relief package.”

“For decades, our national service programs have provided valuable assistance and services to communities that needed it the most. These programs have been pivotal in bringing people together who share a common spirit of giving back to the community,” Senator Durbin said. “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be more important than ever to marshal our community leaders and workers to address our health and economic needs.  That is why I am proud to cosponsor the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act with Senator Coons and my colleagues.”

The legislation contains a number of provisions inspired by Senator Duckworth’s 21st Century American Service Act:

  • Increasing the living allowance to ensure that individuals’ financial resources do not limit participation.
  • Increasing the Education Award: the proposal offsets two years of average in-state four-year institution tuition for each full term an individual services
  • Excluding both the living allowance and education award from taxable income
  • Requiring the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to conduct an outreach campaign with a goal of maximizing awareness among low-income; minority communities and those aged 17 to 30. 
  • Requiring CNCS to provide Congress with a feasibility plan of what would be required to notify Americans aged 17 to 30 every two years of service options and how to apply for them.

U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also helped introduce this bill.

“In Illinois, 45,000 people have answered the call of AmeriCorps service since 1994. These Members and Alums represent the best that America has to offer. In times of need and crisis, they are the first to stand up. Faced with adversity, they persevere,” said Scott McFarland, Executive Director for the Serve Illinois Commission. “Now, in what will be a defining moment for our country, we need AmeriCorps more than ever. We must provide AmeriCorps Members with the support and resources they need to get things done, and I am honored to be working with Senator Duckworth to do just that.”

Specifically, the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act would:

  • Fund 750,000 national service positions over a three-year response and recovery period, in part to meet the projected need for as many as 300,000 public health workers.
  • Create a partnership between AmeriCorps and CDC inspired by FEMA Corps to provide for additional response surge capacity that could be deployed to specific areas as needed.
  • Provide flexibilities for programs quickly to grow and respond to dynamic local recovery needs.
  • Prioritize funding for activities directly related to our response and recovery, such as: public health services, emergency logistics, workforce and reemployment services, education support (including for adult learners), and services that combat nutrition insecurity.
  • Ensure that individuals’ financial resources do not limit participation by increasing the AmeriCorps living allowance to 175 percent of the federal poverty line and tying the value of the Segal Education Award to the cost of two years of public university tuition, harmonizing the treatment of both with other programs by making them nontaxable.
  • Fund new online tools for Senior Corps to safely move to a teleservice model.
  • Extend priority enrollment to Peace Corps, U.S. Fulbright, and AmeriCorps participants whose service or grants was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and encourage participation by members of low-income and minority communities, those who have had contact with the juvenile justice system, and those of diverse abilities.
  • Invite participation by a diverse range of Americans by launching an awareness and outreach campaign on response service opportunities and supporting the Volunteer Generation Fund.

For a one-pager on the bill, please click here.