This originally appeared on Medium on June 28, 2021.
By AnnMaura Connolly and Rye Barcott
Americans graduating high school and college are searching for employment and a way to serve something larger than themselves.
National service meets the moment. Congress is considering the CORPS Act to expand AmeriCorps to provide relief to American schools and communities struggling to rebound from the pandemic. Congress should expand AmeriCorps now for three reasons: cost, community, and future leadership for our country.
AmeriCorps provides a stipend and benefits to approximately 75,000 young Americans — a fraction of 1% of Americans aged 18–24. These Americans serve for a year in local nonprofits in every Congressional district in the nation and provide critical support in education, disaster relief, homeless assistance, care for the elderly, and conservation.
For decades the budget of AmeriCorps has been just over $1 billion, which is a miniscule fraction of less than one percent of the federal budget. Moreover, this money is not zero sum. It’s estimated every $1 of federal expenditure generates $17 of value.
The second reason to act now is community. National service is one of the few issues that unites Americans across our bitter political lines, and it can make a difference in nearly every community in the nation. Last month a national survey of Americans showed that 86% of Democrats, 80% of Republicans, and 73% of Independents support expanding AmeriCorps.
The support across party lines for national service is one of the few areas that manifests in Congress. Senators Chris Coons and Roger Wicker led a bi-partisan group of 18 Senators last year to introduce the CORPS Act to more than double AmeriCorps positions for young Americans and make them more accessible by increasing the living stipend. This effort has been supported with leadership by the House National Service Caucus Co-Chairs Representatives David Price and Doris Matsui, and the bi-partisan For Country Caucus of veterans in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The third reason to expand AmeriCorps now is for our country’s future leadership. The reason so many military veterans in Congress have worked for years to grow national service is because veterans know how service can equip one for life. For most young Americans, service is the best on-ramp for future employment. Service instills loyalty, discipline, and commitment. It improves communication skills by working with people from different backgrounds. It shapes useful values, including appreciation of our country and the freedoms we enjoy.
What’s more, young Americans want to serve. Demand for AmeriCorps positions exceeds supply many times over. A national poll of 18–24 year-olds found that 71% are interested in serving in AmeriCorps, and 89% of young Americans believe that direct service is the best way to make a difference in their communities.
The introduction of the CORPS Act in the Senate in 2020 helped generate some early results. The American Rescue Plan included resources to help AmeriCorps respond to pandemic related needs across the country, and the White House recently announced plans to launch a Public Health AmeriCorps.
As young Americans graduate and seek to make their impact in the world, now is the time to create more pathways to service by expanding AmeriCorps. If you agree, please call your Congressman and ask them to sign on as a co-sponsor to the CORPS Act, which is being reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week.
AnnMaura Connolly is the President of Voices for National Service and the Chief Strategy Officer & Executive Vice President of City Year, Inc. Rye Barcott is Co-Founder and CEO of WithHonor.org.