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In Time of Crisis, Service to Others Can Unite a Nation

Originally published in Time Magazine on July 17, 2020

By U.S. Reps. Jimmy Panetta, Don Bacon, Chrissy Houlahan and Michael Waltz

America is witnessing one of the most difficult times in our country’s history. With a global pandemic still surging across our nation and with the national unemployment rate spiking at 14.7 percent and the youth unemployment rate at 25.3 percent – colossal losses not seen since the Great Depression – Americans are looking for work and for new opportunities.

In this difficult moment, America is once again prepared to take bold action to move forward, recover and rebuild. Just as we have done in the past.

Our country needs each of us to band together – and the best way to unite and revitalize America, both economically and socially, is by doing so for a cause greater than ourselves: each other.

As military veterans and public servants, we understand the unifying power of service to our nation and to others. We believe national service is part of the solution to today’s crisis – and that’s why we are working on proposals to expand our national service programs.

Our proposal, the Inspire to Serve Act, is one part of this mission. This legislation nurtures the spirit of American service and builds the future through national service programs. The Inspire to Serve Act would expand and encourage service opportunities in established programs like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.

Our bill would also expand service opportunities in the current National Service Fellowship Program from 25,000 to 250,000 and double the size of the Youthbuild and Youth Conservation Corps, two youth employment programs which engage tens of thousands of young people in meaningful work experiences on national parks, forests and wildlife refuges. This legislation would also create a Civic Education Fund to prioritize civics education so children can learn the value of service, how to be good citizens and how to engage effectively with their communities from an early age.
Through these efforts and thanks to the leadership of the bipartisan House National Service Caucus, there is strong demand in the House to take action on national service at this critical time.

We are also supportive of the work our colleagues in the Senate have done in introducing the Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act, which we also believe has the power to help our nation rebuild and recover stronger in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

This legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), calls for significant expansion of our already-existing national service programs by funding opportunities from 75,000 to 150,000 the first year and then steadily to 250,000 by the third year. This would ultimately result in 600,000 service opportunities for unemployed youth interested in helping their communities.

Though nearly half of these service positions through programs like AmeriCorps will focus on education, there will also be thousands of other opportunities for those interested in giving back. As our country responds to the coronavirus pandemic, health professionals need help to test and treat patients. Some of these positions will connect volunteers with health professionals to expand access to COVID-19 screening and testing nationwide, increasing our responsiveness to this virus.

This legislation also prioritizes funding for programs supporting economic opportunity, so more people have the chance to get a job, pay their bills and succeed.

Both of these bipartisan bills share the same goal: making it easier for Americans to serve our country. These proposals will help our communities react swiftly to their own pressing needs and create the strongest local approach to address them.

In our collective years of military service, we’ve learned national service can advance two goals. First, national service gives people a mechanism to give back to the community they come from. National service can help get hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work in their own communities. Second, national service can also give Americans the opportunity to work outside their comfort zones, engage with people who don’t necessarily look or think like them and learn leadership, followership and teamwork side-by-side with other volunteers and the communities they serve.

While these pieces of legislation are a starting point, the hope is that the positive effects of these bills reach far beyond one program and out into our communities, so each city, suburb and town all over our nation is touched by them and hopefully grows closer as a result.

America needs more of that today.

By encouraging national service, we believe we can help our nation better recover. The expansion of service opportunities will lead to a rebuilding, regrowth and reconnection of Americans yearning to band together once more to foster a more perfect union.