Opinion

To Create Jobs and Help Our Country Heal, Congress Must Expand National Service

The bad news keeps coming. Too many Americans are out of work, newly without health insurance and temporary economic relief is set to expire at the end of the month. The country needs a response on the scale of the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s.

Without a jobs program that addresses the dual issues of economic hardship — joblessness among young adults is the highest at over 20 percent — and support for people suffering from immediate and dramatic effects of the pandemic, our nation will not recover.

AmeriCorps is an important piece of rebuilding the country that we know works. Immediately, we can put people back to work in positions that will have a multiplying effect on our economy. We have a clear solution to many of the problems COVID-19, along with our nation’s poor response, have caused and now is the time to scale it up.

Since 1994, 800,000 people have dedicated a year of service as AmeriCorps members throughout the country, focusing on disaster services, economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, education and veterans and military families.

From the onset of the pandemic, AmeriCorps members stepped up to respond directly to the crisis. Thousands of AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers have engaged in COVID-19 response activities, with many more continuing to adapt and respond as needs arise. State service commissions, as we’ve seen in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado, for example, have designed innovative service year corps to meet their communities’ existing needs to address food insecurity, support independent living needs, manage volunteers, and support the capacity of nonprofits who are struggling to keep up with unprecedented demand for services.

These programs have a high return on investment: A new study about national service finds that for every $1 Congress appropriates to AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, there is a $17 return to society, service members and government.

Education especially demands attention, but the needs of students will be ongoing. Early estimates indicate that learning loss resulting from school closures could leave some students up to a year behind on academic gains. Other research estimates that impacts are not being felt evenly across the board: Black and Latinx students are projected to lose more instruction time than the average of all students nationwide.

At the local level, uneven learning loss is already happening. A study in Los Angeles confirmed our worst fears: Students of color and those from low-income communities face troubling disparities in distance learning. As long as the virus remains unchecked, schools will remain closed and this chasm will deepen without intervention. City Year student success coaches can help make up for lost learning.

City Year offers those ages 18-24 a year of national service by placing them in public schools where they provide students in grades three through 10 with tutoring and mentorship, key support systems that have been proven to help improve student performance and address disparities in student outcomes. In fact, students who received support from City Year demonstrated improved academic outcomes and gains in social-emotional skills equivalent to gaining an entire school year of growth in math or English.

This is the exact kind of rapid response, adaptability and support that Americans need. Our communities are in crisis and AmeriCorps offers the infrastructure, service and jobs we need.

As the Senate mulls over a COVID relief plan, it must invest in scaling these programs up by passing the Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service Act (CORPS Act). Introduced by Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the bipartisan bill (yes, you read that correctly) would expand AmeriCorps and increase the living allowance for its members. Nearly 4 million college graduates are entering the workforce while unemployment is sky high. National service will help advance their careers and serve as a bridge to employment.

Increasing the stipend for AmeriCorps members also means a year of national service will be more accessible to young people of color who are from the communities in which they serve. If the pandemic has demonstrated anything, it is that deep racial and income divides dictate opportunities for Americans.

Inspiring service among this new generation will transform our country positively, and we will immediately have better tools to emerge from the pandemic stronger. Before Congress is the opportunity to create jobs that will help our country heal. That’s an investment worth making.

Andrew Hauptman is chairman of Andell Inc. and national trustee of City Year.

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