As the Serve America Act becomes law, it offers no support of Peace Corps. Legislation to increase the capacity of Peace Corps was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year.
In mid-February, Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1066, the Peace Corps Expansion Act of 2009. The legislation calls for gradually increased funding for Peace Corps (up to $750 million in 2012), enabling more Volunteers to serve, and increasing the amount of the readjustment allowance Volunteers receive at the end of their service term.
13,011 Americans applied in 2008 to volunteer their service in the Peace Corps, a 16 percent increase over the 11,246 applications received in 2007. While applications to Peace Corps and other service corps are seeing record numbers, Peace Corps has funding for 400 fewer Volunteers this year (compared with 2008), and is reportedly offering one-year deferrals to candidates.
(In 1966, according to the Boston Globe, 15,000 Peace Corps Volunteers served in the field.)
According to the Boston Globe article about Peace Corps from this past weekend, former Peace Corps Country Director Mark Gearan said, “We spend more on the military marching bands. …This is 1 percent of 1 percent [of the federal budget]. There’s no question that there’s a wellspring of interest around the country. We just have to broaden the awareness of it and then fund it.”
The Globe article estimates that 20 developing nations have requested Volunteers but Peace Corps is unable to help them.
The rationale for expanding Peace Corps is argued in a paper Ten Times the Peace Corps released last September by Brookings Institution’s Lex Rieffel and the National Peace Corps Association president Kevin F.F. Quigley:
A critical challenge for the next president of the United States will be to convince the rest of the world that we are more interested in being a reliable partner than a military superpower. Our future security and prosperity will depend on the success of this effort.
Reversing the negative attitudes toward the United States that prevail in many parts of the world will require a mix of hard power and soft power instruments. The Peace Corps has been one of the most effective forms of American soft power since it was created by John F. Kennedy almost 50 years ago. With 8,000 volunteers in the field, however, it is half the size it reached at its peak in 1966, and most Americans are unaware that it still exists.
Scaling up the Peace Corps to ten times its present size could be one of the smartest initiatives advanced by the next president if it is premised on a new vision, a different funding model, and an enhanced organizational form.
Currently H.R. 1066 is in the House Foreign Relations Committee.
A campaign of the National Peace Corps Association, More Peace Corps is looking to increase the number of bill cosponsors to ensure its passage as well as appropriations to actually fund it.