A few weeks ago, the House Appropriations Committee recommended increasing Peace Corps funding to $450 million. Thursday, the House voted to approve funding at that level. The same day, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to match Obama’s more modest $373.4M budget request for the agency.
While the Corporation for National and Community Service — the agency that coordinates and oversees the AmeriCorps family of service programs — had a disappointing day in a House subcommittee yesterday, Peace Corps won a huge increase in funding as its supporters in the House defeated an amendment that would have only moderately increased funding for the agency in the fiscal year 2010.
The increase — if matched in the Senate — would mean Peace Corps could start ramping up Volunteer numbers, as Obama has called for doubling Peace Corps by the agency’s 50th anniversary in 2011.
According to the National Peace Corps Association’s blog the Peace Corps Polyglot:
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers defeated an amendment offered by Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) to reduce Peace Corps funding from the $450 Million recommended by the House Appropriations Committee, to $373.4 Million, the level proposed in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget request.
The vote was 172 in favor of the amendment, and 259 opposed. …Congressman Stearns cited the President’s request, the struggling economy, and the need to be creating jobs in the U.S. rather than overseas as reasons for offering his amendment. (Additional remarks here and here.)Those speaking in support of the $450 Million included Nita Lowey (D-NY) who noted that she and her colleagues have heard from thousands of RPCVs, serving volunteers and others in support of the higher funding. RPCV Congressmen Sam Farr (D-CA) and Steve Driehaus (D-OH), and Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) also spoke forcefully about the benefits of the Peace Corps and the need for a $450 Million appropriation.
News Isn’t As Fabulous from the Senate
The news wasn’t completely great for Peace Corps funding Thursday as the full Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations bill, recommending only $373.4M in funding for Peace Corps — matching Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2010, and representing a $33M increase over 2009 funding levels. While not $450M, the figure is the largest percentage increase since 1993. According to Peace Corps’s press release about that figure:
If the $373.44 million request is approved by Congress, this will be the largest operating budget in Peace Corps’ history.
The proposed budget request reflects a plan for agency wide quality growth. This budget of $373.44 million will enable the Peace Corps to recruit, train, and support the thousands of Americans willing to devote two years of their lives to serve in a community abroad.
Lack of Leadership, Vision, and Change Cited as Reasons for Lower Funding Figure
Thursday, the lack of a permanent CEO at the Corporation for National and Community Service seems to have held the agency back in its funding aspirations; likewise, Peace Corps is also currently led by an Acting Director which seems to have hurt the agency’s chances of getting stronger support in the Senate Appropriations Committee which called for a new Peace Corps Director with a vision to reform the agency. Here is the statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcomittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs:
The Committee strongly supports the mission of the Peace Corps, which can be as relevant today in promoting American values abroad as it was when it was founded almost a half century ago. But the world has changed significantly since then, and the Peace Corps needs to adapt to the 21st century. Past efforts by the Committee to encourage the Peace Corps to reform and make better use of resources have been ignored. A new Director with a new vision, who recognizes the need for reform, supports transparency and seeks a constructive relationship with Congress, is urgently needed.
The Committee is aware that some have called for a large increase in funding above the amount requested by the President for fiscal year 2010, in order to send volunteers to new countries. Very few of such countries are safe enough or otherwise ready to host volunteers, and there are hundreds of volunteers currently serving in countries with little if any strategic importance to the United States who could be used more effectively. At a time of intense pressures on a limited budget, each volunteer costs the U.S. Government $50,000 a year. Each dose of vaccine for measles, which threatens hundreds of millions of children in poor countries and needlessly kills 200,000 children annually, costs a few dollars. This is but one of the many difficult funding choices the Committee faced, yet its recommendation for the Peace Corps is the largest percentage increase in the Peace Corps’ budget since 1993. The Committee believes that reform, not dramatic increases in funding in a single year, is the Peace Corps’ most urgent need.
In a June 2009 Brookings Institution paper about International Volunteer Service, authors David Capara, Kevin F.F. Quigley, and Lex Rieffel cite President George W. Bush’s attempt to double the Peace Corps after 9/11/01, but admit that “scaling up has been hampered by the program’s lack of clear alignment with major U.S. national interests (thus the difficulty of securing significant congressional support), its relatively high costs and long terms of service, and its image in much of the world of being a Cold War instrument.”
Why More Funding is Needed
Because of the falling value of the dollar, and a surge in applications, Peace Corps has recently been forced to decrease the number of Volunteer positions around the world, shrinking our army of citizen diplomats just when we aspire to regain a positive image on the world stage; forcing qualified applicants to wait as long as 18 months to depart for an assignment; and turning away potential host countries who would love to put Volunteers to work on the ground.
To learn more about the movement to expand Peace Corps, check out the More Peace Corps campaign, and the Brookings Institution paper Ten Times the Peace Corps: A Smart Investment in Soft Power.