National service will give thousands of Americans a chance to recover and rebuild their communities
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The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging our country in profound ways. Families are struggling to pay the bills as unemployment soars to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Small businesses are struggling to survive while communities are paralyzed with shuttered stores and closed schools. Worst of all, the pandemic’s impact has fallen unevenly across communities in ways that painfully amplify how inequality and unequal access to health care already divides our nation.

Hospitals and community health centers in hard hit areas are overburdened with sick patients, and fundamental public health initiatives such as widespread testing and contact tracing remain inadequate months after the virus was first detected in the U.S. In fact, responding to and recovering from this crisis is projected to require an additional 300,000 frontline public health workers alone in the near future.

While communities are looking for answers to these challenges, a growing number of Americans of every age, race, and background are looking to step forward and serve. Thousands have shown how giving and engaged we are as Americans by sewing and donating masks, providing meals to the nurses and doctors at area hospitals, volunteering with local charities, and other acts of simple kindness. We believe that one of the most effective ways we can draw upon a national spirit of service and empower hard hit communities in response to the pandemic is to hire and train the people needed to help recover by expanding our country’s existing national service programs like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.

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These programs are uniquely positioned to help in the recovery because they are locally-driven with existing infrastructure at the ready. AmeriCorps members are already serving in our communities — supporting students, assisting at drive through testing centers, and organizing blood drives, among other needed services. But we need to hire many more of them. Contact tracing and testing is only one piece of the puzzle. We need more people to deliver meals and supplies, help students transition to digital learning while narrowing the opportunity gap, and ensure seniors are supported as they shelter in place.

That’s why we’ve introduced legislation in the Senate and House to double the number of AmeriCorps positions available this year from 75,000 to 150,000. Our bill would prioritize the enrollment of people from a diverse range of backgrounds, helping to hire and build community-based corps of participants with the cultural competence, language skills, and local knowledge so crucial to many community services.

Our proposal would also ensure that national service would be a financially viable option that allows all those who serve to earn skills and opportunity. It increases the living allowance to about $22,000 and increases the education award so that participants can earn through their national service the equivalent of two years of tuition at the typical public college or university to pay down student debt or to put toward a future degree. Americans of every background and financial circumstance should be able to help in our recovery while gaining marketable skills and securing financial stability along the way.

AmeriCorps already looks a lot like the country, and these provisions would encourage even more diversity in the ranks, prioritizing underrepresented populations so that membership reflects the diversity of the communities in which they serve.

This idea – expanding national service – is not new. Historically, in times of crisis, national service organizations helped us through. During the Great Depression, Americans rebuilt the country through the creation of citizen service programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. Millions of people developed transferable skills by participating in building lasting national parks infrastructure and cultural projects enjoyed decades later.

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It's now time for another bold call to service to help our country rebuild – a call that will engage hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country - every corner of it - who want to serve and who know our communities best.

This pandemic requires flexibility, ingenuity, and responsiveness from all levels of government and the private sector. Our national service programs are well-positioned to create locally led solutions to the many challenges we face and lay the groundwork for reopening the country safely. If there is ever a time to expand national service – it is now.

Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsHillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Democrats, voting rights groups pressure Senate to approve mail-in voting resources To safeguard our elections, Democrats and Republicans must work together MORE is the junior senator from Delaware, David PriceDavid Eugene Price189 House Democrats urge Israel to 'reconsider' annexation Partisan divide on annexation complicates US-Israel relationship National service will give thousands of Americans a chance to recover and rebuild their communities MORE represents North Carolina’s 4th District and Doris MatsuiDoris Okada MatsuiDozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House Hillicon Valley: Experts raise security concerns about online voting | Musk finds supporter in Trump | Officials warn that Chinese hackers targeting COVID-19 research groups Democrats introduce legislation to ensure internet access for college students MORE represents California’s 6th District. They serve as co-chairs of the National Service Congressional Caucus.