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Democratic lawmaker calls for Peace Corps, Americorps volunteers to be eligible for unemployment benefits

Democratic lawmaker calls for Peace Corps, Americorps volunteers to be eligible for unemployment benefits
© Greg Nash

 Rep. Jennifer WextonJennifer Lynn WextonVirginia voter registration website back up after outage on last day to register House advances bill aimed at imports tied to Uighur forced labor This week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg's seat upends Congress's agenda MORE (D-Va.) is calling for Peace Corps and Americorps volunteers to be eligible to receive unemployment benefits recently authorized under the third coronavirus relief package passed by Congress.  

In a letter sent to Labor Secretary Eugene ScaliaEugene ScaliaWhy millennials will win Trump's war on socially responsible investing Business groups, universities file lawsuit over new rules targeting H-1B visas Baldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak MORE on Monday, the Virginia Democrat asked the Department of Labor to issue guidance clarifying that participants in the programs who have had their service suspended due to the virus are eligible for unemployment assistance

“Peace Corps participants represent the best of America in over 100 countries, working to improve the health, education, governance, and economic security of families and communities around the world. AmeriCorps participants do the same in cities across the United States,” she wrote.   

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“Participants receive a monthly stipend for their service abroad. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Peace Corps has suspended all international operations and evacuated all of its participants back to the United States. These participants are eligible for some readjustment and evacuation allowances but not unemployment assistance, as the Department of Labor has previously determined that this service does not constitute an employer-employee relationship.” 

Wexton noted that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits to groups who wouldn’t have qualified for assistance, and praised the work the volunteers in the programs do.  

“For example, individuals whose place of unemployment has been closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic are made eligible, as are independent contractors and gig economy workers despite the lack of an employer-employee relationship in their line of work,” she wrote. 

“Given that Peace Corps and AmeriCorps participants have had their service suspended due to COVID-19, they should be eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program under the CARES Act. These individuals selflessly volunteered to help others abroad but were forced to cut short their plans and travel back home under much duress, and now face great uncertainty about their immediate futures and economic security.”

The House passed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package aimed at mitigating the financial fallout from the pandemic late last month. Leaders in the lower chamber are aiming at bringing additional stimulus legislation in response to the virus before the end of April.