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Rep. Phillips Introduces Bill to Expand National Service to Strengthen COVID-19 Response

The UNITE Act of 2020 would provide employment opportunities for a whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 pandemic

 — Today, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) announced the introduction of legislation to mobilize Americans to fight against the coronavirus. Introduced in the Senate last week by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the Undertaking National Initiatives to Tackle Epidemic (UNITE) Act of 2020 would expand authorization of opportunities within AmeriCorps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and directs them to prioritize projects that strengthen the response of frontlines workers. In addition, the legislation will ensure that existing workforce programs such as AmeriCorps State and National, AmeriCorps VISTA, and FEMA CORE are fully mobilized in order to assist vulnerable Americans – including the food-insecure, elderly, and homeless – during the pandemic. This group is joined by Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Paul Tonko (D-NY), and John Sarbanes (D-MD) as original cosponsors.  

“The American spirit of activism and hard work is alive and well especially during this challenging time,” said Phillips. “The United States must have a whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 pandemic that not only employs those who have lost their jobs or who’ve become underemployed, but also delivers relief to understaffed frontline workers. I urge my colleagues to join me in calling for the swift passage of the UNITE Act on the House floor.”

The outbreak of the coronavirus has disrupted the lives of everyone in the United States and has required enormous sacrifice. In following the guidance of public health officials, Americans have and can continue to play a key role in defeating this pandemic. The Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS) and FEMA are uniquely suited to aid frontline workers and communities most impacted by the coronavirus public health emergency.

To support this response, the UNITE Act would:

  • Require CNCS to prioritize activities related to the coronavirus and to increase recruitment of AmeriCorps volunteers to 500,000 (approximately 75,000 currently serve). Additionally, it permanently sets the compensation floor for such volunteers at 200 percent of the poverty level, roughly double what it is today;
  • Require CNCS, in the selection of volunteers, to give priority consideration to unemployed veterans, others unemployed due to the coronavirus, and Fulbright Scholars, AmeriCorps volunteers, and Peace Corps volunteer leaders whose service involuntarily ended; and
  • Authorize the funds necessary to hire, train, and administer 62,000 additional FEMA Cadre of On-Call Response/Recovery Employees (CORE) to perform contact tracing of those infected by the coronavirus, provide logistical support for the supply chain of medical equipment, and to fulfill other disaster and public health related needs.

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA):
“The UNITE Act creates a vast number of volunteer and full-time employment opportunities for Americans to immediately serve their country in this time of near unprecedented need. Before Massachusetts and the country can safely reopen businesses and return to schools, we must bolster our national-service workforce to prevent a resurgence in the number of Coronavirus cases. AmeriCorps and FEMA are uniquely positioned to deliver on that mission – aiding vulnerable communities and testing and tracing on the scale needed to bring our country back to health. I thank Rep. Phillips for his leadership in introducing the UNITE Act in the House of Representatives.”

Senator Van Hollen (D-MD):
"Our national service organizations provide vital assistance to communities across our country and the globe. With a wide array of skills and experience, the volunteers with Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and other service organizations are uniquely equipped to help our country battle the coronavirus. We should be doing everything in our power to enlist these men and women - and others who are eager to volunteer - in these efforts. I was proud to join Senator Markey in leading this legislation in the Senate, and I appreciate Congressman Phillips's work to introduce this bill in the House.”

Craig Fugate, the FEMA Administrator under President Barack Obama:
"FEMA has unique flexible hiring authorities that are ideally suited for the coronavirus crisis. The UNITE Act recognizes the role that FEMA can play by quickly hiring and deploying people to the areas most needed in this emerging crisis.”

Saket Soni, Director of Resilience Force:
"The UNITE Act taps into the grit and talent of America's communities to confront our nation's public health crisis. It also helps solve the growing unemployment crisis.”

Jesse Colvin, CEO of Service Year Alliance:
“In moments of crisis, Americans are eager to step up, pitch in, and find ways to contribute to solutions — national service can help our country recover from the coronavirus pandemic. National service is critical to our resilience as a nation and our ability to deliver necessary resources to Americans in need, and this effort represents a tremendous opportunity for much-needed expansion of national service programs like AmeriCorps. In the midst of this public health and economic crisis, there has never been a more important time to invest in national service. We are eager to amplify immediate emergency relief and economic recovery solutions that mobilize our existing national service workforce, support our public health communities’ response efforts, and help put Americans back to work.”