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Shaheen Sends Bipartisan, Bicameral Letters in Support of Peace Corps, AmeriCorps Volunteers

Letters Seek Clarity on Status of Unemployment Benefits, Ability to Work on U.S. COVID-19 Response 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen sent two bipartisan, bicameral letters with U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and U.S. Representative Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) seeking clarity on unemployment benefits and work opportunities for Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and other national service participants.

In the first letter, the Members urge Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia to clarify that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program passed within the CARES Act covers Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and other similarly situated national service participants. As the Senators point to in their letter, this designation is in line with Congressional intent, but DOL guidance will provide certainty.

In their letter to the Department of Labor the Members write, “Peace Corps and AmeriCorps participants advance our nation’s interests at home and around the world by providing education, health, and economic development opportunities to the communities they serve. Due to the spread of COVID-19, the Peace Corps has suspended international operations, ending the service of more than 7,300 participants. While Peace Corps and AmeriCorps participants receive a stipend for their service, they are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance (UI).”

They go on to note, “We believe the terms of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance cover Peace Corps and AmeriCorps participants. If you believe there is ambiguity, however, we urge you to use the authority that Congress provided in the CARES Act to add additional eligibility criteria to extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance coverage to participants in these programs.”

The full text of the letter regarding unemployment insurance is available here.

In the second letter, directed to leadership at the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Members urge these agencies to provide returned Peace Corps volunteers with the opportunity to enlist in domestic COVID-19 response efforts.

In their letter regarding further service opportunities, the Senators begin, “We write to express concern regarding the employment status of returned Peace Corps volunteers. While we support the decision to recall volunteers from their overseas posts amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe that terminating their service contracts and health insurance coverage – at a time when our country’s public health and economic crises are rapidly worsening – not only endangers the livelihood of volunteers, but also squanders their unique skillset. We therefore urge you to provide them opportunities to enlist in domestic efforts to combat COVID-19.”

The Members go on to suggest a number of ways these opportunities could be implemented and ask the agencies to provide details on their efforts by April 16, 2020.

The full text of the letter regarding service opportunities is available here.