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A Message From Our President & CEO: Update on Corps and COVID-19 Response and Relief, April 30, 2020
Dear Friends of the Corps Community,
I hope this message finds you well.
At this point, most of us have been practicing social distancing and sheltering at home for more than a month. Like most organizations and institutions across the country, and across the world, Service and Conservation Corps have been forced to rethink how they operate. At The Corps Network, we are inspired by the way our member organizations have confronted tough decisions about whether and how to continue engaging in projects. I want to provide an update on how Corps are responding to this crisis, as well as how we, as the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, are supporting the Corps movement through today’s challenges.
Corps on the Frontlines
Several Corps continue to engage Corpsmembers in service. Some Corps that traditionally engage Corpsmembers in providing certain “essential services” have been able to continue these projects through instituting new health and safety protocols. Examples of such projects include removing hazardous fire fuels, trimming vegetation to keep streets and powerlines clear, collecting recycling, and providing emergency home repairs for the elderly and low-income households.
Some programs have diverted crews to COVID-19 response efforts. For instance, Civic Works in Baltimore and Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast in Florida are having Corpsmembers deliver food and other essentials to high-risk, home-bound individuals and families; Conservation Corps of Long Beach helped construct several temporary medical facilities; and the California Conservation Corps has helped manage distribution centers for emergency medical supplies, including helping the National Guard pack and ship hundreds of ventilators.
A number of Corps are providing their Corpsmembers with access to online education and training while they shelter in place.
Assisting Corps through Operational Challenges
Many Corps are operating at significantly reduced capacity or have been forced to cease programming. Corps often complete work through a “fee-for-service” model: project sponsors–such as city governments or public land agencies–compensate Corps to do specific projects. Because so much of our country is closed, many projects are not possible. Some Corps have received funding through Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Emergency Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.
In addition, The Corps Network is working diligently with our federal land management partners at the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture to help Corps access administrative funding attached to fee-for-service projects that have been postponed or cancelled. To date, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service have agreed to let Corps access project-related administrative funds. Access to this funding will be critical for the Corps should they have to remain at reduced operation beyond the term of their PPP loans.
Likewise, The Corps Network’s AmeriCorps team has been working with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to help organizations in our Opportunity Youth Service Initiative (OYSI) program gain access to the full amount of their fixed-cost grant awards. As a result, 13 Corps have been able to draw down more than $1.2 million in AmeriCorps funding. These funds will help those Corps keep their doors open until they can resume regular programming (hopefully in early summer).
The Corps Network is working to provide our member organizations with timely information. We continue to send newsletters and regularly update a resource library of relevant information. One resource is a new catalog of more than 100 online training and certification courses Corpsmembers can do from home.
In addition, we have hosted weekly town hall discussions for our membership on a range of topics. We are grateful that our federal partners and Corps have made themselves available and joined these calls to share their insights.
Lastly, The Corps Network launched a new online platform – Corps Connect – to provide a space for Corps staff across the country to communicate and share ideas.
Recovery: “A New Civilian Conservation Corps”
In opinion columns across the country, there have been numerous calls to revive the Civilian Conservation Corps of the New Deal Era. Given the growing unemployment rate, many are drawing comparisons between this current economic crisis and the Great Depression. The Corps Network has been contacted by officials in the Administration and Congress about what it would take to bring the existing network of Service and Conservation Corps to scale. For example, The Corps Network provided input on a jobs-creation package currently in development in Senate. We have also communicated with a group of Democratic Senators preparing to introduce legislation that would increase the number of AmeriCorps positions from 75,000 annually, to 150,000. Service and Conservation Corps are referenced several times throughout the draft bill.
Working from home, The Corps Network team remains busy. We aim to provide our member organizations access to funding and resources that will keep them afloat during this phase of the pandemic, while also positioning Corps for significant expansion should a federal investment in service and jobs come to pass.
Wishing you health and safety,
Mary Ellen Sprenkel
President & CEO, The Corps Network