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Update from The Corps Network’s Government Relations Team – May 2020

There are a lot of legislative proposals in the works to help America respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Which ones relate to Corps and what should you know about them?

The past weeks have been busy for The Corps Network’s Government Relations team as Congress explores COVID-19 recovery ideas. We are working to ensure Service and Conservation Corps are well-represented in key discussions. Read below to learn about recent activity.

 


“Bring Back the CCC” Proposals

We’re aware of the numerous conversations about the need to “revive” the Great Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Our Recommendations

Building off feedback from member organizations, The Corps Network created a document outlining recommendations for how to expand the existing Corps community. This document has been shared on the Hill, with the administration, with advocacy groups, and with the private sector. We are working overtime to shore up national support for our concept and to weave its principles into every conversation we can. Please feel confident that the Corps community is well-positioned to lead in this space and, based on everything we’ve seen thus far, our message is resonating at the national level. We do expect more ideas to emerge and will bring them to the group’s attention when that happens.

States Taking Action

Some state and local entities are exploring the idea of a modern CCC. Most recently, the Austin City Council passed a resolution on Thursday, May 14, to create the Austin Civilian Conservation Corps. The program will use federal money from the CARES act to employ those who’ve been economically impacted. There are similar ideas coming out of Alaska and Illinois.

Industry Support

There is growing support for the concept of a modern CCC from the outdoor industry. Leadership from numerous major outdoor retailers sent a letter to Congress on May 11 urging for, among other measures, investments to expand the existing Corps community. Thanks to The Corps Network’s burgeoning partnership with the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, we’ve been able to amplify our proposals throughout the outdoor recreation community.

 

 


Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA)
S.3422

What is it?

Introduced in the Senate in March, the Great American Outdoors Act is bipartisan legislation that would provide permanent and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). It would also address the billions of dollars in backlogged maintenance on our national parks and other federal lands. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Direct $9.5 billion over five years to address maintenance within the National Park System, other public land agencies, and Bureau of Indian Education schools
  • Permanently dedicate $900 million per year into the Land and Water Conservation Fund

The bill has strong support, but it was introduced just as the country began serious response measures to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

How does it relate to Corps/The Corps Network?

Fully funding the LWCF and addressing the maintenance backlog on America’s federal lands and waters could create many potential project opportunities for Corps.

On May 11, more than 100 Members of Congress requested funding to address the maintenance backlog on public lands and boost the outdoor recreation economy. That same day, The Corps Network also joined more than 850 national, regional, state, and local groups urging Congress to pass the GAOA.

 


Expanding National Service

 

Pandemic Response & Opportunity Through National Service Act
S.3624  |  H.R.6702


What is it?

At the beginning of May, Sens. Christopher Coons (D-DE) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) led a group of Senators in introducing legislation called the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act. Reps. David Price (D-NC-4) and Doris Matsui (D-CA-6) introduced the House companion bill.

This legislation would represent the largest investment ever in national service programs. The bill expands National Service to meet COVID-19 needs by:

  • Funding 750,000 national service positions over three years
  • Increasing the AmeriCorps living allowance
  • Increasing the AmeriCorps education award, and
  • Providing flexibility for programs to meet local needs.

 

How does it relate to Corps/The Corps Network?

Importantly, this expansion would come through grants that prioritize existing and historical grantees, and organizations proposing to engage under-served populations, such as Opportunity Youth and justice-involved youth.

The Corps Network’s Government Relations team worked directly with key Senate champions to inform the legislation. We helped negotiate for the inclusion of the following:

  • Increased, tax-free living allowance
  • Increased, tax-free education award
  • Increased MSY, including increased MSY for disadvantaged populations
  • Priority given to national service providers administering workforce investment activities and reemployment services
  • Priority given to jobs for youth in preserving and restoring nature
  • Priority given to current or former CNCS grant recipients
  • Priority given to programs proposing to give priority to underserved and economically disadvantaged individuals
  • Indian Youth Service Corps inclusion in agency coordination to provide national service opportunities to all, including traditionally excluded populations.
  • Match waiver

We have also been working closely with Voices for National Service to ensure alignment with the service community.

One highlight worth mentioning concerns the Purposes section of the bill:

Sec. 3: Purposes: …to provide for 750,000 participants, over 3 years, in national service programs, such as the Public Land Corps (also known as the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps) programs and other AmeriCorps programs, that will provide services in response to the pandemic and economic crisis, including to help satisfy the projected need for as many as 300,000 additional public health workers

We should be proud and inspired that Corps are viewed as critical to this effort. We will continue to keep our priorities front and center as the discussion evolves.

 


Positioning Corps as Critical to Getting the Country Back to Work

 

Relaunching America’s Workforce Act
H.R. 6646


What is it and how does it relate to Corps/The Corps Network?

On May 1, the House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA-3) introduced a legislative proposal that would update the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Corps Network worked with Chairman Scott’s staff on certain elements of the bill. If passed into law, we hope Corps can partner with local workforce development boards (WDBs) in utilizing the bill’s increased WIOA Youth Activities funds. We ask this despite the challenges to Corps-WDB partnerships. Engaging WDBs for these funds can help align Corps with the workforce system. If partnership development is successful, then Corps have aligned with workforce development funding. If partnership development is not successful, then The Corps Network can build the case for a Congressionally funded DOL grant program specifically for workforce development through Corps. The language below is the language that pertains to Corps in Chairman Scott’s bill.

“(ii) establishing or expanding partnerships with community-based organizations to develop or expand work experience opportunities and the development of skills and competencies to secure and maintain employment, including supports for activities like peer mentoring;”

The Corps Network engaged with the Senate HELP Committee to strengthen the Corps inclusive language in the Senate companion legislation, but Senate leadership directed that the bill mirror the House of Representative’s version.

We will continue to advocate for further alignment between Corps and the workforce system, either through the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act, an upcoming WIOA reauthorization, or another vehicle.

 

 

21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act


What is it?

On May 11, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced legislation that would bolster wildfire prevention and preparedness to protect the health and safety of communities during the unparalleled combination of threats posed by wildfire season and the COVID-19 pandemic. The 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act would also provide relief and job creation measures that equip rural economies to respond to the unique threats they’re facing during this public health and economic crisis.

 

How does it relate to Corps/The Corps Network?

The bill represents enormous investments in public lands conservation and maintenance projects while simultaneously providing targeted workforce development and project opportunities at the state and local level. Conservation Corps are central to this effort both as eligible project partners and in the administration of the Civilian Conservation Corps (Sec. 5, Subtitle E) program.

The Corps Network Government Relations team consulted with Sen. Wyden’s staff to inform the bill based on our own proposal to scale the existing network of Service and Conservation Corps and establish new Corps. The CCC section in the bill is based on our proposed structure in which the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) would establish and administer a 21st Century CCC program. We will be working in the days and weeks ahead to refine the bill in the hopes that it picks up interest on the Hill.

 


While the nature of advocacy and government may not make it obvious, the Government Relations team has scored major victories for our network. These victories further the national Corps movement and put Service and Conservation Corps at the front and center of some of the most important conversations happening at the highest levels of American government.