Update from The Corps Network’s Government Relations Team – September 1, 2020
It’s been a busy summer for Corps in the field and in conversations in Washington, DC.
Scroll below to learn the latest.
Photo above in banner from the Architect of the Capitol
Stimulus and 21st Century CCC Outreach
Back in April, The Corps Network responded to calls to establish a “21st Century CCC” by drafting an outline of our initial set of recommendations for creating a modern version of the New Deal Era program. Since then, we convened a group of conservation and recreation groups to develop a robust vision for a 21st Century CCC. These ideas have been shared with House and Senate leadership and our key champions on the Hill.
- Introduced in the Senate on June 16 by U.S. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE.), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jack Reed (D-RI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), John Cornyn (R-TX), Angus King (I-ME), and Susan Collins (R-ME).
- The bill currently has 17 co-sponsors, including Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. His co-sponsorship could help with provisions of the CORPS Act being included in the next stimulus bill.
What Would It Do?
The CORPS Act is based on the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act, introduced by Sen. Coons in May. Among other provisions, the CORPS Act would:
- Expand national service positions for a three-year response and recovery period. The number of positions could grow from 75,000 to 150,000 the first year and then steadily to 250,000 by year-three.
- Prioritize funding for activities directly related to response and recovery, such as:
- Public health services
- Programs that support economic opportunity
- Education support (including for adult learners)
- Services that combat nutrition insecurity
- Ensure that individuals’ financial resources do not limit participation by temporarily increasing the AmeriCorps living allowance to 175 percent of the federal poverty line and tying the value of the Segal Education Award to twice the value of the maximum Pell grant, harmonizing the treatment of both with other programs by making them nontaxable.
- Invite participation by a diverse range of Americans by launching an awareness and outreach campaign on response service opportunities and supporting the Volunteer Generation Fund.
- Click for a fact sheet from the office of Sen. Coons.
The path forward is to try to get supplemental funding and provisions from the legislation into the next COVID relief package. Congress and the White House are in negotiations about the next stimulus bill. The CORPS Act was not included in the various stimulus bills that Senate Republicans introduced in late July, but, at this stage in the negotiation process, we’re told the CORPS Act is being given serious consideration as Senior Senate Republicans have expressed their support.
Great American Outdoors Act
The president signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law on August 4, 2020.
What Will It Do?
This law is mainly comprised of two previous bills, the Restore Our Parks Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act. It is the most significant investment in conservation funding in decades. It seeks to address the deferred maintenance backlog of the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian
Education. This law could be a potential windfall of project work for Corps. The Corps Network worked with the office of Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) on an amendment that would, to the maximum extent practicable, give preference to Corps for the deferred maintenance project work funded in this bill. There was a worry that opening the bill up to the amendment process would ultimately ruin the bill’s chance of passing the Senate. Sen. Hirono filed her amendment but did not request a vote on it.
The Corps Network has begun outreach to our federal partners to gain a better understanding of how and when the funds will be used for project work. We have also reached out to our Congressional champions to ask for them to weigh in with the federal land management agencies regarding a role for Corps in implementation.
Civilian Conservation Corps Bills
Several bills have been introduced regarding creation of a modern Civilian Conservation Corps, reminiscent of the program from the New Deal Era. Of those bills, the ones that The Corps Network has been involved in developing include:
The 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act
On May 11, 2020, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act. This bill would provide significant investment in wildfire prevention and resiliency efforts. The Corps Network worked closely with Sen. Wyden’s staff on the development of this legislation and drafted the Department of Labor provision in the bill. This provision is for $9 billion for the Department of Labor to establish a Civilian Conservation Corps program. These funds would be used by qualified Corps to increase job training and hiring, specifically for outdoor jobs helping restore public lands and watersheds. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), along with Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), introduced the House companion bill on June 18, 2020. The bills from both Sen. Wyden and Rep. Neguse include “Corps preference” language. This language encourages partnering with qualified Corps to the maximum extent practicable on the projects funded through these bills.
The 21st Century Conservation Corps Act
On August 5, 2020, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ), introduced The 21st Century Conservation Corps Act. This legislation combines provisions from Senator Wyden’s previously introduced 21st Century Conservation Corps for our Health and Our Jobs Act and from Senator Booker’s Climate Stewardship Act of 2019. It includes the provision directing funding to the Department of Labor for a Civilian Conservation Corps program. It also includes a Reforest America Grant program that gives priority to applications that include qualified Corps and a focus on urban reforestation.
The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
On June 30, 2020, the Democratic Members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released an action plan. This action plan includes several recommendations on how to solve the climate crisis. They recommend reestablishing the Civilian Conservation Corps and establishing a Climate Resilience Service Corps. The latter is based off of legislation that The Corps Network worked on with the office of Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), The Climate Resiliency Service Corps Act of 2019. It also references Rep. Joe Neguse’s (D-CO) 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act. On August 25, 2020, the Senate Democrats Climate Committee released their own action plan, which also calls for a CCC.
Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (SOAR Act)
On July 29, 2020, the House Natural Resources Committee held a markup (process by which a U.S. congressional committee debates, amends, and rewrites proposed legislation) that included Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-NM) Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act. This legislation sets and revises provisions regarding special recreation permits for use by individuals and groups engaging in recreational activities on federal recreational lands and water. The Democratic Committee staff incorporated in the SOAR Act the “Corps preference” language found in Rep. Neguse’s 21st Century Conservation Corps for our Jobs and Health Act. By including this language in more legislation, the hope is that it will set a precedent for the language to be included in applicable legislation moving forward. The bill passed out of Committee and is believed to be a strong candidate to be on the House’s calendar in the fall.
What Would It Do?
If signed into law as written with the Corps preference, Conservation Corps programs operating under PLC authority would be preferred partners for related recreation projects and would also benefit from a matching funds waiver. Presumably, this would allow Corps to field more positions and with better member benefits.
This legislation is considered a top contender to be included on the House’s suspension calendar in the fall. Moving a bill through a process under “suspension of the rules” allows for quickly passing non-controversial bills in the House of Representatives, often limiting debate and without amendments.