WILMINGTON, Del. — Tuesday, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Faith Nation to discuss his legislation to double the size of AmeriCorps in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[T]oday there's 75,000 Americans who have engaged in national service. Thousands of them have changed the focus of their programs to do response to this COVID-19 pandemic, so they're helping with food banks, they're helping with schools and distance learning, they're helping with contact tracing and testing, said Senator Coons.“[T]he bill that I've introduced along with more than 90 members of the House and Senate would double it in size and give a new generation of Americans the opportunity to give back to their country, to earn an education opportunity, and to put their skills and strengths to work at a time when we've got more than 33 million unemployed Americans and millions of younger people who had plans for college or were halfway through their college studies and have had those plans disrupted.”
The Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act would fund 150,000 national service positions this year to meet the need for hundreds of thousands of people to help with public health efforts like screening and testing, as well as food assistance, education support, and more. The bill would also expand partnerships between AmeriCorps and federal health agencies and increase the AmeriCorps living allowance to ensure all Americans can step up to serve regardless of their financial circumstances.
Full audio and video available here. A transcript is provided below.
Q: Well Senator Coons, let’s start off with 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 this week. Your thoughts on where things stand as we balance public health against restarting the economy? Especially after seeing images of crowded beaches, boardwalks, and waterways for Memorial Day weekend, people clearly are eager to get back to normal.
Sen. Coons: Well, John, that's right. There are folks all over the country who are a little stir-crazy with cabin fever who are eager to get back out and to enjoy the outdoors and are straining at the restrictions of some of the state shutdown orders. But frankly I'm concerned that if we reopen too quickly, if we see folks not respecting social distancing, not wearing masks as we did this past weekend that we may see a resurgence of the pandemic as has happened in other countries. We're in a better place than we were two months ago, we've got better hospital capacity, more ventilators, more PPE, or personal protective equipment, available and there is a new therapeutic remdesivir that's being distributed throughout the country that should shorten hospital stays. But frankly if we have a resurgence, that may lead to another clampdown which would frankly just push our economy further back into a recession, so my hope is that as states reopen, that employers and folks will follow the CDC guidelines and recommendations and respect social distancing so we don't end up right back where we were.
Q: Senator Coons, you have a bill that would double the size of AmeriCorps. Can you explain how that will help combat the crisis and how much support does it have in a divided Washington?
Sen. Coons: AmeriCorps is a long-standing national service program that is flexible and local. It's directed by state commissions for national and community service appointed by governors all over our country, and today there's 75,000 Americans who have engaged in national service. Thousands of them have changed the focus of their programs to do response to this COVID-19 pandemic, so they're helping with food banks, they're helping with schools and distance learning, they're helping with contact tracing and testing. And the bill that I've introduced along with more than 90 members of the House and Senate would double it in size and give a new generation of Americans the opportunity to give back to their country, to earn an education opportunity, and to put their skills and strengths to work at a time when we've got more than 33 million unemployed Americans and millions of younger people who had plans for college or were halfway through their college studies and have had those plans disrupted. I think this is a perfect opportunity for us to call on a new generation to step forward and serve our country. We've got some great co-sponsors in the House that include senior Republicans like Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Hal Rogers of Kentucky who’ve partnered with David Price of North Carolina as well as other members of the House and Senate so I'm optimistic that we will see this bill pass and that it will create an opportunity for servant leadership, for service to our country by a new generation of Americans.
Q: Containing the virus and developing a vaccine is only part of the conversation. You and Senator Lindsey Graham are cosponsors of a measure that aims to prevent another outbreak from happening again by effectively shutting down wet markets like the one in Wuhan, China. How would your bill do that?
Sen. Coons: Well, that’s right, John. Senator Lindsey Graham and I have traveled together. We’ve legislated together on issues in the developing world. And as I think may be well-known to your viewers, there are these practices around the world of so-called wet markets. These are wildlife trafficking markets where hungry people take advantage of a nearby forest or jungle and they traffic in often rare species or animals both live and recently slaughtered that don’t typically come together. So, there was a wet market in Wuhan, China where it’s believed this zoonotic disease, COVID-19, that’s a fancy word for a disease that jumps from animals to people, may have made the transition from bats or some more exotic animals like pangolins into humans. And so, we have to be on the lookout for the next pandemic. Scientists have been warning us for decades that we were overdue for a global pandemic like the one in 1918 that killed tens of millions of people worldwide, and this pandemic is just a warning to us that there may be more in the future.