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A New National Public Service Plan

From the founding of our nation, Americans have pledged to lend a hand to the mutual betterment of society and to fully engage in shared civic life. This ethos of service and shared responsibility is the beating heart of our democratic experiment.

The ways we serve are many: more than 1 million individuals have served in rural and urban communities across the nation through AmeriCorps since its founding twenty-five years ago; nearly 250,000 have served abroad in the Peace Corps. Today, there are more than 2.4 million servicemen and women serving in our armed forces and reserves. They, alongside 18.2 million military veterans, embody the highest ideals of service to country. We owe our utmost respect and gratitude to these men and women who have served, both here at home and abroad, at war and at peace, in the armed forces and in national service. 

For the last several years, I have worked hand in hand with young people to mobilize their participation in our democracy. From my conversations with these young Americans, I have learned about their personal aspirations and concerns for our country. They care deeply about the future of our nation, especially during this time of ideological division when trust in our democratic institutions is at a historic low and our political leadership is failing them. Young Americans believe strongly in the promise of America, understand the enormity of the challenges facing our country and our planet, and want to use their energy and intellect to make a difference.

President Kennedy’s resounding call to civic action over 50 years ago still resonates, “And so my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” JFK asked that we put country ahead of self and reminded Americans of all ages that an investment of their time, talent, and optimism can help solve pressing challenges in our country and around the globe. It is time to again renew, as we have done before, our commitment to public service.

MY COMMITMENT TO SERVICE

I enthusiastically accept the Serve America Together Presidential Challenge, backed by a coalition of prominent Americans and civil and military service organizations, to make public service a priority of my campaign and my Administration.

Within 100 days of my inauguration, I pledge to place public service at the heart of my administration by adopting a “New National Public Service Plan.” This plan will provide more opportunities for Americans, especially young Americans from diverse backgrounds and geographic regions, to unite and take action around a common civic purpose — public service.

“NEW NATIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE PLAN”

As President, I will execute on the following plan to expand our commitment to national public service and to unleash the collective power of each individual in this nation — regardless of age or background — to give back. In doing so: 

  • We will realize the largest peacetime expansion of national public service in the history of our nation by investing $50 billion and expanding supported service opportunities to 1 million positions by 2025.
  • We will work with public and private partners to address challenges in public health, poverty reduction, the opioid crisis, the criminal justice system, education, climate change, aging with dignity, conservation, and other urgent local needs in thousands of communities, urban and rural, in America and abroad.
  • We will reinvigorate the spirit of service that has been a hallmark of our democracy since its founding by providing invaluable educational, career, and social opportunities for service driven people from every zip code, every age, every background, and every legal residency status.
  • We will again honor service as a core American value, the foundation upon which our democracy stands. 

This challenge will not be easy, but we know it will reap rewards. National service programs have strong bipartisan support. 

  • They vote at a higher rate than their peers and remain engaged in public life, no matter where their careers take them.

It is time to return power to the American people and rekindle the ethos of public service at scale. Let us build the opportunities — particularly for young people across our nation — that will enable them to give their full selves to this great work.

Within my first 100 days in office, I will: 

Elevate national public service to a cabinet-level priority by establishing a new National and Community Service Agency

With a $50 billion in new Federal investment, I will fortify national service efforts by elevating the work being done by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to a cabinet-level priority and resourcing it to meet national needs. 

CNCS is the federal department that administers most of our national public service programs — for example, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps. The CNCS’ mission is to “improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering”. Through a grantmaking process, CNCS supports AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs across the country. Other critical public service programs such as the Peace Corps and FEMA Corps are housed and administered in different parts of the federal government. Despite strong bipartisan Congressional support for all these programs, the Trump Administration has repeatedly tried to eliminate them and/or significantly reduce their budgets. 

To advance national public service as an integral component of the American civic tradition, I will:

  • Elevate CNCS as a cabinet level agency — the National and Community Service Agency. Headed by the National and Community Service Director, this new Agency will continue to administer its current mix of national public service programs but also actively engage with other federal departments to ensure strong coordination and integration of public service programs across the federal government. 
  • Increase the investment in national public service programs by at least $50 billion to implement the various provisions of this New National Public Service Plan, including making grants to public and private sector entities, faith-based and non-profit groups, and philanthropic organizations to develop and implement innovative public service programs in urban and rural communities, Native American communities, and regions with high rates of poverty. I will also increase grant funding available to Peace Corps members to develop special project activities in the communities in which they are serving.

 Pass an Updated Serve America Act  

Ten years ago, President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. This act reauthorized and expanded the national service programs administered by CNCS which were originally enacted under President Clinton in 1994. It is time to once again update the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. I will: 

  • Pass an updated Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. This legislation would establish the National and Community Service Agency; significantly increase the number of Americans participating in national public service programs; institute new and expand existing public service programs; define performance metrics; and delineate new educational and living allowance benefits.

Grow National Public Service to 1,000,000 Participants In 5 Years

The three main federal public service programs that anchor the national public service landscape are AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Peace Corps. Each of these programs enjoy widespread public and Congressional support as well as deliver strong economic returns per taxpayer dollar invested.

AmeriCorps — was founded in 1994 as a way for Americans to serve their community. 75,000 members each year work in nonprofits, schools, and faith-based organizations. The activities they undertake run the gamut from working with veterans to find them jobs, to fighting the opioid epidemic and disaster relief. Over 1 million Americans have participated in the AmeriCorps program. \

Senior Corps is a voluntary service program for individuals over the age of 55. Seniors can use their work experience to provide volunteer services through three programs: Foster Grandparent Program that pairs up volunteers with children with exceptional needs. The Senior Companion Program helps seniors live independent lives. Volunteers help with simple tasks like grocery shopping, to ease the burden of the person they are assisting. Finally, the RSVP Program is a program that takes advantage of the wide variety of skills volunteers possess. They perform such diverse activities like disaster response, neighborhood watch and youth mentoring.  

Peace Corps — The Peace Corps was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and, since its inception, more than 235,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps, serving in over 140 foreign countries. There are currently about 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers. These volunteers live in the communities and work alongside the people they serve, providing technical assistance on social programs and economic development projects. They mainly work across six sectors: health, the environment, community economic development, agriculture, youth in development and education.

Every year thousands of candidates interested in public service are unable to participate and my plan will help ensure that all who want to serve can do so. I will:

  • Expand national public service participation to 1,000,000 participants over five years. This includes increases in existing programs such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps but also creating new programs including my proposed Civilian Climate Corps, supporting the March for our Lives’ Safety Corps, and many other meaningful programs that will tackle the numerous unmet challenges facing communities throughout America.
  • Recruit Americans of all ages, religions, genders, racial and ethnic backgrounds, educational strata, and zip codes to participate in this bold expansion of national public service. Focus attention and outreach on recruiting opportunity youth, high school and college students, college graduates including those from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), immigrant communities, advanced degree recipients, Native Americans, and urban and rural Americans.
  • Enhance the ability of nonprofits, faith-based organizations, local and state governments, schools, and other public and private service organizations to access talent and resources from national service programs, particularly in underserved communities, to build a pipeline of meaningful, responsive service opportunities where they are most needed. 

Create a Civilian Climate Corps to Lead on Climate Solutions

The people closest to the problems understand the solutions that will work best in their communities. My Justice Centered Climate Plan will lift up local voices and build a Civilian Climate Corps — a combined service, training, and job creation effort — to implement tailored solutions specific to the needs of individual communities. I will:

  • Empower 100,000 community public servants each year to help achieve the ambitious goals of the Justice Centered Climate Plan. Corps members will work with local leaders to develop and implement plans focused on how best to address climate impacts in their communities. One of the central missions of the Corps will be to organize an inclusive and democratic process in communities that are particularly vulnerable to climate change, have suffered the effects of environmental racism, and have historically experienced underinvestment.

Increase Program Living Allowances and Greatly Expand Education Benefits

Today, national public service program participants generally serve 1 to 2 years, receive a modest living allowance, and receive other benefits depending on their specific service program. Additionally, participants are generally able to have their student loans deferred and receive an educational award upon completion of their program service: the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

The living stipend and benefit structure for national public service participation varies greatly depending on the type of program, years of service, and whether you are a full or part-time participant. My plan will make national public service accessible to all who want to serve and reward participants with increased living allowances and strong educational awards. I will:

  • Enhance the living stipend and offer a housing allowance. Providing a living stipend more aligned with the geographic regions in which participants serve as well as relocation and housing allowances will enable more low-income participants to serve.
  • Create the Five to Pay Four Educational Benefit. Under this benefit, for each year of service, up to five years, service members can reduce their student loan debt or earn financial credits to apply to future education, including community college, technical training or apprentice programs, four-year college, or professional and graduate school. Participants serving a total of five years would see all their student loan debt forgiven, roughly equivalent to the tuition cost of a public in-state college or university.
  • Exempt stipends and educational benefits from taxation. Particularly for low-income populations — and those unable to access financial support from family or networks — paying taxes on a stipend provides an undue financial burden and undermines the opportunity afforded by these awards.
  • Designate National Public Service Ambassadors who have completed a 5-Year Service Commitment. Allowing participants the option of serving longer than currently allowed — up to 5 years — will provide a number of meaningful benefits to both the program and the participant including: better service delivery gained from more experienced participants, greater opportunities for professional growth and upward mobility, and an ability to fully cover the cost of technical or higher education. In addition to the educational benefits delineated above, National Public Service Ambassadors would receive a $10,000 cash award, bonus points in federal hiring processes, increased assistance with job placement and career counseling, and other long-term benefits.
  • Establish the Public Service Gap Year Educational Award. For high school graduates or college students in the midst of their studies, this education benefit would allow them to take a gap year to participate in a public service program. The gap year education award would allow participants to earn $10,000 towards college tuition or a certificate program. 

Develop Complementary Public Service Programs Within the Federal Government

An overarching goal of the newly established National and Community Service Agency will be to develop complementary national public service programs within federal government agencies and more partnerships with non-governmental entities. For example, the FEMA Corps, within the Federal Emergency Management Agency, works alongside FEMA personnel and helps with disaster recovery. These complementary activities do not replace the operational expertise of civil service personnel but help to complement the current service delivery system as well as provide future career opportunity pipeline. They also demonstrate and reinforce the value of the hard work done by public servants in all areas of government everyday and can demonstrate to young people the value and rewards of a public service career. I will:  

  • Identify and secure national public service opportunities within government departments to complement their missions with an emphasis placed on finding opportunities that focus on pressing economic and social challenges such as assisting veterans and military families, closing the education achievement gap, fostering science and technology education, protecting our natural resources, expanding access to health care, and developing economic opportunity.
  • Empower career public servants by enhancing civic education that highlights their valuable work
  • Empower agencies that do research to design gateway programs into STEM/STEAM fields for individuals interested in the sciences.

Everyone Should Be Able to Serve: Establishing Uniform Program Eligibility Requirements 

Generally, participant eligibility requirements for national public service programs vary depending on the program, especially in regards to citizenship status. Individuals with various immigration statuses are part of the fabric of America and fulfill many of the workforce needs in our economy. Persons holding citizenship or legal residency classifications should be allowed to serve in any domestic national public service program. I will:

  • Establish uniform program eligibility requirements regarding citizenship and legal residency status across all domestic national public service programs. Residents of all legal immigration statuses — U.S. citizen, U.S. national, legal permanent resident, temporary protected status, or deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) status— should have the opportunity to serve through these programs. Immigrant communities provide valuable cultural perspectives and expertise that add to our shared ethos of service and should be included in our domestic national public service programs. 

Strengthen the National Public Service Partnership Network 

The programs that deliver our national public service programs are a network of public and private sector entities, nonprofits, and philanthropic organizations.  To achieve the goals outlined in this plan, the scope and breadth of this network must be bolstered with greater resources and entrusted with more operational capabilities.

I will:

  • Develop an outreach campaign to expand the number of employers participating in the EONS program and create a more comprehensive database of public service alumni to connect to potential employers.
  • Build a robust peer-to-peer network to connect public service alumni to local volunteer opportunities, strong professional and community networks, as well as stand up a Public Service Reserve that could be called into action if additional trained community members are needed to help respond to an emergency or disaster.
  • Increase grant funding to colleges and universities for students to participate in service-learning and volunteer projects.
  • Enlist more higher education institutions to participate in the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Matching Program. 
  • Provide additional funding to expand academic research on the economic and social benefits of public service and student volunteerism.
  • Initiate outreach and public awareness campaigns to recruit college students to participate in national public service programs, placing a particular emphasis on recruiting schools and service members from HBCUs and MSIs.
  • Work with high schools, colleges and universities to provide educational, workforce training, and career advancement opportunities for national public service alumni. 
  • Work with colleges and universities to increase financial pledges and other in-kind support for service members. 
  • Work with institutions of higher learning to grant academic credit and other related educational considerations for AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni. For example, qualifying graduate school credit for specific types of work experience.

Uphold and Honor America’s Commitment to Those Who Have Served

My New National Public Service Plan focuses almost exclusively on non-military service, however, it is critically important to recognize that one of the highest forms of public service is embodied in the men and women in our Armed Forces that are serving with honor and distinction. There are roughly 2.4 million military personnel serving on Active Duty, in the National Guard, or in the Reserve components of the United States military. Additionally, there are approximately 18.2 million military veterans in the United States. These men and women deserve our respect, our gratitude, and the solemn pledge from their Commander in Chief that America will never waver in its commitment to them. 

At their side stand the million alumni from the AmeriCorps program and the nearly 250,000 alumni of the Peace Corps. As these programs are expanded under my New National Public Service Plan, it is critical that we also acknowledge and respect their service to our nation, be it domestically or abroad. 

In 2017, the National Commission on National and Public Service was created to review all aspects of public service, both civilian and military. The Commission is reviewing the selective service registration process and looking for ways to increase public service. 

The Commission released an interim report in 2018 and will release a final report in 2020. I look forward to the Commission’s final report and integrating its findings into this plan’s development. I will:

  • Honor the time and talent given by those who have served on the Commission and initiate a public awareness campaign to highlight their work and the work of those who serve. 
  • Incorporate the recommendations from this report on military and non-military public service into my New National Public Service Plan and its implementation.

Conclusion

We must reinvigorate JFK’s call for everyday Americans to do what Washington won’t do: to work collaboratively in service to transform the lives of our fellow Americans and people from around our planet in need.

I look forward to putting this plan into action as the next President of the United States and strengthening our civic bonds through public service as we repair the damage Trump has wrought on our communities.