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Congress’s bipartisan national-service bill would be a powerful tonic for what’s ailing America


The Washington Post

By David Ignatius

Congress is weighing a big idea as it bargains over the next stimulus package: a bipartisan proposal to expand national-service programs to create jobs, help contain the coronavirus pandemic and begin to unify a divided country.

This plan would be a powerful tonic for some of what’s ailing the United States. It’s evocative of the New Deal programs that helped the United States through the Great Depression. And it’s supported by a star-studded group of Republicans and Democrats, including many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from both parties who are backed by the bipartisan political action group With Honor.

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The Senate proposal is dubbed with one of those catchy acronyms beloved by legislators, the Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act. It would provide $16 billion over three years to double the number of AmeriCorps positions to 150,000 from 75,000 in the first year, and then increase to 200,000 and then 250,000 in the second and third years. The bill would also increase the stipend to $22,000 from $15,000. After completing service, young people would be eligible for $6,000 grants to finance their educations at community colleges.

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What’s powerful about this idea is that it would draw together people from different racial, economic and geographic backgrounds into a common enterprise. In this way, argues David McCormick, an Army veteran who is now chief executive of Bridgewater Associates and has helped mobilize support for the bill, “National service would go a long way toward solving some of the most important challenges our country is facing — to overcome our divisions and reaffirm our common purpose.”

[Rep. Michael] Waltz, a Republican and former Army Green Beret, argues that the legislation could be “a game changer for the country.” He says that he tells skeptical Republican colleagues: “If we’re going to send out stimulus checks, let’s get some service for it.” [Rep. Chrissy] Houlahan, a Democrat who served as an Air Force officer, agrees that national service “is a way of pulling our nation together” in crisis.

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