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Garamendi Introduces Bill to Create National Testing and Contact Tracing Workforce for Coronavirus Response

April 21, 2020
Press Release

Mobilize AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and FEMA volunteers to support public health responders and COVID-19 contact tracing and testing

Washington, DC—Today, Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Peace Corps Caucus, introduced legislation that would mobilize America’s service organizations to significantly expand testing and contact tracing for the coronavirus pandemic.

The Undertaking National Initiatives to Tackle Epidemic Act (UNITE Act) would expand volunteer opportunities within AmeriCorps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and direct those agencies to enhance testing and contract tracing to identify and monitor the contacts of infected individuals. The bicameral legislation ensures that existing national and community service programs are fully mobilized in order to assist in testing and contact tracing, especially for vulnerable Americans such as the food-insecure, elderly, and homeless. The bill would also ensure that Peace Corps volunteers, whose service involuntarily ended in March due to the global pandemic, will receive benefits and priority placement in these domestic programs so they can continue to use their skills by facilitating testing and contact tracing. The UNITE Act was also introduced in the Senate by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

“The coronavirus pandemic has put an unprecedented strain on our society, and our nation requires a significant scaling of testing and contact tracing in order to flatten the curve and lift stay-at-home orders. The UNITE Act empowers America’s service organizations to perform testing and contact tracing across the country and deliver the aid and support our communities require during the pandemic. As Co-Chair of the Congressional Peace Corps Caucus and as a returned Peace Corps volunteer, I understand how capable America’s service organizations are to expand our nation’s testing and contact tracing to meet the needs of our country’s pandemic response. I thank Senators Markey and Van Hollen for sponsoring the companion bill in the Senate, and I will work to ensure the UNITE Act becomes law,” said Congressman Garamendi.

A copy of the UNITE Act (H.R. 6560) can be found here.

Specifically the UNITE Act:

  • Requires the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to prioritize activities related to coronavirus testing and contact tracing and to increase recruitment of AmeriCorps volunteers to 500,000 (approximately 75,000 currently serve). Additionally, it permanently sets the compensation floor for volunteers at 200 percent of the poverty level, roughly double what it is today.
  • Requires CNCS, in the selection of volunteers, to give priority consideration to unemployed veterans, others unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and AmeriCorps volunteers and Peace Corps volunteers whose service involuntarily ended.
  • Authorizes the funds necessary to hire, train, and administer 10,000 additional FEMA Cadre of On-Call Response/Recovery Employees (CORE) to perform contact tracing of those infected by the coronavirus, provide logistical support for the supply chain of medical equipment, and to fulfill other disaster and public health related needs. 
  • Directs the Peace Corps to extend health benefits for evacuated Peace Corps volunteers for six months and to waive all non-medical application requirements for reenrollment of all volunteers wishing to return to the Peace Corps service after operations of the Agency resume.
  • Requires the Peace Corps to report to Congress on the progress of the agency’s offer to reenroll each evacuated volunteer in the Peace Corps  and expeditiously return the roughly 7,300 volunteers abroad once the suspension of Peace Corps operations ends and it is safe.