Peace Corps has three pieces of legislation pending in Congress: The Peace Corps Equity Act; The Peace Corps Budget as part of  the President’s budget; and H. R. 1573 Respect for Peace Corps Volunteers of 2013. The Equity Act and the Respect Act both address inequities that derive from the ambiguity of the legal status of the Peace Corps Volunteer: A private citizen acting in a public capacity. Attention needs to be paid to all three of these measures as their approval is by no means certain. Let’s look at each one.

The Peace Corps Equity Act of 2013 was introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D- NJ). His office issued a press release: here is the link: http://www.lautenberg.senate.gov/newsroom/record.cfm?id=341534&

From that announcement:

The “Peace Corps Equity Act of 2013” would allow the Peace Corps to provide its volunteers with health insurance coverage for abortion in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman is endangered.  Almost all other women covered under federal health plans receive this same coverage.  With more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers having experienced sexual assault over the past decade, this technical fix is needed to protect the reproductive rights of women in the Peace Corps.  The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

“The Peace Corps Equity Act will rightfully fix an inequity for Peace Corps volunteers living abroad by giving them access to the same reproductive health care coverage as all other federal employees,” said Senator Shaheen, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee and Appropriations Committee, which have jurisdiction over Peace Corps programs and funding.“This is about safety and equality. Every woman should have the reproductive health care coverage she needs, and this legislation is imperative toward that end.”

The gallant women of First Response Action, led by Casey Frazee,  have worked for this legislation, too. Read their stories and commentary, including a supportive statement from a Peace Corps spokesperson on their website: http://firstresponseaction.blogspot.com

Read the NPR report on this issue at: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/04/29/179267241/if-military-covers-abortion-after-rape-why-not-the-peace-corps

The issue is not abortion.The issue is equity. Discriminating against women Peace Corps Volunteers serves no purpose.

The Peace Corps budget was submitted by Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet. Here is the link to read the entire budget: http://files.peacecorps.gov/manuals/cbj/peacecorps_cbj_2014.pdf

The budget would have been written at the direction of the White House and it calls for only a 1% increase from the current budget. It calls for 7310 Volunteers in service in 2014, down from 8460 in 2011. The National Peace Corps Association’s Advocacy Coordinator Jonathan Pearson reports that a “Dear Colleague”  letter to members of the House of Representatives had achieved 142 signatures by April 15th. The letter urges that Peace Corps funding be increased to $400,000,000. Here is the link to Pearson’s article with instructions on how to support the effort: http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/2013/03/house-peace-corps-funding-action-alert/

Congress traditionally ignores a President’s budget. All funding measures must begin in the House of Representatives, so that is where the real fight for the Peace Corps budget will be.

The final bill is H. R. 1573 Respect Peace Corps Volunteer Act of 2013, introduced by Representative Albio Sires (D-NJ). The bill would allow the use of the Peace Corps name and Logo in death notices, obituaries, and grave stones of  deceased PVCs and deceased RPCVs. The impetus for this legislation evidently began with an inquiry from a Colombian RPCV who learned that technically the use of the name Peace Corps and the logo was restricted. This legislation makes sure that the families of deceased RPCVs as well as PCVs may use the name and logo.To read more about this legislation, again the National Peace Corps Association has an article, read it at: http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/2013/04/legislation-to-preserve-peace-corps-service/

Although I am not a constituent of Representative Sires, I did call his office (1-202.225.7919) and asked the staff to thank him for this legislation. I also had a request to expand the legislation to include a provision that when a Peace Corps Volunteer dies in service, an American flag be presented to the family. Traditionally, anyone who has ever served in the military (however reluctantly!) is afforded the honor of an American flag for his or her casket. It can mean a lot to families. Peace Corps Volunteers who die during service should be given the same honor.

Two bills and a budget and we shall see what Peace Corps looks like after this legislative session.