In December, Congress approved and the President signed into law a historic $60 million increase to the Peace Corps, elevating the budget from $340 million in fiscal year 2009 to a bold new baseline of $400 million in 2010.

Some estimate that with the needle moved up on Peace Corps funding, at least a thousand new volunteers will enter service this year. Some of those new volunteers will train in new countries like Indonesia, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, and Colombia.

To put this increase in perspective, the $60 million gain is the largest dollar increase in the 49-year history of Peace Corps.

Since 1961, only 14 times has the Congress appropriated a budget above the President’s request for Peace Corps and the last time that happened was in 1988 – over two decades ago.

President Obama’s request to Congress was only $374 million, but because of phone calls and emails from over 20,000 RPCVs, and former Peace Corps staff  in a deteriorated national economic climate, the Congress voted $26 million above the President’s request. This appropriation is also historic because it is the highest dollar increase to the Corps over the President’s request ever.

Why and how did this happen?

First, we had a leader and champion in Congressman Sam Farr (Colombia 64-66) who rallied 149 of his peers to support Peace Corps doubling through his numerous Dear Colleague letters and HR 1066, the Peace Corps Expansion Act 2009.  Second, armed with simple and clear instructions about how and when to contact Members of Congress with sample text, 20,000 of you wrote emails, made phone calls, and visited hill staff (and sometimes Members themselves) in your voting districts over two years.Third , prominent, powerful former volunteers and Peace Corps founders with political and media contacts fought for Peace Corps behind the scenes, often on the day before a critical vote when it mattered. Fourth , we kept our message positive and always bipartisan, delivering through beautiful personalized letters and emails the special benefits of Peace Corps to the world.

But beyond the numbers, what we have succeeded in doing is create a new awareness on the Hill about the dismal funding of the Peace Corps.

Before this campaign, practically no one on Capitol Hill knew that the Peace Corps was half the size it was in 1966. No one knew that while the price of gasoline had gone up 9 times since 1966, the Peace Corps budget had only tripled in that period. No one knew that 20 countries had asked for Peace Corps and were being kept waiting because of a funding crisis. No one knew that in 2009, the Peace Corps actually cut 500 volunteer positions despite an 18% increase in applications.

No one knew that President Obama was in danger of breaking his clear campaign promise of 16,000 Peace Corps volunteers by 2011.  We became the watchdog for that.

Where do we go from here?

(to be continued)