Lawmakers are pressuring the Department of Labor to give clear guidance that Peace Corps volunteers are eligible for unemployment benefits after thousands of them were stripped from their posts due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The letter, signed by nearly 40 lawmakers, comes alongside a push to allow those volunteers to be fast-tracked into another program under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as they gear up to respond to the pandemic.
The Peace Corps, in mid-March, began the process of evacuating 7,300 volunteers, abruptly returning volunteers from the 61 countries where they served.
Volunteers are not eligible to apply for unemployment benefits at the end of their service, but lawmakers said the recent stimulus bill allows workers who would not typically qualify to take advantage of the assistance.
“The place of employment for Peace Corps participants closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency when Peace Corps suspended all operations worldwide, which is one of the specified eligibility criteria for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” lawmakers wrote in a letter spearheaded by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-M.N.).
The lawmakers ask for similar assistance to be extended to AmeriCorps volunteers as well.
The Department of Labor did not respond to request for comment.
Volunteers are returning to the U.S. in uncertain times, facing a tough job market as unemployment claims skyrocket amid a pandemic that has halted much business activity.
In a separate letter, lawmakers ask FEMA, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps to meet, arguing volunteers could help combat the twin economic and health crisis by being recruited for FEMA Corps, which relies on volunteers to help respond to disasters.
“There are a number of avenues for integrating returned volunteers into COVID-19 response efforts. Given that they have completed the Peace Corps application process and have noncompetitive eligibility for federal jobs, volunteers could be fast tracked into the FEMA Corps or another AmeriCorps program. In those capacities, they could be immediately deployed to organizations and state and local agencies that are on the frontlines of the pandemic response,” the lawmakers wrote.