Senate Approves Measure to Expand Peace Corps; President Expected to Sign Bill Soon that Would Return Number of Volunteers to 1960s Levels
May 13, 1999Washington, D.C., May 13, 1999—The number of Peace Corps volunteers would increase by nearly 50 percent over the next four years under the terms of a bill approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate last evening. The vote follows a 326-90 vote in March by the House of Representatives of an identical measure to authorize a boost in the number of Peace Corps volunteers from 6,700 today to more than 10,000 in the year 2003, the highest level since the late 1960s. The measure is expected to be signed into law soon by President Clinton, who first proposed this initiative last year and who has strongly endorsed the goal of 10,000 volunteers. "This vote is the culmination of more than two years of hard work by so many supporters of the Peace Corps, both in the Congress and the Administration," said Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan. "But more than that, it is a strong declaration of support for the work of our volunteers in 78 countries around the world, as well as the legacy of the 150,000 volunteers who have joined the Peace Corps since 1961." With thousands of additional volunteers serving overseas, Gearan said the Peace Corps can increasingly help communities around the world gain access to clean water; eat healthier meals; help prevent the spread of AIDS; teach English, math and science; help entrepreneurs start new businesses; and work with non-governmental organizations to protect the environment. Gearan said the budget increase would also allow for continued growth of the Crisis Corps, in which former volunteers return to their region of service for up to six months as a rapid response to international emergencies, such as natural disasters and humanitarian crises. Last fall, Congress approved an 8 percent budget increase for the Peace Corps, to $241 million, which will enable the agency to field 7,400 volunteers by the end of this fiscal year, the most in 25 years. The vote yesterday authorizes a series of increases in the Peace Corps budget to $365 million in the year 2003, when 10,000 volunteers would be serving overseas. The Senate proposal was introduced by Senators Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate authorizing subcommittee. Coverdell was director of the Peace Corps from 1989-91, and Dodd served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic from 1966-68. The House bill was introduced by Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Calif., and received the strong endorsement of all five former Peace Corps volunteers serving in the House.