Next100 executive director Emma Vadehra and associate director of strategy and operations Dan Edelman submitted a public comment regarding how AmeriCorps can advance racial equity and provide improved support for underserved communities in response to a request for comment. Their comment, which you can read below, explains how AmeriCorps can take steps to eliminate or mitigate the barriers that underserved communities and individuals currently face when trying to work with the program.
Re: Next100 Comment on AmeriCorps implementation of Executive Order 13985
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments about actions AmeriCorps can take to enhance equity in its programs. We appreciate the steps you have already taken in this direction, and look forward to working with you going forward. The following recommendations are a summarized version of more detailed recommendations we make in our recent piece on how AmeriCorps can better advance equity and Dan’s Yale E360 piece about key principles for a Civilian Climate Corps. Many of these recommended actions are geared specifically toward reducing the barriers faced by (1) underserved communities and individuals seeking to take advantage of Agency procurement and contracting opportunities, and (2) underserved communities and individuals seeking to enroll in and access benefits and services in AmeriCorps programs. This goal is especially critical as we look to recover from the economic devastation that has impacted communities of color, and young people in particular, as a result of the pandemic. A more equitable AmeriCorps program can help improve immediate and long-term employment and career pathways for young people from these communities as they help to rebuild them.
While a few of the recommendations in our piece need congressional action, many can be acted on administratively:
- Provide better pay and benefits for members to eliminate barriers to participation by historically underserved members: (1) continue to increase the current member living allowance and the cost per member service year (MSY) provided to grantee organizations for each member they host; and (2) expand funding for benefits for members, such as housing support, transportation, child care, and mental health services.
- Improve recruitment of historically excluded members: (1) work with local high schools, community colleges, and universities, nonprofits, and other organizations that work directly with youth to ensure a broader set of young people are aware of the opportunity to serve in AmeriCorps; and (2) support and expect tate commissions and grantee organizations to do the same.
- Make AmeriCorps more accessible for individuals and organizations by updating and streamlining the member application and enrollment systems and grantee organization application systems, and ensure that all organizational application documents are readable and accessible for grantees.
- Make AmeriCorps membership a pathway to a career by: (1) ensuring AmeriCorps does not discourage training for post-service careers—the existing 20 percent cap of hours spent on professional development disincentivizes training for post-service careers, as much or all of that time may need to focus on skills needed for members’ AmeriCorps service; (2) supporting state commissions to coordinate additional post-service career supports that will help members begin successful careers or additional education or training programs after their service; and (3) working with the Department of Labor to make it easier for AmeriCorps programs to serve as pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships.
- Recruit new, smaller grantees by: (1) offering planning grants to smaller nonprofits that are not yet AmeriCorps grantees; and (2) allowing for targeted waiving of matching funds requirements for new and/or smaller CBOs.
- Conduct an equity and inclusion review of all current AmeriCorps regulations and guidance, and revise or streamline those that are creating more burden than upside.
- Ensure flexible options exist that might allow more members of diverse backgrounds to serve, including: (1) sufficient part-time program options; and (2) innovative pilot models that allow for easier placement in and build the capacity of small CBOs without creating substantial administrative burdens.
- Ensure all state commissions are partners in enhancing equity by requiring that state commissions do the following, and provide additional fiscal support and technical assistance to help them do so: (1) set transparent goals to increase diversity within their portfolio, in terms of both AmeriCorps members and grantee leadership; (2) provide resources, technical assistance, and capacity building support for both general organizational growth and diversity, equity, and inclusion; and 3) increase diversity among state commission members. State commissions should also be encouraged to consider using intermediary organizations to reach more small CBOs.
- Regularly collect and release more comprehensive data on AmeriCorps members, grantees, and the staff of AmeriCorps, and set goals for improvement around how closely these groups represent communities served. Require state commissions to do the same.
Thank you for your consideration.