Investing in educational and career opportunities for young adults is a smart bet on the future. And that’s exactly what many states, cities and counties are doing with American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) funds.
Specifically, they are directing a portion of the ARP’s $350 billion in state and local coronavirus fiscal stimulus funds to create or expand service and conservation corps. In corps programs (also called service or national service programs), members serve their community for set periods of time, working on projects that provide clear societal value, such as building affordable housing, tutoring school students K-12, supporting public health efforts, assisting in disaster response and recovery, and contributing to climate resilience. In return, corps members earn a modest living allowance, gain valuable work experience, develop skills and, in some cases, receive a small scholarship. National service programs can provide a structured and positive pathway to the job market and post-secondary education, which is especially valuable for young people who might otherwise be floundering. And they deliver a solid return on investment: AmeriCorps analysis identified a cost-benefit ratio of 17.3 to 1. For every dollar of federal funds, the return to society, program members and government is $17.30.
New or expanded corps initiatives supported by ARP come in many shapes and sizes, reflecting the diversity and creativity of state and local governments to meaningfully respond to local needs and priorities. Many build on successful service programs and civic infrastructure by coordinating with and receiving resources from US Corps, the federal agency that funds and organizes national service opportunities. They also partner with state service commissions that support AmeriCorps programs at the state and local level.
Reflecting the urgency of the climate crisis and the momentum generated by the proposal Civil climatic body at President Joe Biden Build Back Better Framework, the initiatives have a strong focus on resilience and climate change mitigation. The benefits of climate resilience work may not be as obvious as mentoring or building affordable housing, but such initiatives can directly benefit people and property in rural, suburban and urban areas. For example, build green infrastructure through landscaping or installing permeable surfaces reduces stormwater runoff after heavy rains, which in turn reduces flash floods and sewage overflows. Weatherizing homes—by adding insulation or energy-efficient appliances, for example—reduces both energy use and energy bills.
State and local governments are well positioned to advance the field. The proposed Civilian Climate Corps and the rest of the Build Back Better program are stalled in the US Senate, meaning a historic federal investment in years of conservation and resilience service programming is still in question. However, the federal dollars made available to states and local governments through the ARP offer a chance to reinvigorate these opportunities to support young adults and improve community resilience.
Below are some examples of how state and local governments are using ARP fiscal stimulus funds to support service programs. The list focuses on climate-focused corps programs, but there are also ARP-funded service programs focused on community needs, such as promoting literacy and stemming loss. learning among students from kindergarten to grade 12.
- The Austin, Texas City Council passed a resolution in May 2020 support a local conservation corps modeled on the federal Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. The city thereafter made $1.9 million of its ARP dollars to create the Austin Civilian Conservation Corps, building on organizations such as American Youth Works— which tap into the existing Texas Conservation Corps — to help implement the program.
- The city of San Jose, California has channeled more than 10 million dollars from ARP funding to a new Body of Resilience, which is putting young people to work responding to the pandemic on multiple fronts: helping with food bank operations, tutoring K-12 students, and supporting environmental resilience. Similar to Austin, an existing local service program (the San José Conservation Corps) does much of the work, with the exception of the tutoring program, which is run by the public library system.
- build on several years of hearings and planningBoston used $3 million in ARP funding to launch a green jobs initiative For the young. City leaders turned to a Philadelphia program, PowerCorpsPHLas a model for providing career-related training and paid work experiences in areas related to environmental sustainability.
- Hawaii directed up to $5 million in ARP funds to create a Green Job Youth Corps, and Maine allocated over $3 million to clean energy workforce development, designating a portion to create the Maine Climate Corps.
The AmeriCorps agency also received a Additional $1 billion in ARP funding. Among other things, the agency is using the money to provide a much-needed increase in the living allowance provided to AmeriCorps members and provide additional funding and flexibility to state service commissions. It has also partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish AmeriCorps Public Healththat creates a pipeline for young people to enter careers in public health and expands capacity during the pandemic.
Service programs have the flexibility to adapt and respond to emergency needs. In the early stages of the pandemic, Existing AmeriCorps and conservation corps programs pivoted to address immediate issues: distributing food to people in need; serve as contact tracers; staffing call centers; and setting up beds and triage centres.
Cities and states also rolled out new corps programs, making hiring people whose jobs and communities had been disrupted by the pandemic a priority. For example, Washington State’s service commission, Serve Washington, worked with the Schultz Family Foundation to launch the WA COVID Response Corps to combat increasing food insecurity across the state. In Birmingham, Alabama, Baltimoreand New Orleansmembers of the newly created service programs provided community outreach and education, staffed testing centers, conducted contact tracing, and more.
These service programs introduced earlier in the public health crisis were largely relief-oriented. But service programs can also support recovery and growth. The pre-pandemic economy left many adults and young people in low-wage jobs or unemployed; if designed correctly, corps programs can provide meaningful work, skills development opportunities, and career paths – valuable for everyone, but especially those on the economic margins. Corps programs can also advance long-term community well-being by directing more people and resources to issues such as educational inequities, public health gaps, and climate change. . The innovative territorial approach of Flint National Service Accelerator offers a model: Over the past decade, he has significantly increased the membership of AmeriCorps in Flint, Michigan, and engaged them to respond to priorities identified by the community.
Not all service programs focus on hiring young adults, although this is the most common program model. Others, especially newer ones developed since the emergence of COVID-19, prioritize hiring people whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic or who are closest to the issues the program addresses. offensive. Both approaches generally prioritize equity, ensuring that recruitment, hiring, training, and activities advance opportunities for people and places that have experienced economic hardship.
There is no shortage of work to be done, nor a shortage of potential members of the body. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on secondary and post-secondary education, leaving millions of young adults without clear plans or structures. College enrollment has dropped significantly, especially at community colleges. A investigation of recent high school graduates suggests that many young adults feel overwhelming levels of uncertainty, anxiety and confusion about their future. Service programs offer a proven way to reach and engage with young people and empower them through service.
State and local governments should not wait for the federal government to increase funding for national service. Instead, they should use the flexible US bailout funds already available to them. By collaborating with the social, philanthropic and private sectors, governments can use this momentum to create sustainable solutions for young people and communities.
Note: Most of the examples above are taken from two sources: the Local Government ARPA Investment Tracker jointly developed by Brookings Metro, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties; and the ARPA State Fiscal Stimulus Fund Allocation Dashboarddeveloped by the National Conference of State Legislatures.