Speech at Saint Mary's comes days before organization's 50th anniversary
Kevin Quigley, head of the Peace Corps Association, told an audience at Saint Mary's College on Tuesday night that the $61 billion in spending cuts passed by the House last week, including a 30 percent cut in funds for the Peace Corps, are shortsighted and threaten America's security.
"President Obama understands that the Peace Corps is essential to improving U.S. standing in the world and essential to our national interest," he said in a speech just days before the Peace Corps will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Tuesday.
He argued that service programs like the Peace Corps are essential to restoring America's standing overseas after it was eroded by actions during the war on terror, including the war in Iraq and treatment of prisoners of war, that were deeply unpopular overseas.
The cuts would slash the Peace Corps budget from $400 million to $331 million. "They would delay roughly 2,000 volunteers from participating in service opportunities abroad, reduce the 76 countries we're in to at least 66 and halt plans to expand into other areas of need," said Quigley, whose association represents the 200,000 returned volunteers.
The speech, entitled "Peace Corps at 50: Realizing the Promise of the Next 50 Years," was part of a weeklong visit to Saint Mary's by Quigley, the 2011 Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, leading up to the 50th anniversary. The organization is celebrating with a wide range of events, including 700 house parties in all 50 states and 80 countries around the world. Quigley will be the featured speaker at an all-day symposium at UC Berkeley's International House on Saturday, February 24.
More Demand for Peace Corps
Quigley said the deep cuts, which were passed on February 19 and must now be approved by the Senate, come at a time when there's a growing demand for the Peace Corps. Twenty new countries have asked for programs. There's also a growing demand from "the young and young at heart" to serve. The ranks of Peace Corps volunteers have grown from 7,500 to 8,600 in the past year and are now at the highest level in four decades.
He noted that the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which was passed in 2009, called for the largest commitment to service since the 1960s and budgeted $1.14 billion to support expanded volunteer programs. The $400 million Peace Corps slice of that pie "might sound like a lot but it's equivalent to less than 5 hours of the U.S. defense budget," he noted.
Huge Cuts in Volunteer Programs
In his speech, Quigley also criticized the House bill's deep cuts in domestic volunteer programs. More than $1billion would be eliminated from the $1.15 billion budget of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which operates AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Learn and Serve America and other national-service programs. "It's alarming because it suggests that the Peace Corps and all the service organizations are right in the crosshairs," he said.
During his visit, Quigley visited students in their classes, met with faculty and staff, and attended a gathering of Saint Mary's and local Peace Corps alumni. A total of 129 Saint Mary's alumni have served in the Peace Corps, and four are currently serving overseas. "They get our values," he said of the college. "They're committed to service and to social justice."
He encouraged students and others in the audience to consider service in the Peace Corps, saying, "Now is the ideal time to help an organization that has shaped our lives and touched the lives of millions."
Photos by Gabrielle Diaz '11
Note: Quigley will be interviewed on KQED radio's Forum program from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday, February 25. Want to speak with him? Call in at 866-733-6786. Listen at 88.5 (San Francisco) or online at or www.kqed.org/radio/listen.