Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008 | 2:04 a.m.
Since its inception under President Kennedy in 1961, the Peace Corps has had an uneven history of support in this country. It began with a flourish but then suffered from a steep loss of popularity in the 1970s as the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal lessened the nation’s appetite for volunteerism. For a time the Peace Corps was even folded into a different agency. But it regained its independence in the early 1980s and eventually earned bipartisan support.
It faces tough times once again, the victim of a tight federal budget and a weak dollar overseas that has made it more expensive to cover staff salaries and living costs for the volunteers.
As reported by The Washington Post on Aug. 22, the Peace Corps has a budget of nearly $331 million but faces budget shortfalls of $18 million combined for this year and next. One fallout is the potential closing of some of its regional recruiting offices across the country to save money.
The shame of it is the agency represents one of the nation’s greatest examples of good will overseas. Having sent more than 190,000 volunteers to 139 countries, the Peace Corps has taught people of other nations how to build better communities, preserve their environment and improve their health care.
In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush set a goal of 14,000 Peace Corps volunteers by 2007, but there are barely more than 8,000 today. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has said he would double the size of the Peace Corps within three years, and Republican candidate John McCain has advocated more volunteerism.
In its upcoming debates on the federal budget, Congress should ensure that the Peace Corps has the wherewithal to recruit as many volunteers as possible and the financial support to send the agency wherever it is wanted. Maintaining a strong Peace Corps is in our nation’s best interest.