On Eve of Anniversary, Rep. Kennedy Pushes Peace Corps Bill

Rep. Joseph Kennedy III urges House subcommittee to commemorate the establishment of the Peace Corps. (Shujie Leng/BU News Service)
Rep. Joseph Kennedy III urges House subcommittee to commemorate the establishment of the Peace Corps. (Shujie Leng/BU News Service)

By Shujie Leng
BU Washington News Service

WASHINGTON — A day before the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, one of his grandnephews— Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-Mass. — testified before a House subcommittee on behalf of a bill to commemorate one of the late president’s best-known initiatives: establishment of the Peace Corps.

The bill — authored by Rep. Kennedy and co-sponsored by 70 of his colleagues, including 14 Republicans — would authorize the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation, an arm of the National Peace Corps Association, to build a memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring the ideals of Peace Corps. It would be entirely funded by private donations.

“We will have to work harder, to remember not just President Kennedy’s individual accomplishments, as we do [for] any leaders in our great nation, but the faith and fearlessness that he brought to the people who were in need of someone to cheer them on,” Rep. Kennedy told the House Natural Resources Subcommittee On Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on Thursday. He characterized the legacy of the Peace Corps as “the potential of people who are challenged to change the world.”

A Kennedy spokeswoman said later the monument would not necessarily be located on the National Mall, and that the final site selection would be made by the Interior Department and General Services Administration if the bill is passed.

President Kennedy founded the Peace Corps, a volunteer program, in 1961, to challenge young Americans to serve in developing countries. The initiative was designed to counter the negative stereotypes of the United States in the Third World, where a tide of revolutionary sentiment was building at the time.

The Peace Corps’ first director was another of Rep. Kennedy’s great uncles: the late R. Sargent Shriver.

Since 1961, more than 210,000 Americans have served in 139 countries as Peace Corps volunteers. In excess of 8,000 volunteers currently serve in 76 host countries, with requests pending from 25 countries for volunteers. Congress provides just over $375 million annually to operate the program.

Among the former volunteers is Rep. Kennedy, who worked in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic from 2004 to 2006. Fluent in Spanish, he developed a successful local economic development project in a community near Puerto Plata.

Two Peace Corps alumni, Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Tom Petri, R-Wis., joined Kennedy at Thursday’s hearing to share their stories and to push for passage of the bill.

This is not the first time that the idea of memorializing the Peace Corps has been proposed in Congress. Since 2010, several bills to do so have been reintroduced in both the House and Senate, but failed to clear both chambers.

This time, a similar bill passed the Senate earlier this year under the sponsorship of Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Mark Udall, D-Colo.

Kennedy was optimistic that it will clear both houses of Congress this time around. “My hope is that we will be able to finally get it done, and everybody that I’ve talked to has been very positive about this,” he said after the hearing.

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