Another federal effort to fill another important workforce need

AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have launched the new Public Health AmeriCorps to support the recruitment training and development...

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The COVID-19 pandemic stretched the health care community to the limits, underscoring the need to further enhance public health resources across the country. And to move towards that goal, AmeriCorps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have launched the new Public Health AmeriCorps to support the recruitment, training and development of the next generation of public health leaders. Federal News Network’s Eric White spoke with Michael Smith, CEO of AmeriC,orps on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin  to find out how this new facet of his agency will work.

Interview transcript: 

Michael Smith: AmeriCorps is a federal agency for volunteering and service. We’ve been around for almost 30 years. Today, we have about 250,000 AmeriCorps members and senior volunteers that are serving 40,000 locations all across the country. We actually have more than 10,000 AmeriCorps members that are serving in the DMV. And so Public Health AmeriCorps is building on that great work. So chances are if there’s a challenge in a community, and there are people of goodwill doing something about it, AmeriCorps members are right there. And so Public Health AmeriCorps is a groundbreaking partnership with the Centers for Disease Control. A $400 million partnership,  we’re trying to do two things. One, we want to make sure that we are moving more AmeriCorps members to deal with the urgent public health care issues. And we are then going to provide them with the skills, training, credentialing that they need, so that they become the next generation of public health workers.

Eric White: And what is the role in helping as things get semi-back to normal? Still not out of it, though, of the COVID-19 pandemic? We lost many people due to burnout and  being sick overall, from the health care workforce. What was the response been from PHA, and how is it helping fill those gaps?

Michael Smith: You know, people ask me what happened to AmeriCorps during the pandemic. And I say, we were there, we never left. When teachers had to figure out how to go virtual, AmeriCorps members were right there with it. When hospitals had to figure out how to run testing and vaccination lines, AmeriCorps members, were right there with them helping run those lines. When communities were setting up mutual aid networks and learning pods for students, AmeriCorps members were there too. And we actually touch more than 12 million people during the course of the pandemic. So we’re excited to double down on that work, because what we know is the pandemic exposed a lot of challenges that were already there, and the disproportionate impact of deaths and sickness on communities of color and low income communities. And so Public Health AmeriCorps is going to make sure that we’re tackling those issues, not just for a year, not just for two years, but for the long term.

Eric White: And what role will it be playing in the actual recruitment process and the training of these new health leaders that we’re trying to get into the workforce now.

Michael Smith: So Public Health AmeriCorps members, our AmeriCorps members, anyone in the DMV, who wants to become a Public Health AmeriCorps member can go to and sign up today. They get a living allowance, they get an education award, which they can use to pay down debt or pay for college or post secondary. And we’re working in partnership with CDC to provide them with the training and credentialing so that they can become the next doctors, nurses, public health care leaders, CNAs, whatever it is that combines their skills, their talents with the needs of the community.

Eric White: You mentioned the living allowance. So yes, there is going to need to be some funds behind this. How are these grants going to be distributed and who’s applying for them?

Michael Smith: AmeriCorps grants about a billion dollars a year all across the country, and we work through 1000s of nonprofit organizations, state commissions, and city governments actually. And so any nonprofit can apply, they can go to and find out how they could become a partner. In the area, we’re actually working with nonprofits like Damien Ministries, that are going to be doing health and education, preventative care and COVID-19 awareness and vaccination information. Or we’re working with Latin American Youth Center, actually one of our long term AmeriCorps partners, that’s going to be doing HIV-AIDS education and COVID-19 testing and education efforts all across the area. So if there’s a nonprofit that wants to work with one of them or wants to start with us from scratch, they can do that.

Eric White: Yeah, I’m curious if you’ve seen an uptick in the volunteerism, you know, at AmeriCorps or and, you know, you’re obviously plugged into that community as well. Since the pandemic has been waning off or even at the height of the pandemic. I knew several that wanted to get involved. What was your experience?

Michael Smith: You know, what’s been great is we have found we’ve got some new data that’s coming out soon. And I’ll give you a sneak preview that’s going to show that neighbors kept helping neighbors during the pandemic. We all know that it was harder to serve with nonprofits which is why we are so excited about Public Health AmeriCorps, because nonprofits need us, schools need us, and this gives an opportunity for people to get the support and the resources that they need to serve.

Eric White: And so you’ve seen you know an uptick in that. What areas have you seen more people want to get involved in and I know you know that I’m not going to make you prove it with data or anything. But is there a specific sector that people are more interested in? Is it the public health arena? Or is it just overall helping out in communities that are in need?

Michael Smith: You know, the great thing about AmeriCorps, we’re not sitting here in our offices in the federal center southwest deciding what America needs all across the country. What, you know, Prince George’s county needs, what Prince William’s county needs, what southeast DC needs, those communities get to decide what they need, and AmeriCorps members get to vote with their feet. So our largest programs that we have are in education, we’re seeing a lot more interest in climate and green careers. And we are so excited about the incredible interest that we’ve seen in public health.

Eric White:  Have you ran initiatives like this with other agencies? Are those in the works by any chance? Or is this kind of a unique area just because there’s such a need in the healthcare field?

Michael Smith: You know, it’s so funny. I, you know, just with at the White House recently, for the United We Stand summit with the Attorney General and with the Department of Interior officials and National Endowment of the Humanities, and I say that AmeriCorps is actually the Swiss Army knife. We can we can do multiple things. So we partnered with FEMA, we have FEMA Corps, we’ve partnered with the Department of Interior on fighting wildfires. We’ve partnered with the US Department of Agriculture on hunger programs, we’ve partnered with HUD on on housing and homelessness. And so we have a long track record of partnering with agencies to get things done and use our unique skills of deploying the power of national service, combined with the talents that the other agencies have that may be more issue focused.

Eric White: What about in the private sector and nonprofit field overall, can you give me just a update on how you’re increasing your presence there and working with large and maybe even small organizations?

Michael Smith: AmeriCorps is a great public – private partnership. That’s why we were actually created as a government corporation back during the Clinton Administration. Because the idea was we needed to make sure that our work could be sustained. And so we work with nonprofit partners, with philanthropic partners, with corporations on a very local level, who match our grants, who provide wraparound benefits for our members, who help us advertise and recruit in sometimes working with corporations to double down on issues that we both care about, such as maybe bridging the digital divide, or doing work on hunger. Dr. King said, anybody can be great because anybody can serve. So if you’re 18 or 80 years old, you can become an AmeriCorps member, you can become a Public Health AmeriCorps member. And if you’re a nonprofit that needs the resources to get things done for your community, we’ve got resources for you. So please go to and figure out how you can get involved today.

Eric White: Michael Smith is CEO of AmeriCorps.

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