Lawmakers send letter urging Peace Corps to reinstate additional programs in the Pacific Islands to strengthen U.S. ties with the region, assist communities at high risk due to climate change

Washington (July 19, 2022) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Representative Ed Case (HI-01) led their colleagues Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Representatives Thomas R. Suozzi (NY-03), Dina Titus (NV-01), John Garamendi (CA-03), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP), and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS) in a letter to the Acting Director of the Peace Corps, Carol Spahn, affirming their support for the reopening of Peace Corps programs in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu — which were suspended at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In their letter, the lawmakers argue that the reestablishment of these programs will strengthen the Peace Corps’ ability to support vulnerable communities in the Pacific Island region.

“Peace Corps volunteers everywhere play a key role in strengthening the people-to-people ties between the United States and their host countries,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “The renewal of and return to in-person programs can be a starting point for greater Peace Corps presence in the Pacific Islands, which promotes a strong, vibrant, and resilient region.”

The four Peace Corps programs that will soon be reinstated are far fewer than the thirteen that previously existed in the region. The lawmakers called upon the Peace Corps to reexamine their decision to close programs in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau, all of which used to have robust volunteer programs, and to conduct a formal evaluation to gauge the ease with which the agency could reinstate programs in these three countries taking into account the importance of the health and safety of Peace Corps volunteers.

“The countries of the Pacific Islands are at high risk for some of the most extreme impacts of climate change,” the legislators wrote. “We are confident that restoring programs in each of the Freely Associated States will be to the benefit of volunteers, host governments, and the common cause of building communities that are resilient to the challenges we collectively face,” the letter concluded.  

In addition to program locations, the letter also requests that the Peace Corps prioritize work that assists local communities suffering from the effects of climate change, given the vulnerability of Pacific Island countries to the worst impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels. 

Read the full text of the letter HERE.

On July 12, Vice President Kamala Harris announced before the Pacific Islands Forum the reopening of the four programs in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu, and indicated the Peace Corps would work with partners in the region to explore program expansion to additional Pacific Island countries.