Previewing a piece of his new budget plan, President Clinton asked Congress to add $48 million to the Peace Corps’ allocation in order to place 10,000 volunteers overseas by the millennium.
Currently, 6,500 volunteers serve in 85 countries. Thus, bringing the number in the field to 10,000 would swell the corps’ ranks by more than 50 percent.
In his weekly radio address, broadcast Saturday from his Caribbean vacation, Clinton said his purpose is to “call forth a new spirit of citizen service here at home, as necessary to meet our new challenges and to fulfill our obligations both at home and around the world.”
He saluted President Kennedy for founding the volunteer service corps in 1961. It is, Clinton said, “a pragmatic approach to bettering the lives of ordinary people around the world …, an investment in our own future in an increasingly interdependent world.”
More than 150,000 Americans contacted the corps last year to express interest in volunteering, Peace Corps director Mark Gearan said.
Clinton’s budget package, which he will unveil in February, would increase next year’s federal spending on the Peace Corps by 21 percent, to $270 million.
“Strengthening the Peace Corps, giving more Americans opportunities to serve in humanity’s cause, is both an opportunity and an obligation we should seize in 1998,” the president said.
In an effort to build public support for its priorities before the Republican-led Congress replies to the February package, the Clinton administration has sought recent opportunities to publicize other proposals for increased spending on programs such as AIDS treatment and food safety.
Clinton’s call for a major Peace Corps expansion was endorsed by the six members of Congress - three Republicans and three Democrats - who served as volunteers.
“This Peace Corps initiative will allow more Americans to make more of a difference in more countries. I could not support it more,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., a volunteer in Fiji from 1968 to 1970. The other endorsers were Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Reps. James Walsh, R-N.Y.; Tom Petri, R-Wis.; Sam Farr, D-Calif.; and Tony Hall, D-Ohio.
Another lawmaker, Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., is a former Peace Corps director.
Since the corps’ founding, more than 150,000 Americans have served as volunteers, teaching AIDS prevention and literacy, vaccinating children, helping provide clean water, improving crops and livestock and staffing other self-help programs in poor countries.
“In so doing, (volunteers) help communities and countries become stronger and more stable, making them better partners for us as we work together to meet common goals,” Clinton said.
The president noted that since the fall of communism, Peace Corps units have begun work in a large number of newly democratic nations from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, “helping to nurture and strengthen free markets by teaching new entrepreneurs how to get their businesses running.”
South Africa and Jordan received their first volunteers in 1997. Plans for this year already include expansion to Bangladesh, Mozambique and the Republic of Georgia.
The radio broadcast was recorded Friday at a beachfront villa that Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter Chelsea are using for their four-day winter vacation.