By Tim Reid
LOS ANGELES, July 3 (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is proposing a massive expansion of national service programs in a bid to help unify Americans and bring people from different backgrounds together.
Buttigieg, 37, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a military veteran, is due to unveil the plan during a speech on Wednesday in Iowa, where the Democratic nominating contest kicks off in February.
His plan, entitled A New Call to Service, will seek to build a network of 1 million national service members by the 250th anniversary of U.S. independence in 2026.
“National service can help us to form connections between very different kinds of Americans, as was my experience in the military,” Buttigieg, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 as part of the Navy Reserve, said in a news release ahead of the speech.
“I served alongside and trusted my life to people who held totally different political views. You shouldn't have to go to war in order to have that kind of experience, which is why I am proposing a plan to create more opportunities for national service.”
Buttigieg has been seeing an increase in support in recent polls among the 25 Democrats vying to become the nominee to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election. On Monday, his campaign said he had raised $24.8 million in the past three months, a figure expected to beat most of his rivals.
Buttigieg said that if elected president, he would seek to fund existing federal and AmeriCorps organizations to immediately increase available service opportunities to 250,000 positions, especially targeting high school students and others aged 16 to 24.
He said that by 2026, he would also quadruple the number of service opportunities to a million high school graduates.
That would involve establishing new service corps, including a Climate Corps, Community Health Corps and Intergenerational Service Corps, all of which would be overseen by a new chief service officer who would be part of the White House National Security Council and Domestic Policy Council.
Aaron Williams, director of the Peace Corps under former Democratic President Barack Obama, said in a statement provided by the Buttigieg campaign: "Our nation is divided and we're facing record-low trust in fellow Americans and American institutions. At the same time, our country and our communities are facing challenges with our climate, access to education, and so much more."
Williams added: "A strong national service program is a win-win. National service can bridge divides by bringing young Americans together, while also investing in our communities by supporting the future corps of public servants to help combat some of the biggest issues we face as a country."
(Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Peter Cooney)