WASHINGTON – The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the American Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement today regarding the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps’ (NCCC) health screening process. CNCS operates AmeriCorps NCCC, a residential national service program for young adults.
The ACLU and the ACLU of the District of Columbia filed an administrative equal opportunity complaint with CNCS in 2017, alleging that NCCC’s health screening process violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the federal law that prohibits disability discrimination by federal agencies, as well as CNCS’s own civil rights policy. The lead complainant, Susie Balcom, is a recent college graduate and an AmeriCorps state program alumna. After completing the CNCS medical questionnaire, in which she disclosed that she had received mental health services, Ms. Balcom was deferred and later disqualified from the program.
The parties worked together to address the concerns raised by Ms. Balcom’s complaint. Under the settlement agreement, AmeriCorps NCCC revised its health screening process, which now includes a new questionnaire and a formal written process for applicants to request reasonable accommodations to help them serve.
“I brought this complaint because community service is an enormous part of my life, and I want to promote everyone’s participation,” said Balcom. “I’m so glad that AmeriCorps is changing its policy, which I believe will help ensure that all young people have the opportunity to serve.”
Tim Noelker, General Counsel for CNCS, said he is also pleased with the settlement. “CNCS is committed to ensuring individuals from all walks of life are able to participate in its service programs. The NCCC program is inclusive by design—no prerequisite skillset, no minimum education requirements, and the service is provided by volunteers.”
The settlement agreement also provides compensation to Balcom and class members, an opportunity to re-apply, a career enhancement course, and attorneys’ fees. CNCS will also train all employees involved with NCCC’s health screening regarding the new policy, establish a recruitment program for people with disabilities, and report to the ACLU on application decisions under the new health screening policy for the next two years.
While serving in NCCC, Corps service members live with a team of other 18 – 24 year-olds from around the country as they help strengthen communities and develop leadership skills through direct, team-based service such as clearing trails for national parks, building homes for families in need, or supporting disaster relief.
“The will and motivation to serve are significant factors that we take into consideration when individuals apply for our program. We are constantly working to update our processes to ensure this opportunity is open to all," said Mr. Noelker.
“AmeriCorps is an important national program, and we are pleased it is revising its application policies to ensure all applicants, including those with disabilities, are treated fairly in the process,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
The Winter 2019 application deadline is October 31, 2019 for NCCC members and September 30, 2019 for team leaders. 2019 FEMA Corps applications for members and team leaders must be received by November 30, 2019. The Summer 2020 application deadline is March 30, 2020 for NCCC members and February 28, 2020 for team leaders. 2020 FEMA Corps applications for members and team leaders must be received by February 28, 2020.