South Dakota lawmakers in disbelief over Rep. Dusty Johnson's funding vote

SOUTH DAKOTA (KSFY) - Former volunteers are speaking out after South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johnson votes to eliminate all funding for the Peace Corps.

State Representative Michael Saba of Hartford is among those former volunteers. He’s saying this action would jeopardize the agency's future.

Former Peace Corps volunteers say they're disturbed with Johnson’s vote. Eliminating funding to the Peace Corps would disable programs in 62 countries and bring more than 7,000 volunteers home from their assignments.

There are more than 700 South Dakotans who have served in the Peace Corps with more than 20 serving right now.

"It’s changed my whole life," Michael Saba said.

Michael Saba served the Peace Corps in Malaysia in the 1960's. He was inspired by former President John Kennedy who founded the Peace Corps during his administration.

"But he said, I think it's great that Americans can serve in the military to serve their country but I think it would be nice if there was another way to serve," Saba said.

Saba worked as a teacher in secondary schools and as a community development worker. Following that he was a Peace Corps trainer in Morocco.

"The Peace Corps takes a whole different approach to taking care of foreign relations where we are helping people in other countries," Saba said.

When Saba learned Congressman Dusty Johnson voted to end Peace Corps funding in 2020 he couldn't believe it.

"So to see anybody from congress vote against the great concept of the Peace Corps is a shock, but to see our own congressman is really a shock," Saba said.

In a statement, Congressman Johnson tells KSFY: "The vote on this foreign assistance amendment has been misunderstood."

He said he supports the Peace Corps but joined a majority of his Republican colleagues in voting for the funding cut as a way to send a message to the Speaker of the House. That funding for domestic disasters should be prioritized over international aid.

"As I say it's quite sad when he's voting in such an extreme position," Saba said.

Johnson’s office tells KSFY that this amendment would have covered the cost of the disaster supplemental that South Dakota requested.

"An amendment came up and he voted to abolish it, to take the funding away from it completely," Saba said. "Volunteers come back just a changed person but someone who is also extremely appreciative of what this country has."

"If the senate and house negotiate a conference bill, I will support a reasonably-funded Peace Corps program," Johnson said.

Saba said there have been a number of former Peace Corps volunteers who have served in the state legislature.