VISTA Member Handbook

Welcome to the VISTA member handbook.  Click the link to "Chapter 1" to begin.

VISTA Member Handbook en Español.

Chapter 1: Background & Purpose

 

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] AmeriCorps VISTA has a rich history and legacy. The program was first envisioned by President John F. Kennedy when, in 1962, he commissioned a task force to explore the creation of a national service program modeled after the Peace Corps, whose purpose would be to assist Americans afflicted by poverty. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson realized that vision and created what was then known as Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA).
 
In 1965, the first VISTA members began serving in migrant farm worker camps in California, the hollows of eastern Kentucky, and the urban neighborhoods of Hartford, Connecticut. Since then, more than 220,000 VISTA members have served in all 50 states and U.S. Territories. AmeriCorps VISTA members serve in tribal, rural, suburban, and urban communities. Poverty exists in many forms, which is why VISTA’s model is driven directly by communities in need. Whether that need is expanding job-training services for out of work coal miners in Kentucky, recruiting disadvantaged youth for computer literacy and coding classes in Minneapolis, or combatting homelessness among our veterans, AmeriCorps VISTA members help others while gaining valuable skills for their careers.
 
“This is your jobto guide the young, to comfort the sick, to encourage the downtrodden, to teach the skills which may lead to a more satisfying and a more rewarding life. On your idealism and on your success rests much of our hope for the final elimination of poverty in our American life.”

- President Lyndon B Johnson in his remarks to the first VISTA class in 1964.

 
In 1994, VISTA became a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, founded by President Bill Clinton. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is a federal agency that engages millions of Americans in service through national service programs such as AmeriCorps and Senior Corps and by leading volunteer initiatives for the nation.  In 2009 The Serve America Act was signed and expanded the national service programs administered by CNCS.
 
The purpose of AmeriCorps VISTA, as originally authorized in the Domestic Volunteer Service Act (DVSA) of 1973, as amended, is:
 
To strengthen and supplement efforts to eliminate and alleviate poverty ... in the United States by encouraging and enabling persons from all walks of life, all geographic areas, and all age groups, including low-income individuals ... to perform meaningful and constructive volunteer service in agencies, institutions, and situations where the application of human talent and dedication may assist in the solution of poverty and poverty related problems.
 
The Domestic Volunteer Service Act describes three specific objectives of the program to achieve this purpose:
  1. To strengthen local agencies and organizations to carry out the purpose of the program
  2. To encourage volunteer service at the local level
  3. To generate the commitment of private sector resources
The AmeriCorps VISTA program endorses three basic assumptions:
  • Private citizens can contribute on a voluntary basis to meet the challenges confronting low-income communities.
  • The skills and energies of AmeriCorps VISTA members are used most effectively when the members live and work in the low-income communities they serve.
  • The full-time personal involvement of AmeriCorps VISTA members brings an added dimension to local public and private nonprofit organizations that work to develop lasting solutions to the problems facing low-income communities.

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OVERVIEW OF ROLES

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] AmeriCorps VISTA achieves its mission by assigning members to sponsoring organizations to build the capacity of those organizations to lift communities out of poverty.  AmeriCorps VISTA members mobilize community resources, engage individuals in local community service, and increase the capacity of organizations to manage effective anti-poverty programs. It is crucial to the concept of local self-reliance that sponsoring organizations plan for the eventual phase out of AmeriCorps VISTA members and for the absorption of their functions by other facets of the organization or community.
 
Those who designed the VISTA program envisioned that the community members served by AmeriCorps VISTA programs, to the maximum extent practicable, would participate in planning, developing, and implementing programs. In coordination with CNCS State Offices and sponsoring organizations, the AmeriCorps VISTA program aims to ensure our service partners - sponsors, beneficiaries, and other community contacts - meaningfully participate in our projects. 
 
Over the course of VISTA’s more than 50 year legacy, the types of projects and the communities served have varied greatly and will continue to change as the program evolves. The idea of collaborative, grassroots, and sustainable development, however, has not and will not change as this is the heart of AmeriCorps VISTA's anti-poverty mission. Four core principles provide the framework of all AmeriCorps VISTA projects:
 
1. Ending poverty
  • An AmeriCorps VISTA project's goal addresses helping individuals and communities move out of poverty, rather than making poverty more tolerable through short-term services.
2. Empowering communities
  • A VISTA project engages residents of low-income communities in planning, development, and implementation of the project.
3. Building capacity
  • VISTA members strengthen, expand, and increase the reach of anti-poverty organizations and programs by working on projects with staff and volunteers, rather than directly with people in need.
4. Creating sustainable solutions
  • VISTA members build capacity for organizations to address poverty long after the VISTA members are gone. VISTA members develop systems, relationships, and knowledge which they transfer to the organization and the community to sustain over the long-term.

ROLE OF SPONSORING ORGANIZATION

 
AmeriCorps VISTA members serve under the auspices of a sponsoring organization (often referred to as an AmeriCorps VISTA sponsor). A sponsoring organization may be a non-profit organization, educational institution, tribal, or public agency that is committed to creating solutions to problems affecting low-income communities. The organization partners both with the low-income communities it serves and with AmeriCorps VISTA.

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The sponsoring organization manages AmeriCorps VISTA resources, including the members and sometimes grant funds, and provides the support necessary to achieve project goals. In some cases, the sponsoring organization shares the cost of AmeriCorps VISTA members by committing to pay the living allowance of one or more of their members.

 
Along with the project plan, a sponsoring organization develops a Volunteer Assignment Description (VAD), essentially a work plan, for each member. Successfully completing the tasks in the VAD leads to attaining the goals of the project plan. The sponsor reports to AmeriCorps VISTA on the progress made in meeting its goals, in addition to reporting on the impact the VISTA members have had serving at its site(s).  In support of the VISTA member, the sponsor provides supervision, orientation, professional development, and logistical support.

ROLE OF COMMUNITY

 
The community plays a critical role as both the advisor and beneficiary of the AmeriCorps VISTA project. Community may be defined geographically (e.g., a neighborhood), demographically (e.g., school children), or by affinity (e.g., individuals seeking food security). Given the diversity of the communities in which members serve, the level of involvement and role a community plays in planning, developing, and implementing programs is equally diverse. 
 
Community representatives, with varying levels of input, work with a sponsoring organization to develop a project. Community needs, desires, and priorities shape the project's goals and objectives, which determine the members' assignment descriptions.
 
At a project implementation level, community members directly and indirectly work with AmeriCorps VISTA members. As partners, colleagues, and neighbors, the AmeriCorps VISTA member and the community members share and transfer information, skills, attitudes, and behaviors. This exchange is based on a mutual partnership and mutual learning for the transfer to be successful, and it is the basis of sustainable, grassroots community development. Ultimately, all AmeriCorps VISTA projects aim to have community partners assume responsibility of the project’s activities.

ROLE OF AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBER

 
AmeriCorps VISTA members make a full-time, one-year commitment to alleviate poverty in a particular community. Their role in alleviating poverty is to mobilize community resources, increase the capacity of the low-income community to achieve its goals, and ensure that the activities initiated or expanded as an AmeriCorps VISTA member are sustained by the community.  

AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBER ASSIGNMENT

 
A VISTA member’s assignment depends on the needs of the community being served and the issue(s) being addressed by the project to which the member is assigned. The VISTA Assignment Description (VAD) provides an overview of the member’s activities and duties as well as a description of how and when to accomplish them.  
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] AmeriCorps VISTA members build the capacity of individuals, organizations, and communities. The sponsor, in coordination with the CNCS State Office, works with the community to establish goals and to develop a plan to address identified needs. The member serves as a catalyst and change agent, assisting in creating or expanding the sponsor’s programs and mobilizing community resources.
 
A member assignment does not include the delivery of individual services to clients, that is, "direct service," nor activities more appropriately performed by the sponsoring organization's administrative support staff, except in very limited circumstances. Limited circumstances include situations in which (1) a brief period of direct service is necessary to understand the service elements of the sponsoring organization, (2) direct service is incidental to the time and effort in carrying out the primary responsibilities of the member assignment, or (3) direct service is necessary for training purposes.   
 
Also, in general, an AmeriCorps VISTA member may not assume, accept, or retain positions of leadership, or become identified with a particular faction or group, or with a partisan or nonpartisan political group in the communities in which he/she serves. The assumption of such positions by a member would hinder the community's ability to develop its own leadership capacity.

SUPERVISION

 
Each AmeriCorps VISTA member has a supervisor responsible for managing the project. The member receives direction and guidance from a supervisor who works for the sponsoring organization, rather than the CNCS State Office or AmeriCorps VISTA Headquarters. AmeriCorps VISTA members serving with intermediary sponsors may have a site supervisor at their host site organization as well as an overall project supervisor at the sponsoring organization.
 
An AmeriCorps VISTA member is not an employee of the sponsoring organization, nor of the host site if serving with an intermediary organization. A member is also not an employee of CNCS, AmeriCorps VISTA, or the federal government, except for very specific purposes (see "Unemployment Compensation" section in Chapter 14) outlined in the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973. An AmeriCorps VISTA member is a federal resource to a local organization.

ROLE OF AMERICORPS VISTA LEADER

 
AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders assist sponsoring organizations and VISTA members in achieving program objectives and developing new project activities and sources of community support. Leaders are sometimes assigned to larger projects or to specific regions. As such, not all projects will have VISTA Leaders. 
 
VISTA Leaders are former full-time VISTAs, AmeriCorps members, or Peace Corps volunteers who have demonstrated exemplary skills and leadership in community service.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders are not permitted to perform administrative or supervisory functions for their sponsoring organizations or for CNCS State Offices. They do not supervise other AmeriCorps VISTA members. Instead, they provide support and coordination for members to increase the project’s impact. In return for fulfilling this role, Leaders are eligible to receive a small increase in their living allowance. (See Chapter 10 for further details about the AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders Program.)

ROLE OF THE VISTA MEMBER SUPPORT UNIT

 
The VISTA Member Support Unit (VMSU) provides a full array of administrative support to VISTA candidates, members, and alumni. This support includes assistance with the member application, enrollment forms, training events, active service, end-of-service, and post-service.
 
For questions about completing forms, or issues pertaining to benefits, including travel reimbursement, living allowance, and end-of-service awards, contact the VMSU for assistance through the National Service Hotline at 800.942.2677 or submit a request online to the VMSU at https://questions.nationalservice.gov/app/ask_eg.

ROLE OF THE CORPORATION FOR NATIONAL AND COMMUNITY SERVICE STATE OFFICE

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has field staff working throughout the United States. There are CNCS State Offices representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Some offices are responsible for multiple states and territories.
 
CNCS State Office staff provide outreach, program development, technical assistance, monitoring, and evaluation in support of CNCS's national service network, in addition to AmeriCorps VISTA member support. Staff assist sponsoring organizations in refining project goals and objectives, in determining if the proposed project aligns with the AmeriCorps VISTA program mission, and in ensuring that a self-sustaining activity will be achieved within the low-income community.
 
CNCS staff approve a sponsoring organization's project plan and AmeriCorps VISTA member applications, arranges for the VISTA candidates to attend the Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) and for supervisors to attend the Supervisors' Orientation (SO). After members are assigned to a project, the CNCS State Office supports the sponsoring organization as they provide training, professional development, and technical assistance to members. Moreover, the state office is a resource for AmeriCorps VISTA policy and procedure. If an issue cannot be resolved between a supervisor and a member, the sponsor should contact the appropriate state office.  A list of CNCS State Offices is available here: https://www.nationalservice.gov/stateoffices
 
CNCS State Office staff conduct periodic project visits and review Project Progress Reports to monitor the sponsoring organization's use of AmeriCorps VISTA members toward achieving the project's goals and objectives.

ROLE OF AMERICORPS VISTA HEADQUARTERS OFFICE

 
AmeriCorps VISTA is headquartered in Washington, DC. This office, in consultation with CNCS State Offices, determines goals, policy, administrative procedures, and budgetary requirements for effective program operation.
 
The AmeriCorps VISTA Headquarters Office performs the following tasks:
  • Monitors progress toward achieving national program goals and priorities
  • Allocates AmeriCorps VISTA resources among the states
  • Ensures CNCS staff and sponsoring organizations adhere to AmeriCorps VISTA policies and procedures
  • Researches and shares effective program models
  • Develops and implements training, professional development, and technical assistance for members, Leaders, and sponsors
  • Administers member support services, such as health care, child care, payments and reimbursements for living allowances and travel, and enrollment for the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or end-of-service stipend
  • Oversees national recruitment, marketing, and outreach efforts to attract potential members and provides training and technical assistance to assist sponsors in local recruitment practices. 

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Chapter 2: Overview of Your Year in AmeriCorps VISTA

 

OVERVIEW OF YOUR YEAR IN AmeriCorps VISTA

 
As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you are expected to attend key events that occur during your year of service and to make certain decisions to maximize your benefits and experience. All VISTA members participate in a Pre-Service Orientation, take the oath of service upon entering service, participate in on-going training and development throughout the year, and, upon successful completion of the year, become members of the VISTA alumni network.
 

BEFORE YOU BEGIN SERVICE

 

As an AmeriCorps VISTA candidate, you are expected to attend to important legal administrative tasks related to your enrollment.

CRIMINAL HISTORY CHECK

 
AmeriCorps VISTA and its sponsoring organizations strive to maintain a safe and productive environment by assigning members and Leaders who do not present a risk to their service partners, particularly vulnerable members of our communities. In addition to comprehensive interviews and personal reference checks, criminal history checks assist sponsors and AmeriCorps VISTA in determining the suitability of applicants.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA requires a review of the National Sex Offender Public Registry, maintained by the Department of Justice, before an AmeriCorps VISTA applicant can be approved for service.  Any applicant’s records found on this registry will result in deselection.
 
The AmeriCorps VISTA program will also conduct a comprehensive Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal history check on all full-term VISTA candidates. The FBI record check and adjudication process takes approximately six to eight weeks to complete. You will be provisionally sworn in as an AmeriCorps VISTA member or Leader until the research is completed. You must submit fingerprints to AmeriCorps VISTA HQ and comply fully with this process or risk termination from service. Your sponsor will provide a fingerprint kit and instructions regarding fingerprint submission. Additionally, the VISTA program will provide you with a $25 subsidy to offset the costs of your fingerprinting services.
 
Re-enrollees who have undergone a criminal history check and have no lapse in service need not undergo a second check. Reinstated VISTA members and Leaders who have a lapse in VISTA service greater than 120 days are required to submit fingerprints to VISTA. Your sponsor will provide instructions. 
 
Potential and current AmeriCorps VISTA members and Leaders are expected to cooperate fully with criminal history checks. Cooperation includes, but is not limited to, fully disclosing past convictions, providing fingerprints when required, and responding with truthful and complete information to inquiries made during the criminal history check process. Additionally, if you are arrested during your service term, you are required to report the arrest to your sponsor and CNCS State Office within three days of the arrest. Failure to cooperate with these requirements, or any attempt to interfere with implementation of this policy, will result in denial of your application, deselection, or early termination from AmeriCorps VISTA service.
 
DRUG SCREENING
 
Alcohol abuse and illegal drug use adversely affect health and performance on projects, create potentially dangerous situations, and serve to undermine the community's confidence in AmeriCorps VISTA. Therefore, AmeriCorps VISTA prohibits illegal drug use and alcohol abuse by its Leaders and members. Some sponsoring organizations may require AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders and members to pass a drug screening test before or upon arrival, or during service at the project site. Failure to submit to drug screening, or a positive test result for illegal drugs, may lead to deselection of the AmeriCorps VISTA candidate or early termination of the member.
 
AMERICORPS VISTA ADMINISTRATIVE FORMS AND TASKS
 
Before Pre-Service Orientation, you must complete various forms and administrative tasks to ensure your benefits are properly administered and that you meet the conditions of service.
 
Unless otherwise noted, all forms must be completed in my.americorps.gov and must be completed prior to Pre-Service Orientation.
  • Current Mailing Address. If you relocate to a new community as part of your service, this address is used to contact you during your year of service (see Chapter 7 for relocation travel information).
  • Email Address. AmeriCorps VISTA sends members several communications prior to and during the service year. Ensuring your email address is up to date is essential for timely communication. 
  • Use of Vehicle or Public Transportation (V-81) Form. V-81 forms are only required when you, as a VISTA member, are operating a vehicle for service-related purposes and you are involved in an accident. The VISTA member driving a vehicle when an accident occurs completes the “Use of Vehicles or Public Transportation” form, referred to as a V-81 form, in my.americorps.gov. The VISTA’s supervisor and the CNCS State Office must approve it at that time.  
  • Travel Request Profile. This form documents the points and mode of travel to and from Pre-Service Orientation. Complete the form in my.americorps.gov under ‘Travel Request Profile’. (See Chapter 7 for Pre-Service Orientation Travel Information.)  For candidates relocating 50 or more miles for service, this form is also used to request relocation assistance. 
  • Direct Deposit Form. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you will have your biweekly living allowance sent to you via electronic funds transfer or direct deposit. The U.S. Treasury requires federal payments to be made by direct deposit, except when this form of payment would cause unusual hardship on the payee. (For hardship cases, see guidance related to paper checks in the Paper Check Payment section of Chapter 5 for the procedure to have payments made by paper check.) Failure to enter your direct deposit information correctly will result in at least a two week delay in receiving your living allowance. 
  • W-4 Employee's Withholding Allowance Form. Complete the W-4 Form to establish income tax withholding for your year of service.
  • Designation of Beneficiary of Unpaid Compensation Form. This form ensures that any unpaid compensation (e.g., subsistence allowance, stipend, or travel reimbursement) is paid to your designee[s] in the event of your death during your AmeriCorps VISTA service.
  • End-of-Service Benefit Election Form. AmeriCorps VISTA members have a choice between one of two end-of-service benefits: either the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or the end-of-service cash stipend. Select either the education award or the cash stipend. (See Chapter 5 for information about the end-of-service stipend and Chapter 6 for details about the education award.) If you select the end-of-service stipend, you will not be able to switch to the education award.

MANDATORY ONLINE COURSEWORK
 

Prior to attending Pre-Service Orientation, whether the Pre-Service Orientation is in-person (PSO "Classic") or virtual VISTA Member Orientation (VMO), you must complete certain pre-service online coursework. For details, please see the VISTA Pre-Service Coursework and Onboarding page on the VISTA Campus.
Having completed this coursework, you will participate in a pre-service training designed to orient you to the AmeriCorps VISTA mission and theory of change, to your project assignment, and to resources that may support you throughout the year.  
 
 

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YOUR SERVICE YEAR

As an AmeriCorps VISTA candidate, you attend a Pre-Service Orientation, which provides an overview of your role as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, the role of your sponsoring organization, and the role of the CNCS State Office. The orientation is your final step to becoming a member and the starting point to your year of service.  The chart below highlights important milestones and timelines occurring during your service year.
 
Month
Event
Pre-Service
  • Candidates complete all online courses and forms, including electing an end-of-service benefit
  • Candidates attend an in-person Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) or an online Virtual Member Orientation (VMO)  
  • Candidates take the Oath of Service 

1

  • New members arrive at their project sites and begin service
  • If a member is participating in a VMO, they will attend an onboarding webinar on the first day of service and complete additional online coursework the first weeks of service  
  • Members receive On-site Orientation and Training (OSOT) to introduce them to their sponsoring organization, their community, and their role on the project
3-11
  • Members participate in Ongoing Member Training and Development—accredited online courses, webinars, online tutorials and other learning opportunities

10

 

  • Last chance to switch from AmeriCorps Education Award to the end-of-service cash stipend
  • Members complete the Future Plans Form
12
  • Members end service
 

FIRST WEEK ON YOUR PROJECT
 

Your sponsoring organization will provide you with an On-Site Orientation and Training during your first weeks on the project. This orientation will introduce you to your sponsoring organization, the community at large, and your role during your year of service. During the on-site training period, it is important that you review and integrate the Pre-Service Orientation material as appropriate.

ONGOING MEMBER TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT
 

After your AmeriCorps VISTA service begins, you may participate in ongoing professional development activities to enhance your knowledge and skills in order to effectively carry out your project assignment. The VISTA Campus, an on-line VISTA resource hosted by VISTA, houses many training opportunities including accredited courses, online tutorials and forums, and a series of webinars. You might also attend a workshop, conference, or other professional development opportunity. You should join the member community on the VISTA Campus as well as work with your supervisor to identify training and development opportunities that are available and appropriate. (For more information about training, see Chapter 4.)

CHANGING YOUR END-OF-SERVICE BENEFIT SELECTION
 

At any time before the end of your tenth month of service, you may change your post-service benefit to the cash stipend, if you originally elected the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. To make this change, you must select the stipend under “In-Service Benefits” in your my.americorps.gov account. If you initially elected the end-of-service stipend, you cannot switch to the education award. VISTA Summer Associates do not have the ability to change their end-of-service benefit selection once a selection has been made.
 

 

TENTH MONTH

Future Plans Form
 

You will need to complete an AmeriCorps Future Plans Form in the tenth month of your service. The form is on your member homepage in my.americorps.gov under “Close-of-Service.” This form requires you to notify CNCS if you are ending your service as scheduled, or if you are requesting continuation of service. Your termination date is usually 365 days following the day you begin service. You should complete this form in my.americorps.gov at least 60 days before your end-of-service date. Your supervisor will review your form at least 45 days before your end-of-service date. You will have an opportunity to review your supervisor's remarks and enter additional comments before the form is processed.  

Extension of Service 
 

Sometimes AmeriCorps VISTA members find that the tasks to which they have committed their service cannot be completed within one year. In this case, members and their sponsoring organization may request an extension of the first year of service for a period of no less than two weeks to no more than six months. Requests are subject to CNCS State Office approval. 
 
You can only receive a prorated end-of-service stipend for the period of extended service.

Reenrollment for an Additional Year
 

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] You may also reenroll for an additional year of service without a break between terms. You may pursue an additional year with your current project or you may decide to serve with a different project. If you are considering pursuing another term of service with a different project, you should visit my.americorps.gov to search for VISTA openings by location, skill areas, or issues of interest. You also may want to consider applying to become a VISTA Leader (see Chapter 10).
 
The decision to extend, reenroll, or be designated as a VISTA Leader requires the approval of the CNCS State Office. Approval to extend, reenroll, or become a Leader is dependent on CNCS and AmeriCorps VISTA program policy, the funding available to CNCS, the nature of the agreement between CNCS and the sponsoring organization, and your performance and conduct as a VISTA member. Members are not entitled to an extension, reinstatement, or reenrollment as a member or Leader in the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

LAST THREE WEEKS
 

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] In the last three weeks of your service, you should prepare to leave your sponsoring organization and phase out of your service as a VISTA member. (See Chapter 12 for the end-of-service checklist of things you should do to ensure this transition is as smooth as possible.) If you elected to receive the cash stipend at the end of your service year, you will receive $400 of your accrued stipend (minus federal income tax and FICA [Social Security] deductions) in the living allowance payment for the next-to-the-last pay period of your service year. The remaining stipend balance is disbursed in the last pay period of your term of service.
 
If you extend service, the end-of-service benefit (Education Award or cash stipend) will be disbursed at the end of the full year term of service.  A cash stipend will begin accruing as the end-of-service benefit for your extension period.  
 
 

AFTER YOU COMPLETE YOUR YEAR OF SERVICE

Your AmeriCorps VISTA healthcare benefits end at 11:59 p.m. on the day you end service. After ending service, you have up to 30 days to convert your healthcare benefits via the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov (see Chapter 8).
 
If you elected an end-of-service stipend, please review Chapter 5. If you elected the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, see Chapter 6.
 
See Chapter 12 for more information about Life After VISTA.
 

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Chapter 3: Serving at Your Project

 

SERVING AT YOUR PROJECT

Before an AmeriCorps VISTA member is assigned, a sponsoring organization develops an AmeriCorps VISTA project to address identified needs of a low-income community. The community and sponsoring organization work collaboratively to design the project. A member's assignment is designed so that when the project is completed, the low-income community is better equipped to solve its own problems, and the systems, services, funding, and organization remain in the community to continue the efforts initiated by the project.
 
 

 

PROJECT APPLICATION

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The project application details the specific problem the project will address in the low-income community, provides a set of goals and objectives for the overall project, and includes a project plan that describes the activities the VISTA member will undertake.
 
The project application serves as an important assessment and recruitment tool. The performance measures portion of the application is the basis of subsequent Project Progress Reports, which are used by CNCS staff to monitor the achievement of project goals. The assignment description portion of the application is used to recruit and assign AmeriCorps VISTA members and to summarize their required duties and skills.
 
 

 

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SUPERVISING AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBERS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The sponsoring organization designates a supervisor to oversee the AmeriCorps VISTA project and the efforts of members at each site. Your supervisor provides day-to-day direction and guides your service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. You do not, however, have an employment relationship with the sponsoring organization. You are an AmeriCorps VISTA member and are accountable to the AmeriCorps VISTA program. You are, nonetheless, required to act in a professional manner and conduct yourself with utmost decorum in accordance with the sponsoring organization's workplace policies and procedures.
 
It is not uncommon for AmeriCorps VISTA supervisors to have significant job responsibilities other than those related to AmeriCorps VISTA. Their supervision is needed to result in a successful project and member experience. It is critical that you and your supervisor are clear regarding oversight, communication, and operating expectations. The opportune time to address this issue is at the beginning of your service year during On-Site Orientation and Training.
 
In preparing to support you in your role as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, your supervisor should consider all aspects of your assignment, including:
  • Your day-to-day tasks on the project
  • The relationship of your tasks to the work of the sponsoring organization's staff members
  • The sponsoring organization staff 's understanding of your role
  • The target community's expectations of you and for the project
  • The resources, facilities (e.g., reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities), and supplies needed for your assignment
Your duties cannot supplant or displace those of paid staff or existing volunteers.
 
Your role as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in the project should be made clear to community members and sponsoring organization staff well before your arrival. Much of your supervisor's role is to anticipate your needs and reactions, as well as those with whom you come in contact while working on the project.
 
Your supervisor is responsible for structuring assignments so that your health and safety are not jeopardized during your AmeriCorps VISTA service.

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Chapter 4: Training For AmeriCorps VISTA Members

 

TRAINING FOR VISTA MEMBERS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] AmeriCorps VISTA training encompasses a range of activities and resources offered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and your sponsoring organization throughout your term of VISTA service, and includes professional development opportunities you seek out for yourself. During training, starting with Pre-Service Orientation (PSO), you will be challenged to take an active role in the process. The training experience is an opportunity for you to explore issues surrounding poverty, your community, and AmeriCorps VISTA programming; build community among your fellow VISTA members as well as with your sponsor; and to develop your professional and life skills.
 
Once at your site and in the community, you will need to continue to improve your skills, including your knowledge of national and local resources and your understanding of the attitudes that contribute to or inhibit effective working relationships. The training required may be as formal as workshop sessions organized by sponsoring organizations or webinars offered by the VISTA training team or as informal as self-initiated study at the local library. Training is a continuous process of capacity development and enhancement for an assignment in which you are required to provide much of the initiative and make many of the decisions.

Training Cycle Graphic

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PRE-SERVICE ORIENTATION

Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) is the first formal stage in your learning process about the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Given the different needs of you, the learner, and deadlines set by the sponsors, VISTA offers two versions of PSO with two distinct curriculums to orient you to VISTA service.
 
The long-established method is an in-person model referred to as PSO or sometimes PSO "Classic". The alternative orientation is a virtual, distance learning model, referred to as Virtual Member Orientation (VMO). At PSO, VISTA members receive a three-and-a-half day orientation immediately before they begin service. The Virtual Member Orientation (VMO) incorporates self-directed online tutorials, facilitated webinars, onsite training (designed and implemented by the sponsor), and online tutorials to support your learning on site and in the community. 
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] To successfully participate in and complete the VMO, you must have a high-school equivalence of English language proficiency, the ability to communicate verbally (speaking and hearing), access to a computer (laptop or desktop computer) with reliable internet connection, telephone service (VOIP, landline or cell phone service), and basic proficiency and comfort with computer-based, distance learning. 
 
To successfully participate in the PSO, you must be able to travel and dedicate three and a half days to intensive training.  Accommodation is made for dietary restrictions, physical demands, language translation (including ASL) and other circumstances.  
 
Both the PSO and VMO begin with a series of self-directed online tutorials that introduce you to the VISTA program, the benefits of serving, and the terms and conditions of VISTA service. This online learning is completed before you can attend PSO sessions or begin the VMO. 
 
All AmeriCorps VISTA candidates are required to participate in PSO or VMO before they begin service. The learning objectives of both orientation models include a basic knowledge and understanding of the following:
  • Mission and structure of the Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Philosophy and goals of the AmeriCorps VISTA program
  • AmeriCorps VISTA legal and administrative requirements
  • Terms, conditions, and benefits of your AmeriCorps VISTA service

The in-person model also addresses, in greater depth, the following:

  • Role of the CNCS State Office, the VISTA Member Support Unit, and the VISTA Training Unit
  • Role of the sponsoring organization, project work plan, and VISTA assignment description (VAD)
  • Your role in working with community organizations and low-income communities
  • Your role as an agent of sustainable development
  • Resource development and partnership building
At PSO, you are expected to attend all PSO sessions and act in a professional manner at all times. Failure to attend program sessions or successfully complete assignments and/or acting inappropriately, as determined by CNCS staff, may result in deselection from the AmeriCorps VISTA program. Family, friends, guests, and pets are not allowed in your hotel room or at the PSO site unless it has been approved in advance by VISTA. 
 
PSO is an opportunity for you and CNCS staff to make a final assessment of your qualifications and motivation for AmeriCorps VISTA service.  You take the oath of service on the last day of PSO and officially begin service if you and the CNCS staff members agree that it is appropriate.  In the VMO, however, you take the oath of service on the first day, during the first webinar session. Issues of suitability for service, therefore, are addressed over the initial weeks of service and throughout the service year.
 
 

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ON-SITE ORIENTATION AND TRAINING

 
On-Site Orientation and Training (OSOT) is an extension of PSO. It takes place immediately after you report to your project site whether you have attended a PSO or VMO. Your sponsoring organization conducts the orientation, building on concepts presented during PSO. OSOT may continue for an extended period because it involves introducing you to the sponsoring organization, the local community, and your role within the community. OSOT plans are developed by the sponsoring organization and reviewed and approved by the CNCS State Office.
 
The objectives of OSOT are to provide a basic knowledge and understanding of the following:
  • Background, purpose, and structure of the sponsoring organization
  • Roles and responsibilities for you and other members within the organization
  • Roles and responsibilities of your supervisor that are related to AmeriCorps VISTA
  • Job responsibilities of your supervisor other than those associated with AmeriCorps VISTA
  • Schedules in order to establish regular meeting between you and the supervisor as well as other staff members
  • Personnel and attendance policies of the sponsoring organization, including use of equipment such as computers and the Internet
  • Specific member assignments and skills needed to accomplish tasks
  • Professional development resources available to you
  • Evaluation of the project’s progress by the sponsoring organization
  • Background of the local community and identification of community leaders
  • Nature of the low-income population served by the project
  • Potential resources that can be applied to achieve project goals

Moreover, following VMO, any topics that need to be discussed in greater depth, are addressed in the OSOT.

 

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ONGOING MEMBER TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT

 
Ongoing Member Training and Development is a term to capture learning opportunities that occur after PSO and OSOT that develop knowledge and skills needed to perform your assignment. These opportunities take place throughout your service: early on, such experience develops the knowledge and skills identified by you and your supervisor; later in service, the training may relate to your VAD, or life as a VISTA, or poverty and national socio-economic issues. 
 
The principles of AmeriCorps VISTA member training and development are that the learning:
  1. Be timely and appropriate to your needs
  2. Develop skills required of you in your VAD or in your service as a VISTA
  3. Be an appropriate use of resources, including money and time
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Learning opportunities may be a course, conference, webinar, or professional development activity (such as shadowing a colleague) that meets your professional development needs. Topics may include but are not limited to fundraising, volunteer mobilization, grassroots leadership, group dynamics, media relations, project sustainability, and specific training in program issue areas. Training topics also include subjects like living on the living allowance and writing a resume based on your VISTA service, which are also important subjects.  
 
Mentoring or coaching provided by your supervisor, through weekly meetings during the service year, are also important components of your professional development.
 
Ongoing Member Training and Development is designed to improve program quality and support networking among the AmeriCorps VISTA members, sponsoring organization staff, and individuals that are engaged in similar activities. You and your supervisor should identify your professional development needs. The training may be conducted by the sponsoring organization, VISTA headquarters, the CNCS State Office, an intermediary organization, or a partnership among some or all of these entities. 
 
 

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ONLINE RESOURCES

 
Several websites provide information related to AmeriCorps VISTA and CNCS, including:
 
 
The VISTA Campus is a comprehensive online learning center for the VISTA community. For VISTA members, the Campus is the starting point for orientation and information about the service year, as well as a place for ongoing learning on a broad spectrum of information regarding aspects of living and serving as a VISTA member.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The Campus contains material to help members understand the VISTA program and the unique role VISTA members play in the organizations and communities where they serve; learn how to adapt successfully to life as a VISTA; understand how to carry out their service assignments; and successfully transition to “life after VISTA.”  Online courses for college credit are also available.
 
The Campus includes online forums that support VISTA members in exchanging ideas and information related to all aspects of VISTA life and service. VISTA members use the forums to raise issues, get answers, and offer support to each other.
 
The VISTA Campus also serves as an online resource for VISTA leaders, alumni, and supervisors in key aspects of VISTA service and project management. For alumni and members finishing service, a job board listing government and non-government jobs, along with guidance on the use of non-competitive eligibility, is available.  
 
 
This official website of the Corporation for National and Community Service provides information to help the public understand CNCS's mission. It includes information on all CNCS programs, legislative updates, program directories, forms, and press releases.
 
This website also includes information regarding “Employers of National Service” and educational institutions that actively recruit AmeriCorps alumni and offer incentives for attendance at their institutions. 
 
Employers of National Service connects AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni with employers from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. Through this initiative, employers have increased access to a dedicated, highly qualified, and mission-oriented pool of potential employees, and national service alumni have additional opportunities to apply their skills in the workplace.
 
 
This is the website for the National Service Knowledge Network, a library for national service participants and sponsors grouped by issue-area. It includes information on, and resources for, CNCS Focus Areas, Performance Measurement, and Criminal History Checks, among other topics. 

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Chapter 5: Financial Support

FINANCIAL SUPPORT

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) provides a living allowance to you to cover the cost of food, housing, and other basic necessities during service. Amounts are low because you are expected to live at approximately the same economic level as the people you are serving. 
CNCS assumes no financial responsibility for a member other than the allowances and benefits provided to a member as discussed in this handbook or as determined by CNCS. Similarly, CNCS assumes no financial responsibility for a member's spouse or dependent children. 

LIVING ALLOWANCE

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Upon starting service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you will begin receiving a living allowance. CNCS determines the living allowance rate, which varies according to the local cost of living in the area where you serve (see VISTA Living Allowance Rates by County for more information about the living allowance rate in the area where you serve). Each year, AmeriCorps VISTA conducts an analysis of the living allowance rates to ensure compliance with our governing legislation, the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, as amended (DVSA). The review consists of comparing poverty rates with the cost of housing in each county where our members and leaders serve.
 
Member living allowances are computed on a daily rate and paid every 14 days.  Payments to AmeriCorps VISTA members are made via direct deposit. See the Living Allowance Calendar and Statement Information for direct deposit dates. It is essential that you enter your direct deposit information correctly before starting service. Failure to do so will result in at least a two week delay in receiving your living allowance. 
 
Federal income tax deductions are withheld from the living allowance. No state, county, or city tax deductions are withheld.  However, you are responsible for paying those taxes, as appropriate.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA members are not eligible to receive unemployment compensation for their service. (See Chapter 15 for information on income exclusion of benefits under federal, state, and local assistance programs.)

END-OF-SERVICE BENEFIT
 

Prior to Pre-Service Orientation, you will elect to receive either the end-of-service stipend or the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.  Members may only receive one of these benefits.  

END-OF-SERVICE STIPEND
 

The end-of-service cash stipend is awarded to members who successfully complete 12 months of service. Members generally do not receive a stipend if they do not complete 12 months of service. However, if a member's service ends early for a compelling personal circumstance, the member may receive a prorated stipend (see the Prorated Stipend section below).
 
The end-of-service stipend accrues at the daily rate.  See chart below for rates. 
 
Members$4.11/day (Through July 8, 2017)$4.94/day (Beginning July 9, 2017)
Leaders$8.22/day
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Members who extend their service term receive a stipend at the appropriate daily rate for the extension period.  The end-of-service stipend is the only end-of-service benefit available during an extension period.  Federal income tax and FICA (Social Security and Medicare) deductions are withheld from the stipend at the time of payment.
 
Members electing to receive the end-of-service stipend at the end of their service year receive $400 of their accrued stipend (minus federal income tax and FICA deductions) in the living allowance payment for the next-to-the-last pay period of their service year. The remaining stipend balance is disbursed in the last pay period of their term of service.
 
Members extending service receive the end-of-service stipend for their extension period in the final pay period of the extension period.  If a member reenrolls and elects the stipend as their post-service benefit, a stipend (if elected for the first year) is disbursed as outlined above, and another stipend accrues during the second term.

PRORATED END-OF-SERVICE STIPEND

 
In rare circumstances, AmeriCorps VISTA members who leave service early for a compelling personal circumstance and who elected to receive an end-of-service stipend, may qualify for a prorated stipend. The CNCS State Program Director has the authority to approve eligibility for a prorated end-of-service stipend if you have completed at least 15 percent (55 days) of your required service term and leave service early because of a compelling personal circumstance. A detailed discussion of situations that constitute a compelling personal circumstance and other extenuating circumstances that qualify for such a prorated end-of-service stipend, is presented in Chapter 13: Administrative Policies, under the section “Early Termination of a VISTA Member for a Compelling Personal Circumstance.” Because the end-of-service stipend accrues at a daily rate, a prorated end-of-service stipend is based on the number of days served.

SEGAL AMERICORPS EDUCATION AWARD

 
The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (education award) is a post service benefit that is used to pay for education costs at eligible institutions of higher education, for educational training, or to repay eligible student loans. The education award for a year of full-time service equals the maximum Pell Grant level during the fiscal year in which a member begins service. Members can use the education award in full or in part and can take up to seven years after your term of service has ended to use the award.
 
Before Pre-Service Orientation, members select an end-of-service benefit in my.americorps.gov. Members have the option to choose either the end-of service stipend, as discussed above, or the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. Members cannot choose both. If a member selects the education award and passes away during service, CNCS will consider the election of the education award rescinded and the member’s designated beneficiary or estate will receive a prorated end-of-service stipend. (See Chapter 6 for a complete discussion of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. Refer to the VISTA Campus at vistacampus.gov for tips on using the award effectively.)  Additional information about the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is available here: https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/alumni/segal-americorps-education-award/amount-eligibility-and-limitations

PRORATED SEGAL AMERICORPS EDUCATION AWARD

 
In rare circumstances, AmeriCorps VISTA members who leave service early for a compelling personal circumstance and who elected to receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award may qualify for a prorated education award. A detailed discussion of the reasons members may qualify for a prorated education award is in Chapter 6: Education Benefits, under the section, “If You Elect the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.”

CHANGING YOUR END-OF-SERVICE BENEFIT SELECTION

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] At any time prior to the end of the 10th month of service, members who initially elect the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award can change their decision and elect the end-of-service stipend. To do so, you must click on the ‘Edit End-of-service Option’ link on your my.americorps.gov member home page and select the stipend as the end-of-service benefit. You must make this change before the end of your 10th month of service. CNCS does not send a reminder to do this. After making this change, you cannot make any further changes. (See Chapter 6 for a complete discussion of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.)
 
However, members who elect the end-of service stipend cannot, at any time, switch to the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. (See Chapter 6 for information on education benefits.) 
 
Members who reenroll have the option to select either the end-of-service stipend or education award for their additional year of service. Members may earn up to the aggregate value of two full education awards. 

SETTLING-IN ALLOWANCE

 
Members serving a 12-month term and moving 50 miles or more from their home of record to their project site are eligible to receive a settling-in allowance of $550. This allowance is intended to cover initial moving expenses (security deposit, utility deposit, etc.). The settling-in allowance is subject to federal income tax deduction, and it is disbursed in the first living allowance payment.

EMERGENCY EXPENSE ALLOWANCE

The Director of the VISTA Member Support Unit may authorize a one-time expense allowance to cover extraordinary costs, such as reimbursement for theft, fire loss, or special clothing necessitated by severe climate. This allowance is not intended to supplement the living expenses of members. The sponsoring organization can assist members in requesting an Emergency Expense Allowance from the CNCS State Office. 
 
VISTA members, leaders, and candidates are responsible for safeguarding their personal property. Neither CNCS nor the VISTA program is an insurer of personal property or cash and does not replace or reimburse for the loss of personal property or cash. Emergency funds are also not appropriate to use for costs associated with car accidents, routine car maintenance or repair. Expense allowances are paid directly to the member by CNCS. 
 
 

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HOW DO AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBERS GET PAID?

DIRECT DEPOSIT
 

AmeriCorps VISTA members are required to have the biweekly living allowance sent via electronic funds transfer or direct deposit. The U.S. Treasury requires federal payments to be made by direct deposit, except when this form of payment would cause unusual hardship on the payee. 
 
To set up direct deposit, members must complete the direct deposit form under ‘My Living Allowance’ in my.americorps.gov. Members need their bank account number and their bank’s routing number. Members should contact their banking institution with questions. 
 
Members must be certain to enter direct deposit information correctly before beginning service.  Failure to do so will result in at least a two week delay in receiving the living allowance payment. 
 
Please note that direct deposit information is not located on ATM or credit cards.  Members that do not currently have a bank account may open an Electronic Transfer Account for a nominal monthly fee. To learn more, visit www.eta-find.gov.
 
Members are responsible for updating direct deposit information under ‘My Living Allowance’ in my.americorps.gov any time a bank or account number is changed or closed.  Review this short video about VISTA member direct deposit. 
 
All regular biweekly living allowances, as well as any other taxable allowances, are recorded on the member’s earnings statement. Earnings statements can be viewed on my.americorps.gov under ‘My Living Allowance.’ A VISTA Living Allowance Calendar and Statement Information are available in the Living Allowance section of Life as a VISTA on VISTA Campus. Members assigned to AmeriCorps VISTA sponsors supported by program grants receive the living allowance payment directly from the sponsoring organization (not CNCS) and may obtain earnings statements directly from the sponsoring organization. 

PAPER CHECK PAYMENT (EXCEPTION ONLY)

If a member believes that receiving living allowance payments electronically will cause undue hardship, the member may waive direct deposit through my.americorps.gov homepage under 'my Living Allowance'. The member must click 'Waive direct deposit' and provide a justification.
 
If a member chooses to receive a paper check for hardship reasons, CNCS mails the checks directly to the sponsoring organization.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The sponsoring organization's address is listed in the 'My Living Allowance' section on each member’s my.americorps.gov homepage. If the project address is incorrect, the member should contact the appropriate CNCS State Office. Members can view earnings statements on the my.americorps.gov homepage under 'My Living Allowance'.
 
Checks mistakenly sent to the sponsoring organization for members who have terminated early or who are no longer on the project must be returned immediately to the U.S. Treasury, and the CNCS State Office should be notified right away. CNCS regards the sponsoring organization as the responsible agent for distributing members' checks. Members' check envelopes must not be opened by any sponsoring organization personnel.
 
Allowances not subject to federal income or Social Security taxes are paid directly by CNCS and are not reflected in the earnings statement. The member receives an explanation of any payment along with the check. Such checks usually cover travel and per diem expenses.

LOST CHECK

 
If an AmeriCorps VISTA member does not receive a check, the member should confer with the supervisor and wait at least five days to make sure the check has not been misplaced or is a few days late. If the supervisor determines the check is lost or stolen after a five-day wait, the member should notify the VISTA Member Support Unit by calling the National Service Hotline at 1-800-942-2677. The use of electronic funds transfer (direct deposit) eliminates this problem.
 
The VISTA Member Support Unit will notify CNCS Headquarters Payroll Office of the loss and arrange for another check to be sent. This process can take up to six weeks. If the member eventually receives the lost check, the member should not cash it. The member should instead immediately return the check to the U.S. Treasury. Failure to return a lost check results in an overpayment. See "Recovery of Overpayment" in Chapter 5 for the procedure used to collect these funds.
 
 

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TAXES: OBLIGATIONS, WITHHOLDINGS, AND CREDITS

 
AmeriCorps VISTA members pay taxes. All AmeriCorps VISTA allowances, except service related travel payments (discussed in Chapter 7: Travel and Transportation Support) and emergency expense allowances, are subject to federal and state income taxes.

FEDERAL TAXES

 
CNCS withholds federal income tax from the regular biweekly allowance payment.  While the biweekly allowance payment does not constitute wages for work, it does constitute federally taxable income. Members must complete a W-4 form in my.americorps.gov on the member homepage under ‘My Living Allowance’ to determine the amount of income tax that should be withheld. A member may claim exempt status on the W-4 form if the member believes they are exempt from having federal income tax withheld. The W-4 form explains the eligibility requirements for tax-exempt status. Exemption from income tax withholding expires February 15 of the following year. Members wishing to renew this status for the new year must complete a new W-4.  If a member does not re-file for this exemption, Federal taxes will be withheld beginning in the next pay period. See IRS Publication 505 for more information about W-4s and withholdings. 

STATE, COUNTY, AND MUNICIPAL TAXES

 
CNCS does not withhold any state, county, or city income tax from the living allowance; however, members are still responsible for all taxes. Saving a portion of the living allowance each month is a wise way to accrue funds needed for state and local income taxes. Members should contact the state and local government tax offices in the state in which they serve and/or where they maintain a permanent residence to help determine the amount of funds needed to pay taxes.

SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE

 
FICA (Social Security and Medicare) is withheld from the end-of-service stipend and submitted to the Internal Revenue Service at the time the stipend is paid to the member. The total stipend the member receives may be counted under Social Security regulations toward credits of coverage. The term “coverage” refers to the accumulation of 40 credits (ten years) necessary for an individual to receive Social Security benefits at retirement. The amounts required for credits of coverage are adjusted annually by the Social Security Administration. Members seeking to obtain “coverage” should contact a local Social Security office to determine if the stipend amount is sufficient to be applied.
 
FICA is not withheld from the living allowance. 

 

W-2 FORM-STATEMENT OF EARNINGS AND TAXES WITHHELD

 
CNCS will mail a W-2 form to each member by January 31 of each year showing the amount of earnings and the amount of federal taxes withheld for the preceding calendar year. CNCS will also post an electronic copy of the W-2 form under ‘My Tax Statements’ on my.americorps.gov. If the W-2 form has not arrived by February 15, members should notify the VISTA Member Support Unit via the National Service Hotline at 800-942-2677. Members should also update any changes to permanent and mailing addresses in my.americorps.gov as soon as possible to ensure the W-2 is sent to the correct address.
 
Members receiving the living allowance directly from the sponsoring organization will also receive the W-2 form directly from the sponsoring organization. An electronic version of the W-2 form will not be available in my.americorps.gov for these members. These members should follow up directly with the sponsoring organization if they have any questions about the W-2 form.  

EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Under the Tax Reform Act of 1986, certain families with limited income may be eligible for earned income tax credit (EITC). Earned income tax credit is an amount that is subtracted from taxes owed. If a member’s credit is larger than the tax owed or if there is no tax, the member may be eligible for a refund from the Internal Revenue Service even if income tax is not withheld from pay. EITC is based on earned income, including AmeriCorps VISTA allowances.
 
The Internal Revenue Service determines an individual’s eligibility for EITC. It is not the responsibility of CNCS to verify eligibility. Members that expect to qualify for EITC or are unsure should contact the Internal Revenue Service to verify eligibility.
 
Members who are eligible for EITC can claim the credit on their tax returns. A form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ must be filed to claim EITC even if no taxes are withheld from allowances during the year.
 
Receipt of EITC may affect benefit levels under certain public assistance programs. Therefore, it is advisable to check with these programs before filing for EITC.

 

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DEDUCTIONS FROM ALLOWANCES

With a member’s written permission, CNCS will make deductions from the biweekly living allowance payment to cover court-ordered or voluntary child support or alimony payments and court-ordered bankruptcy. IRS tax levy deductions will be made without a member’s permission. Such deductions will be shown under “Tax and Court Levies” on the earnings statement.

RECOVERY OF OVERPAYMENT

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Overpayments to members, when they occur, are debts to the federal government and may include travel allowance payments greater than the amount to which a member is entitled or living allowance payments that exceed the amount to which a member is entitled. To avoid such overpayments, members should give the sponsoring organization and CNCS a two-week notice in writing if leaving early from AmeriCorps VISTA service.
 
A member that is overpaid during the service term will be notified in writing and given the opportunity to repay the overpaid amount. 
 
If a member does not pay the outstanding balance in full before or shortly after leaving service, the member must set up a payment plan with CNCS. Members may also make payments online at www.pay.gov. To recover any overpayment remaining after completion of service CNCS initiates the debt collection process if a payment plan is not in place.
 
Failure to repay debt owed to CNCS may delay or totally preclude the receipt of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

 

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CHILD CARE

AmeriCorps VISTA offers child care benefits to members who qualify. To qualify for the VISTA child care benefit, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:
  • Your household income does not exceed the limit determined by the state in which the child care is provided (75% of the state's median income for a family of the same size). This limit is different for each state and may change annually. The total household income is used to determine your income eligibility. Your VISTA living allowance is disregarded in determining household income.
  • You do not already receive a child care subsidy from another source for the same child which would continue to be provided while you serve in the program.
  • You must be the parent or legal guardian of a child under age 13.
  • Your child must reside with you.
GAP Solutions, Inc. (GAPSI) currently administers the child care benefit program for AmeriCorps VISTA, and you must apply directly to GAPSI for the child care benefit. You can apply online at www.americorpschildcare.com (recommended). All downloadable forms are found under “Forms/Resources.” GAPSI can be reached at 855-886-0687 (toll-free) or via email at AmericorpsChildCare@gapsi.com if you need assistance.
 
If you are approved to receive the child care benefit, you may apply a portion of the subsidy to cover the cost for child care while you attended Pre-Service Orientation.
 
As administrator, GAPSI pays the child care subsidy directly to your provider. GAPSI also verifies the following:
  • Your current enrollment in AmeriCorps VISTA
  • Your household income, which must comply with state regulations
  • Eligibility of your child care provider to provide child care in your state
  • Your child’s attendance in child care during the time for which the provider submitted an invoice 
  • Age of the child (the VISTA member must produce evidence of the child’s birth date)

STATE BENEFIT LIMITS 

 
Each state has different benefit limits for child care to eligible households. The VISTA program looks to these state limits for guidance in determining eligibility and the level of benefit. The VISTA subsidy cannot exceed the prevailing rate in the state in which the care is provided. The prevailing rate is determined by each state and may change each year. If the state’s prevailing rate is less than the amount charged by your provider, the lower rate will be paid.
 
In some states, the VISTA child care benefit is less than a benefit that you may qualify to receive from another source. GAP Solutions, Inc. routinely advises you of superior benefits when aware of them.

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HOUSING ASSISTANCE

Sponsoring organizations are prohibited from providing direct monetary assistance to AmeriCorps VISTA members for housing, but they may help members with housing in several ways. Some sponsors elect, but are not required, to provide housing subsidies directly to landlords for rent support (see “Member Housing” in Chapter 14).
 
For more information and links related to your benefits, please visit the benefits of service section of the VISTA Campus.  

 

AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBER ALLOWANCES AT A GLANCE

Type of Allowance
Amount Received and When
Purpose
Federal Taxes

Settling-In Allowance

  • $550
  • For members serving a 12-month term and relocating 50 miles or more
  • First living allowance payment

One-time payment for settling-in expenses

Federal taxes withheld at time of payment

Living Allowance

Amount varies by county

  • Rate based on poverty income for a single individual in the area
  • Paid biweekly
Housing, food, and utilities

Federal taxes withheld biweekly

  • State and local taxes not withheld—member is responsible for paying them
  • FICA (Social Security) not withheld—member is not responsible for paying FICA
Emergency Expense Allowance

Discretionary allowance varies

One-time reimbursement for theft, fire loss, special clothing

Federal taxes are not withheld at time of payment

End-of-Service Stipend (Only for those not choosing the AmeriCorps Education Award)

  • Accrues at the rate of $4.94 per day
  • Disbursed with the last two living allowance payments upon successful completion of service
  • Only end-of-service option available for VISTA members who are not US citizens, US nationals, or lawful permanent resident aliens

Cash allowance at end of service

Federal taxes and FICA withheld at time of payment
AmeriCorps Education Award (Only for those not choosing the end-of-service stipend)
  • Award for a year of full-time service equal to the maximum Federal Pell Grant level during the fiscal year a member begins service
  • Disbursed electronically for educational expenses
  • Must be a US citizen, US national, or lawful permanent resident alien to be eligible

Payment of student loans and expenses to educational institutions

Subject to federal taxes in the year the award is used

 
 

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Chapter 6: Benefits Toward Education

 

EDUCATION BENEFITS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] At the beginning of your service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you elect to receive the end-of-service stipend or the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (education award) as your post-service benefit. The education award may be used to repay eligible student loans or pay for educational costs at eligible institutions of higher education. 
 
By law, only VISTA members who are either: US citizens, US nationals, or lawful permanent resident aliens (sometimes referred to as “lawful permanent residents”) are eligible to receive an education award. Persons legally residing in a state, but who are not US citizens, US nationals, or lawful permanent residents, are only eligible to receive an end-of-service stipend.
 
VISTA members and Leaders select a post-service benefit prior to attending Pre-Service Orientation or their start of service. If you initially choose the education award, you may change your election to the stipend any time before the end of your tenth month of service on the my.americorps.gov home page under the “Edit End-of-Service Option.” You may not change from an end-of-service stipend to the education award. VISTA Summer Associates do not have the ability to change their end-of-service benefit selection once selected.
 
 

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IF YOU ELECT THE END-OF-SERVICE STIPEND

 
If you elect the end-of-service cash stipend, you may be eligible for the following education benefits:
  • Deferment of eligible student loans 
  • Cancellation of Federal Perkins Loans

STUDENT LOAN DEFERMENT DURING SERVICE
 

As a general rule, VISTA members may obtain a deferment (discussed later in this chapter) of payments on the principal of any federally guaranteed student loan for the length of their AmeriCorps VISTA service. For federal student loans, interest deferments and/or subsidies may also be available. The terms and conditions of available deferments differ depending on the type of loan, the date the loan was disbursed, and the policies of the individual loan holder. Some older federal student loan programs allow VISTA members a categorical deferment. Newer federal loan programs may require that you apply for an “economic hardship” deferment.
 
CNCS does not grant student loan deferments; loan holders do. To apply for deferment, please follow the guidance on the deferment request form specific to your loan. You can find supporting documents often needed to apply for deferment, such as your VISTA Currently Serving Certification letter and recent earnings statements, on your my.americorps.gov member homepage.

If your deferment request form requires signed verification of your status as a VISTA member, send the form to the VMSU for certification:

Corporation for National and Community Service
250 E Street SW
Suite 4300, Mailroom
Washington, DC 20525
Attn: VMSU

Depending on your loan type, you may not be responsible for paying the interest that accrues on your loan during the deferment period. Please contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243 or visit www.studentaid.ed.gov for more information.

POST-SERVICE CANCELLATION OF FEDERAL PERKINS LOANS

 
If you choose to earn an end-of service stipend, you may be eligible for cancellation of a portion of your Federal Perkins Loan for completion of a full year of AmeriCorps VISTA service. However, you may not receive an education award and related interest benefits from the National Service Trust (described below) for a term of service and have that same service credited toward repayment, discharge, or cancellation of other student loans.
 
When you elect the stipend, 15% of your total Perkins Loan obligation plus the accrued annual interest will be canceled for the first and second years of completed AmeriCorps VISTA service. For the third completed year of service, 20% of your total Perkins Loan obligation plus the accrued annual interest will be cancelled.
 
To determine which student loans may be eligible for cancellation and to receive forms, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243 or visit www.studentaid.ed.gov.
 
 

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IF YOU ELECT THE SEGAL AMERICORPS EDUCATION AWARD

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is equal to the maximum amount of the Pell Grant during the fiscal year in which the member begins service. (The federal government’s fiscal year is October 1 – September 30). The amount of the Pell Grant can change each year. Hence, the full education award can change to match future changes to the Pell Grant amount. 
 
The education award’s association with the Pell Grant means VISTA members will receive awards of different monetary values depending on when they begin service. For award amount, limitations, and eligibility rules, please visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/alumni/segal-americorps-education-award/amount-eligibility-and
 
Three types of education benefits are available to members who choose the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award:
  • A post-service education award in the form of a voucher (not cash) that can be used to pay for higher education (degree or non-degree) or to repay eligible student loans
  • A postponement of payments on qualified student loans during the time served in AmeriCorps VISTA (called a forbearance) 
  • A payment of up to 100% of the accrued interest 

OVERVIEW OF SEGAL AMERICORPS EDUCATION AWARD
 

You may earn up to the aggregate value of two full-time education awards in your lifetime. 
 
An education award can be used in the following ways:
  • To repay qualified student loans (loans in the student’s name that are backed by the federal government or made by a state agency)
  • To pay for all or part of the cost of attending an eligible institution of higher education
Unlike AmeriCorps State and National grant programs, VISTA members do not have the option to transfer their Education Award to a family member.  
 

NATIONAL SERVICE TRUST

 
The National Service Trust is an account in the U.S. Treasury from which CNCS makes payments to education and financial institutions on behalf of AmeriCorps participants who have successfully completed a term of service in an approved national service position. The Office of the National Service Trust, frequently referred to as the Trust, is the department within CNCS that manages all functions related to the education award. (See the end of this chapter for resource information provided by the Trust.)

EDUCATION AWARD AMOUNT

 
The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award amount is tied to the maximum amount of the Federal Pell Grant. The maximum amount of the Pell Grant can change each year. Hence, the full education award can change to match future changes to the Pell Grant amount.
 
Occasionally, part-time, reduced part-time, and other special programs are offered (for example, a Summer Associate program) that include a “less than full year” award. This award is reduced proportionally to reflect the length of the program. Such education awards count towards the aggregate value of two awards an individual may be eligible to receive.

HOW TO QUALIFY

 
As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you are eligible to receive an education award from the National Service Trust if:
  1. You successfully complete a term of service in an approved national service position; and
  2. You are a citizen, national, or lawful permanent resident alien of the United States.
Your election is made when you complete the End-of-Service Benefit selection on your my.americorps.gov member homepage at the beginning of each term of AmeriCorps VISTA service and indicate whether you want to receive an education award or an end-of-service stipend. If you elect the stipend benefit at the beginning of your service, you may not change your mind and elect the education award. However, you can change your initial election of the education award to the stipend at any time before the end of the tenth month of service.

 

RESTRICTIONS AND LIMITATIONS

Number of Awards

 
While you, as a VISTA member, may serve up to five years as a VISTA, you can only receive the value of two education awards. For any additional terms served after you have earned two full education awards, you may select the end-of-service cash stipend as the end-of-service benefit. If you serve less than full-year VISTA terms, you may be able to earn additional pro-rated awards (not to exceed the aggregate value of two full awards).  Alternatively, you may also elect to receive a $0 (zero) value education award; doing such could result in the accrual of interest benefits and qualify you for loan deferment. 

Time Limit on Use of Education Award

 
You must use each education award within seven (7) years after the date you complete your term of service. You can apply for an extension if:
  • You were unavoidably prevented from using the education award during the seven-year use period for reasons such as:
    • Serious illness or disability experienced by you
    • Death or serious illness or disability of someone in your immediate family (mother, father, sibling, spouse, child, grandparent, grandchild)
    • Important service records maintained by the program were destroyed or are inaccessible
  • You successfully completed a subsequent term of service in another approved AmeriCorps position that fell within the seven-year use period of your first education award
  • You served in Peace Corps or in the military for a period of time that fell within the education award’s seven-year use period
Requests for extensions are submitted via my.americorps.gov and must be submitted before the Education Award expires. 

Ineligibility for Controlled Substance Conviction

 
An AmeriCorps VISTA member who is convicted under federal or state law of the possession or sale of a controlled substance is not eligible to use the education award from the date of the conviction until the end of a specified time period based on the type of conviction. To learn more about how convictions for the possession or sale of controlled substances affect an education award recipient's ability to use that award, review 45 CFR §2526.30. You may also contact the National Service Hotline, toll free at 800-942-2677, and ask to speak with someone at the Trust. 

PRORATED SEGAL AMERICORPS EDUCATION AWARD
 

In rare circumstances, AmeriCorps VISTA members who leave service early for a compelling personal circumstance and who have elected to receive an end-of-service Segal AmeriCorps Education Award may qualify for a prorated education award.
 
The CNCS State Program Director has the authority to approve a member's eligibility for a prorated education award if the member leaves service early because of a compelling personal circumstance. A detailed discussion of situations that constitute a compelling personal circumstance and other extenuating circumstances that qualify for such a prorated award is presented in Chapter 12: Administrative Policies, under the section, "Early Termination of a VISTA Member for a Compelling Personal Circumstance."
 
If you leave AmeriCorps VISTA service for a compelling personal circumstance (or for a public policy reason) discussed in Chapter 12, and you have completed at least fifteen percent of the required term of service, you are eligible for a prorated portion of the education award that corresponds to the portion of your term served. For example, if you began a term of service on or after October 1, 2018, and served 219 calendar days (which is 3/5 of a service year), you would earn an education award of $3,657 ($3,657 = 3/5 of $6,095).
 
Members must complete at least fifteen percent of the required term of service in order to be eligible for a prorated end-of-service benefit (55 days for full year members; nine, ten, or eleven days for Summer Associates).   Such education awards count toward the aggregate value of two awards that an individual may be eligible to receive during his or her lifetime.

Early Departure for another AmeriCorps Program

 
If you are accepted into another AmeriCorps program and are required to begin training or service in the other program prior to the conclusion of your AmeriCorps VISTA service, you are also eligible for a prorated education award, provided you served at least 335 calendar days as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

QUALIFIED LOANS
 

You can use your education award to repay qualified student loans you have or may acquire. Generally speaking, a "qualified student loan" is any federally backed student loan that is in the VISTA member or alumni's name. The Trust's legislation has been modified to include loans made directly to members by state agencies, such as the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education or a state university or college. This adjustment is subject to change each year with CNCS's appropriation statute. CNCS cannot authorize payment of nonqualified loans.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] If you do not know if your loans are qualified, ask your lenders. Otherwise, you may earn an education award and be unable to use it for the purposes you require. There should also be a citation on the loan papers, referring to Title IV of the Higher Education Act, Title VII or VIII of the Public Health Services Act, or the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education.
 
There may be student loan programs offered by schools that are not qualified. Members must be sure to ask their loan holders to see if the loans are qualified using the definition in the Trust's legislation. They should get written confirmation if there is any question. A loan program that pays off previous qualified education loans and creates a new loan for the purpose of offering a single payment option, such as credit card consolidation, is not a qualified loan. Your education award cannot be used to repay this type of loan. There is a federal consolidation loan, however, specifically for this purpose that is a qualified Title IV loan. Members who want to consolidate qualified student loans need to make sure that they do it through a Title IV Federal Consolidation Loan if they want to use their Education Award to repay it or have the interest paid on it. If consolidation occurs after service, you not be eligible for an interest accrual payment.

INSTITUTIONS MATCHING THE EDUCATION AWARD

 
Many institutions offer to match the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or make other financial aid benefits, such as scholarships, tuition waivers, and in-state tuition, available to AmeriCorps VISTA alumni. Attending one of these institutions can increase the value of your education award. To view the list of institutions that offer these benefits, go to: www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/segal-americorps-education-award/matching-institutions.
 
If your schools of interest are not listed, ask these schools to consider matching the AmeriCorps Education Award or offering special opportunities to former AmeriCorps VISTA members.

ELIGIBLE INSTITUTIONS

U.S. Schools

 
For purposes of the education award, an "eligible institution of higher education" is one that has a Title IV Program Participation Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education. (Title IV refers to a section of the Higher Education Act that authorizes student aid.) This means that the school participates in federal student aid programs (i.e., the institution has an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education whereby students are eligible to receive federal financial assistance to attend the school). This assistance includes Pell Grants or one of the federal loans listed under "Common Qualified Student Loans."
 
Veterans who have earned an AmeriCorps Education Award may use the award for education, apprenticeship, and on-the-job training at institutions that have been approved for educational benefits under the Montgomery G.I. Bill (referred to as G.I.-approved schools).
 
A school may be fully accredited and offer quality graduate degrees, but unless the school is G.I.- approved (veterans only) or participates with the U.S. Department of Education in Title IV financial assistance, the education award, by law, cannot be used there. You should make sure the school you wish to attend, or the student loan you expect to repay to an existing school, is qualified before you select the education award.
 
It is not possible to determine whether a school is Title IV merely by the name of the school. Most two- and four-year institutions in the United States are Title IV schools. Thousands of technical and trade schools are Title IV as well. Art schools, beauty schools, and truck driving schools may be Title IV. To become a Title IV school, an institution has to meet certain requirements and obtain a Title IV Program Participation Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education. Many of the Title IV schools are also G.I.-approved.

To Find Out If a School Is Eligible

  • Ask the financial aid office if the school is a Title IV institution.
  • Learn if students who attend the school are eligible to use Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, or Stafford Loans to attend the school. If students are eligible for these loans, it is a Title IV school. These loans are examples of some of the most common types of Title IV assistance.
  • Call the toll-free number at the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Information Center between 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time), Monday through Friday. That number is 1-800-433-3243. You also can conduct an online search at the Department of Education's Web site at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
  • If you are a veteran and can't find what you are looking for in a Title IV school, check the Web Enabled Approval Management System (WEAMS).

Foreign Schools
 

The education award may be used to attend many schools outside the United States. You should always check to see if the school qualifies before enrolling if you intend to use the education award to pay for school.
 
If the school outside the United States participates in the U.S. Department of Education's Direct Lending Program, the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award can be used there. You can find out if a particular school participates by calling the Department of Education at 1-800-433-3243. Individuals who use this number should ask if the school participates in the Direct Lending Program. The caller should have the name and location of the school before making the call. This number is not for questions concerning using the education award; it is to see if a foreign school participates in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program.
 
Another way to approach attending schools overseas is to obtain a qualified student loan to attend the foreign school and use the education award to repay the loan. The loan would be paid like any other qualified student loan.
 
Also, many Title IV post-secondary institutions in the United States offer educational opportunities abroad. As long as the member is considered by the qualified U.S. school to be a student at the school and the payment goes to the U.S. school, this is an allowable use of the education award.

QUALIFIED EXPENSES TO ATTEND SCHOOL

 
The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award can be used to pay the portion of a member's cost of attendance that is not covered by other sources of financial aid, such as scholarships, loans, grants, and tuition or fee waivers. The U.S. Department of Education developed the term "cost of attendance" for use by Title IV schools. Schools use it whenever a student applies for federal financial assistance. It is the school's estimate of what it will cost for a student to attend for a specific period of time.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] For a full-time student, qualified expenses must be attributable to a course at the certifying institution and can include tuition and fees, an allowance for books, room and board, transportation, and other expenses. It is important to note that every Title IV school determines the cost of attendance for its students. This is not an amount determined by the member or by the Trust in CNCS. The cost of attendance should be used by the school to calculate the amount for which the student is eligible to use the education award.
 
The AmeriCorps Education Award can be used for that portion of the cost of attendance that has not already been covered by other sources of financial assistance.
 
The cost of a computer may be included in the cost of attendance. The school's financial aid office will know if that particular school includes computers in the cost of attendance. Students should be able to learn the cost of attendance from the financial aid office before submitting their payment request.
 
If you are a veteran, courses and training programs eligible for payment through the Montgomery GI-Bill are eligible for AmeriCorps Education Award payments. The institution or training establishment will have a VA-approved Certifying Official who will determine the eligible expenses.

BOOKSTORES AND THE EDUCATION AWARD

 
The law requires that the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award be designated to an eligible school (and holders of qualified loans). The Trust requires you to communicate with the financial aid office of the eligible school you wish to attend regarding disbursement of the education award for bookstore purposes. The financial aid office monitors financial assistance received by students and is able to determine how much of a student's award the member is eligible to use and whether a student's cost of attendance has been met by other sources. The financial aid office can legally represent the school in verifying that certain requirements are met. A bookstore cannot do this.
 
To avoid a series of small payments to a bookstore throughout the semester, the member should consult the financial aid office for the calculated budget figure for books and supplies for the term and request that amount as a lump sum.
 
For more information and greater detail, please search “How to Use Your Education Award” on the VISTA Campus.  

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LOAN POSTPONEMENT AND INTEREST PAYMENT

FORBEARANCE OR DEFERMENT?

 
National service is only one of several circumstances that allow borrowers to postpone the repayment of their qualified student loans. Other situations include being a student, serving in the military, being unemployed, teaching in specific high-need areas, or working as a volunteer with a nonprofit organization. Some of these postponements are called deferments, and some are called forbearances.
 
Deferment is a postponement of repayment of your student loan for the length of your AmeriCorps VISTA service.
  • For Federal Perkins Loans, subsidized Stafford Loans under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, and subsidized Direct Stafford Loans, you do not have to pay principal or interest during deferment.
  • For unsubsidized FFEL Stafford Loans, unsubsidized Direct Stafford Loans, FFEL PLUS Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans, you can postpone paying principal, but you are responsible for the interest.
If you are not eligible for a deferment, a forbearance permits you to postpone or reduce payments for the length of your AmeriCorps VISTA service. Unlike deferment, for which the federal government pays the interest for you, interest continues to accumulate for loan forbearance. If you do not pay the interest as it accrues, it will be capitalized.
 
Special requirements and conditions are associated with each deferment and forbearance, depending on the type of loan and when it was made. These special conditions may include time limitations and quarterly interest payments.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA members who are earning an education award may be eligible for loan forbearance or deferment based on the fact they are earning an education award or based on one of the other circumstances described above. There are several advantages for obtaining forbearance based on national service versus another type of forbearance. Forbearance based on national service does not count against the time limit associated with other types of postponements. Interest payments are not required during the term of national service, even on a quarterly basis. The National Service Trust, however, only pays the accrued interest for the terms of service for which you elected the education award. Remember that any accrued interest paid on behalf of a member is subject to income taxes.
 
If members wish to learn more about other types of postponements for which they might be eligible, they should review their promissory note or contact their loan holder or the U.S. Department of Education.

LOAN FORBEARANCE

 
AmeriCorps VISTA members who earn an education award are eligible for a type of student loan postponement called forbearance. You may be eligible to postpone the repayment of your qualified student loans while serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.
 
During forbearance based on national service, interest continues to accrue. If you successfully complete your term of service and earn an education award, the Trust pays all or a portion of the interest that accrued on your qualified student loan during this period. This accrued interest paid by the Trust, like the education award, is subject to income taxes.
 
To place a loan in forbearance, you need to request it from the loan holder. Only the loan holder has the authority to grant forbearance. In the forbearance process, the National Service Trust merely verifies that you serve in an approved national service position. If the loans are in default, the loan holder is not required to place the loans in forbearance. There may be ways, however, to bring a loan out of default to make it eligible for forbearance. Contact your lender for further information.

Process for Requesting Forbearance

 
You, as the borrower, must request any of the various types of postponements for qualified student loans. This process is automated through my.americorps.gov. You can create a forbearance request under "My Education Award" on your my.americorps.gov homepage. Only the loan forbearance form accessible electronically through your my.americorps.gov account may be used for a forbearance based on your AmeriCorps VISTA service.
 
Occasionally, a loan company may ask for additional information or require you to complete one of its forms. After filling out the borrower's portion of a forbearance request form, you should submit it to the Trust Office (the address is listed at the end of this chapter) for verification that you serve in an approved national service position. Be sure to make a copy for your records.
 
Be sure to include the loan holder's name and address and your service dates. Once the Trust receives the request (through my.americorps.gov or the lender's form), it certifies that you participate in an AmeriCorps VISTA project and then forwards the documents to the loan holder. You can track the status of your request for forbearance and see when it has been processed. Normally, the loan holder notifies you when forbearance has been granted. If you have not heard from the loan company within three weeks from the time you submitted or mailed the form to the Trust, you should call the loan holder (most have toll-free lines) to make sure the paperwork was received and forbearance was granted.

Perkins Loans, State Agency Loans, and Forbearances

 
The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award can be used for two types of qualified student loans not currently covered by the federal laws requiring loan holders to approve forbearance based on national service. There is currently no federal requirement for a loan company to grant forbearance for federal Perkins Loans or loans issued to a member by a state agency.
 
If an AmeriCorps VISTA member finds that a holder of either of these two types of loans will not grant forbearance based on national service, there may be other postponement options available. For example, the member may be eligible for a deferment or forbearance based on economic hardship during the service period. Members should contact their loan holders if they wish to learn about other types of postponements for which they may be eligible.
 
Because both the Perkins Loans and loans issued by a state agency are included in the National Service Trust's legal definition of qualified student loan, AmeriCorps VISTA alumni can use their education awards to make payments against them.

PAYMENT OF ACCRUED INTEREST

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] You are eligible to have the National Service Trust pay all or a portion of the interest that accumulates on your qualified student loans while you are earning your education award.  These payments are made in addition to the education award and they are not deducted from your education award balance. These interest payments, however, are shown on your account statement. To be eligible to have accrued interest paid, the loan must have been in forbearance or deferment during the service period and the member must have successfully completed a term of service.
 
The Trust cannot pay for interest that accrued outside a member's service period. It also cannot pay interest if the member did not earn an education award. Members who elect the stipend are not eligible for this interest payment.
 
Generally, the Trust pays all interest for full-time members who complete their term of service and a portion of the interest for members who had to end their service early for compelling reasons and have received a prorated award. The portion that the Trust pays is based on a formula contained in the regulations that govern the National Service Trust.

Process for Getting Interest Paid

 
The Trust pays the interest when it has both of the following:
  • Verification from the CNCS State Office via the Future Plans Form that the member has completed service and is eligible for an education award
  • An AmeriCorps Interest Accrual Request Form, accurately completed by the loan holder, that shows the total amount of interest accrued during the member's term of service
You must initiate the process to have your interest paid in your my.americorps.gov account. The Trust cannot make any payments on your behalf until the CNCS State Office verifies on your Future Plans Form that you have completed service. Once verification occurs, a Trust account is automatically established for you. These actions may occur only after your completion of service. You need to make sure that your loan holder informs the Trust of the total amount of interest that accrued during your service period. To have this interest information sent to the Trust, you should create an Interest Accrual Request in your my.americorps.gov account, under "My Education Award." After you certify and submit the form, it will be forwarded to your loan holder(s). Each loan holder completes the lender portion of the form and forwards it to the National Service Trust. You can track the status of your request and see when a payment has been made.
 
 

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TAX IMPLICATIONS

FEDERAL TAX

 
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has determined that payments from an education award and interest payments made on behalf of a member during a particular calendar year are considered taxable income in that year. These payments are reported to the Internal Revenue Service if they total at least $600 in the year. By January 31, the Trust will send you an IRS Form 1099-MISC that states the amount reported to the Internal Revenue Service. This amount must be included as income on your tax return. The Trust does not withhold any amount from the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. Payments not processed by the Trust within a given calendar year are not included on your Form 1099-MISC even though your payment request was submitted before the end of the year.

TAX CREDITS

 
As a result of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, many AmeriCorps VISTA members who use their Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards may obtain substantial relief from federal taxes. This relief comes in the form of the Hope Scholarship Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit, as well as in the form of a deduction for certain interest payments on qualified student loans. These benefits are generally available to people who are paying qualified tuition and related expenses to an eligible institution of higher education either for themselves or for members of their families.
 
 

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CONTACTING THE NATIONAL SERVICE TRUST

 
The National Service Hotline can answer many questions about AmeriCorps education benefits. The National Service Hotline has a toll-free number through which customer service representatives answer general award questions or provide detailed information about specific awards or payments. Representatives also provide assistance for using the My AmeriCorps Online Payment System. Customer service representatives are available Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time) during January and May through September. The hours of operation from February through April and October through December are Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; the Hotline is closed on Friday during these months. The toll-free telephone number is 800-942-2677. Questions may also be submitted at the National Service Hotline's Ask a Question page, or to:
 
National Service Trust
Corporation for National and Community Service
250 E St., SW
Washington, DC 20525
 
 

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GRADUATE RECORD EXAMINATION FEE REDUCTION PROGRAM

 
The Educational Testing Service, which administers the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), makes available to colleges and universities a limited supply of GRE Fee Reduction Certificates. The decision to issue the Fee Reduction Certification is up to the college or university to which you apply. To apply for a GRE Fee Reduction Certificate, contact the financial aid office of the educational institution that interests you to see if you qualify. Be sure to tell them about your experience serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. To learn more about the GRE Fee Reduction Program, visit http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/about/fees/reductions
 
 

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AMERICORPS VISTA EDUCATIONAL BENEFITS AT A GLANCE

 
If you earn...
Educational Benefit
When Benefit is Available
How to Apply
End-of-Service Stipend (Only for those not choosing the AmeriCorps Education Award)
 

Percentage of Federal Perkins Loans cancelled

After you complete service

Contact the Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243 or visit: www.studentaid.ed.gov

  1. Complete a deferment form obtained from your loan holder and follow the guidance specific to your loan type.
  2. If your deferment form requires signed verification, send form to:
    Corporation for National and Community Service
    250 E Street SW
    Suite 4300, Mailroom
    Washington, DC 20525
    Attn: VMSU
  3. VISTA Member Support Unit will certify the form and send to lender.

Repayment of federal student loans is deferred

During service
Accrued interest on deferred loans paid by U.S. Department of EducationDuring service
AmeriCorps Education Award (Only for those not choosing the end-of-service stipend)

Members receive an award equal to the amount of the Pell Grant to repay eligible student loans and pay future educational expenses

After you complete serviceComplete the Future Plans Form in your my.americorps.gov account 45 days before ending service
All or a portion of accrued interest on postponed student loans paid by National Service TrustAfter you complete serviceAccess your online education award account via my.americorps.gov and submit request electronically to your lender
Postponement of federal student loans on the basis of "national service"During service

Complete online form at my.americorps.gov

or

  1. Complete paper copy of "Federal Education Loan Forbearance Request" from the lender
  2. Return it to:
    National Service Trust Office
    Corporation for National Service
    250 E St., SW
    Washington, DC 20525
  3. Trust verifies your enrollment in the Trust, certifies the form, and sends it to the lender
 
 

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Chapter 7: Travel & Transportation Support

TRAVEL & TRANSPORTATION SUPPORT

 
The AmeriCorps VISTA program provides support for travel directly related to the service of AmeriCorps VISTA candidates and members (excluding daily commuting). This travel, referred to as “official travel,” must be approved in advance by the AmeriCorps VISTA program and includes:
  • Travel to and from CNCS-sponsored training events and conferences (e.g., an in-person Pre-Service Orientation)
  • Travel to and from the service site, prior to and after service, for members and leaders relocating more than 50 miles from their homes
  • Emergency travel (see Chapter 9: Leave Benefits – Emergency Leave)
The AmeriCorps VISTA program covers expenses for official travel within the continental United States, as well as for official travel by those who serve in or whose home of record is in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. All AmeriCorps VISTA members authorized by CNCS to travel will be reimbursed for travel expenses as described in this chapter. All travel payments are subject to collection to offset debts owed to the federal government (see Chapter 5).
 
 

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TRAVEL TO TRAINING

 
The AmeriCorps VISTA program arranges and pays for cost-effective means for travel to an in-person Pre-Service Orientation, Supervisor Orientation, and Leaders Orientation for all authorized travelers – most candidates, members, and supervisors.

REQUESTING APPROVAL FOR TRAVEL TO TRAINING

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] For travel to and from an in-person Pre-Service Orientation (PSO), AmeriCorps VISTA candidates indicate their preferred departure point and their preferred mode of travel on their “Travel to Training” Travel Request Profile. The “Travel to Training” Travel Request Profile is located on your my.americorps.gov homepage under the tab “My Travel Request Profile”. If you are traveling to PSO and also relocating to serve, please review the following section on Relocation Travel. See Chapter 4 for more information on PSO. 
 
The VISTA Training Unit will review your travel request, approve or reject it, and if necessary, notify you of alternate travel options that can be approved. Once your travel is approved, the VISTA program will purchase your air, rail, or bus tickets, unless you indicate otherwise. 
 
AmeriCorps VISTA candidates enrolled in a Virtual Member Orientation (VMO) need not complete a Travel-to-Training Travel Request Profile.

PREFERRED MODES OF TRAVEL

 
For travel to and from in-person PSO, you may be approved to travel by air, rail, bus, or automobile. Based on the schedules and fares of commercial carriers, the VISTA program determines whether a person's preferred mode of travel and preferred point of departure are most appropriate. Travel from small, regional airports is often cost prohibitive; therefore, the VISTA program urges you to consider alternative, cost-effective modes of travel and larger, hub airports when indicating your travel preferences.
 
 

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RELOCATION TRAVEL

 
VISTA candidates who are relocating more than 50 miles from their home of record to their service site to serve may be entitled to a Relocation Travel Allowance.

RELOCATION TRAVEL ALLOWANCE

 
VISTA candidates approved to relocate to serve are eligible for a Relocation Travel Allowance, which is intended to offset the cost of relocating to serve and the shipment of personal effects between the home of record and the service site. The rate, established by the VISTA program, is based on the mileage between the home of record and the site, not to exceed $1,000.

REQUESTING APPROVAL FOR RELOCATION TRAVEL

 
VISTA candidates who are relocating more than 50 miles from their home of record to their service site indicate the points of travel and the mode of travel on the Relocation Travel Request Profile, located on your my.americorps.gov homepage. The VISTA Member Support Unit reviews all relocation travel requests. 
 
If relocation is approved by the VISTA Member Support Unit, the candidate is then eligible for a relocation travel allowance.
 
VISTA candidates must not make relocation travel arrangements without receiving written approval from the VISTA Member Support Unit. Candidates who relocate without approval will receive reimbursement, if at all, only up to the amount the VISTA policy permits.

MODES OF TRAVEL FOR RELOCATION

 
Unlike travel related to training where the VISTA program arranges and purchases travel on your behalf, if you are relocating to serve, you arrange your own relocation travel. The VISTA Member Support Unit informs you of the reimbursement amount. Then, you decide how you will travel to your service site.

RELOCATION TRAVEL ROUTING

 
Candidates indicate their preference to relocate prior, on their way to, or after PSO on a “Training and Relocation Travel” Travel Request Profile. The VMSU, in direct communication with the candidate, approves the final routing.

TRAVEL TO PRE-SERVICE ORIENTATION FOR THOSE WHO RELOCATE

 
The VISTA program arranges travel to an in person Pre-Service Orientation for everyone except those approved to relocate on the way to PSO (referred to as “relocate through”).  In these cases, you are responsible for arranging your own travel to PSO, in addition to your relocation travel. 
 
You may request to travel to PSO from either your home of record or site. Your approved departure point is determined by the VMSU. See the "Travel to Training" section above for more information.
 
 

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REQUESTING REIMBURSEMENT FOR TRAVEL

 
To claim reimbursement for travel-related expenses, you must complete and submit a Travel Reimbursement Voucher.  The voucher is available at an in-person PSO or posted to your my.americorps.gov homepage if you participate in a virtual PSO.
 
Your travel must be approved in advance by the VISTA program in order to receive reimbursement.
 
In order to receive reimbursement for travel-related purchases, you must pay for the purchases with actual money (i.e., U.S. Dollars). You cannot be reimbursed any amount for which you use award points or frequent flier miles to pay for travel-related purchases.
 
Payment is made through electronic deposit to your bank account identified in my.americorps.gov. Reimbursement may take up to eight weeks due to administrative processing.

TRAVEL REIMBURSEMENT AT END OF SERVICE

 
VISTA candidates approved to relocate to serve at the beginning of service are eligible to receive a Relocation Travel Allowance at the close of service. The allowance is intended to offset the cost of returning home and shipment of personal effects between the service site and approved home of record. The rate, established by the VISTA program, is based on the mileage between the site and the approved home of record, not to exceed $1,000.00.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The approved home of record is the location approved at the start of service and may not be redefined without written authorization of the Director of the VISTA Member Support Unit. Home of record may not be altered after the tenth (10th) month of service.
 
You must submit a Travel Reimbursement Voucher form to collect the close of service Relocation Travel Allowance. Your reimbursement voucher will be made available to you via your member homepage in my.americorps.gov no later than fifteen days prior to the end of your service term. Payment will be deposited into your bank account through direct deposit. This may take up to eight weeks due to administrative processing. (Refer to Chapter 12, Close of Service Travel Assistance, for more information about end-of-service travel payment.)

Additional Year of Service

 
If you serve an additional year at the same project site and have a break in service, you will not be reimbursed for travel to your home of record until the end of your final year of service. The VISTA program cannot reimburse travel home between service years. Please see the sections "Breaks in Service" and "Additional AmeriCorps VISTA Service" in Chapter 12 for more details.
 
 

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SERVICE-RELATED TRANSPORTATION

 
For an AmeriCorps VISTA member to perform his or her project assignment effectively, transportation may be essential. The sponsoring organization is responsible for determining the service-related transportation needs of members. These needs are based on activities identified in your VISTA Assignment Description (VAD) and do not include daily commute or other non-service trips. 

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION FOR SERVICE-RELATED TRAVEL

 
The sponsor reimburses the VISTA for authorized, service-related public transportation expenses.

VEHICLES OWNED OR LEASED BY SPONSORING ORGANIZATIONS FOR SERVICE-RELATED TRAVEL

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] When public transportation is not available or adequate, the sponsoring organization is responsible for providing or supporting vehicles used by members in the performance of their assignments. Vehicles owned by or leased to a sponsoring organization may be authorized for service-related transportation if necessary to carry out your project assignment. You are responsible for complying with the sponsoring organization's rules, in addition to complying with all applicable VISTA requirements, when you operate a sponsor's vehicle.
 
While performing your assigned duties you may not transport passengers other than those determined by the supervisory authority to be directly related to and within the scope of your official responsibilities. There will be a presumption that you are not in the performance of official responsibilities when transporting unauthorized persons.
 
In the event it is determined that you were performing official activities while transporting unauthorized passengers, the passengers will not be covered by the government for personal injury, and you may be personally liable for injury to the passengers and subject to appropriate administrative action.

PRIVATELY OWNED VEHICLES FOR SERVICE-RELATED TRAVEL

 
If a privately owned vehicle is necessary to carry out your assigned duties, the sponsoring organization should reimburse members for authorized, service-related mileage at the rate established by the sponsoring organization's reimbursement policy.

LICENSING AND INSURANCE

 
Sponsoring organizations and VISTA members are responsible for complying with all laws concerning vehicle registration, operator licensing, and insurance on any vehicles used officially or unofficially by members in the state and locality where they serve and reside. You are covered by the Federal Tort Claims Act (see Chapter 15) for third-party liability (e.g., damage or injury to others only while in the performance of official duties) and by the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (see Chapter 15) for personal injury. CNCS is not responsible, however, for any damage to your own vehicle; thus, it is essential that you maintain adequate insurance on your own vehicle.

ACCIDENTS WHILE DRIVING A VEHICLE

 
If an accident occurs while you are driving a vehicle within the scope of your AmeriCorps VISTA duties and other people sustain injuries or property damages because of the accident in which you were the driver, the exclusive remedy for those persons is under the Federal Tort Claims Act. If you are injured, you may be eligible to receive benefits to cover medical expenses under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, also known as the Federal Worker's Compensation Act (see Chapter 8 for claims procedures). CNCS is not responsible, however, for any damage to your own vehicle. (See Chapter 15 for more information about the Federal Tort Claims Act and the Federal Employees' Compensation Act.)
 
If an accident occurs, you must immediately summon the local police, comply with local requirements, and within two days of the accident make sure the following actions are taken:
In all instances where state laws require an official police report based on the extent of damages, a copy of such report must be included along with the other forms mentioned previously. In all cases involving damage to property (regardless of how minor), an official police report, if available, must be included and attached to the Form SF-91. In any accident in which personal injury has occurred, you must notify your CNCS State Office within 24 hours.  CNCS State office contact information is available here: https://www.nationalservice.gov/about/contact-us/state-offices
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] An original and one copy of all reports noted above, as well as the police report if appropriate, must be submitted to the CNCS State Office who will forward the original report(s) to CNCS's Office of General Counsel. The member, sponsoring organization, and CNCS State Office should retain copies of all submitted forms for their records.
 
All members and sponsoring organizations are prohibited from making any representations concerning the ultimate liability of the federal government on a particular claim to other parties. CNCS's Office of General Counsel and, where applicable, the Department of Justice, will make the final determination on whether an accident occurred within the scope of your project-related activities and the extent of the government's liability. (Travel to and from your home of record to the project site is not covered under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act.)
 
Members and sponsoring organizations are expected to cooperate fully with CNCS's Office of General Counsel in obtaining necessary evidence and materials, and with the Department of Justice or U.S. Attorney in the event legal action is taken in connection with the accident. If requested, sponsoring organizations, supervisors, and members are authorized to provide third parties with copies of Form SF-95, Claim for Damage, Injury, or Death (available here: https://www.nationalservice.gov/documents/americorps-vista/2013/claim-damage-injury-or-death-sf-95) and to advise that the claim must be submitted to the CNCS State Office that has authority over the member.
 
If a civil action is brought in a local court against you or the sponsoring organization as a result of an accident, or if you are asked or ordered to testify or be deposed, you must immediately notify the CNCS State Office, which will notify the Office of General Counsel. 
 
CNCS is not responsible for any indemnification or contribution to the sponsoring organization for any damages sustained by the sponsoring organization.
 
 

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TRAVEL FORMS AT A GLANCE*

 
Form
Use
Required Approvals
Notes

"Travel to Training" Travel Request Profile – Available in my.americorps.gov

Required for all VISTA candidates who attend an in-person PSO. Documents the points and modes of travel for PSO and other special needs.

VISTA Training Unit

 

"Training and Relocation Travel" Travel Request Profile – Available in my.americorps.gov

Required for VISTA candidates who relocate more than 50 miles from their home of record to serve and will be attending an in-person Pre-Service Orientation prior to starting service. Documents the preferred dates, route, and mode(s) of travel.

VISTA Member Support Unit – you must receive written approval arranging relocation travel

 

“Relocation Travel” Travel Request Profile – Available in my.americorps.govRequired for VISTA candidates who relocate more than 50 miles from their home of record to serve, and are not attending an in-person PSO. Documents the preferred dates and mode(s) of travel.VISTA Member Support Unit – you must receive written approval prior to arranging relocation travelThe Relocation Travel Request Profile is also used to inform end-of-service travel benefits; changes to your home of record must be submitted to the VMSU Director for approval up until the tenth month of service.
“Ending Service” Travel Request Profile – Available in my.americorps.govCreated by the VMSU on behalf of VISTA members who relocated to serve at the beginning of service. Calculated based on mileage from service site to home of record (as established at the beginning of service)VISTA Member Support UnitRequest to change home of record must be submitted to the VMSU Director for approval prior to the end of the member’s tenth month of service.
Use of Vehicles or Public Transportation Form (V-81) – Available in my.americorps.gov

Required for VISTA members involved in an accident while operating a vehicle for service-related purposes.

Sponsor and CNCS State Office – approval process is automated
Form V-81 is not used for:
  • Commuting purposes
  • Personal travel
  • Travel to PSO
  • Relocation travel
  • General operation of a vehicle for service-related purposes (i.e., when no accident occurs)
* Check with your sponsoring organization for deadlines.

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Chapter 8: Healthcare Benefit Support

HEALTHCARE BENEFIT OVERVIEW

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you are eligible for certain health benefits through AmeriCorps VISTA for the duration of your service term.
 
Under the Affordable Care Act, all Americans, including VISTA members, are required to have health coverage; therefore, you are expected to have health coverage when you become an AmeriCorps VISTA member, unless you are exempt from this requirement.
 
All AmeriCorps VISTA members are eligible to participate in one of two Healthcare Benefit Programs:
  1. AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Allowance – To participate, you must currently have or have completed enrollment in other primary health care coverage outside of AmeriCorps VISTA
  2. AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Benefit Plan – For members legally exempt from maintaining health care coverage during their term of service
Eligibility and benefit information about each plan is available online at americorpsvista.imglobal.com. A general description of each plan is below.
 

ENROLLMENT

 
At the start of your VISTA term, you will need to complete a Member Enrollment Form to indicate which benefit option you would like to receive. The form may be completed by creating a MyIMGVISTA Account at americorpsvista.imglobal.com or by downloading the Member Enrollment Form and sending to IMG.
 
For details about the AmeriCorps VISTA Health Benefit Plan and the AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Allowance, please visit: americorpsvista.imglobal.com.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA members starting or ending service are eligible for a special enrollment period through the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov because it is a specific “qualifying change.” Within 30 days of ending service, members should take action to convert their healthcare benefits to a private plan to avoid a lapse in coverage which could result in tax penalties.  Information about “qualifying changes” can be found at https://www.healthcare.gov/coverage-outside-open-enrollment/special-enrollment-period under “More qualifying changes.”
 
 

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HEALTHCARE BENEFIT ADMINISTRATION

 
International Medical Group (IMG) is the administrator of the AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Benefit Program and is available as a resource to you.  For specific details about the benefit program, please visit americorpsvista.imglobal.com or contact IMG at:
 
International Medical Group 
P.O. Box 88506 
Indianapolis, IN 46208 
Telephone: 855-851-2974 
Fax: 855-851-2971 
 
 

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HEALTHCARE BENEFIT COVERAGE

All AmeriCorps VISTA members are eligible to participate in one of the following benefits:
  1. AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Allowance – To participate, you must currently have, or have completed enrollment in, other primary health care coverage outside of AmeriCorps VISTA
  2. AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Benefit Plan – For members legally exempt from maintaining health care coverage during their term of service
The AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Allowance is a supplemental health care reimbursement program that covers out-of-pocket costs associated with your healthcare coverage. Out-of-pocket expenses may include: your annual deductible, coinsurance, copayments, and other charges for qualified medical, dental, and vision care expenses. The Healthcare Allowance will help offset these expenses up to the out-of-pocket maximum under the ACA ($7,350 in 2018). The Healthcare Allowance does not cover costs associated with premium payments (that is, the cost of buying insurance) or charges associated with any other individual covered under your primary health care plan or policy.
 
Examples of health care options you may have that would make the Healthcare Allowance beneficial for you include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Family healthcare benefit – If you are 26 or younger and on a parent’s plan, or married and covered by a spouse’s plan
  • Healthcare benefit purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace – You can shop for coverage and find out if you qualify for lower costs by visiting the Health Insurance Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov
  • Medicaid, Medicare, or military health care benefits 
  • Coverage under a separate government-sponsored program or act, such as benefits available to individuals in the U.S. territories or who belong to a federally recognized tribe
If you choose to enroll in the Healthcare Allowance plan, please be prepared to provide your primary healthcare coverage information including effective date of your primary healthcare coverage. If you do not yet have other health coverage but plan to within 60 days, you may wait to enroll in the Healthcare Allowance until you have secured other health care coverage and are able to provide the other healthcare coverage’s information. While you are waiting for that coverage to take effect, you can apply for temporary coverage under the AmeriCorps VISTA Health Benefit Plan. At the end of the 60 days, you must submit a Member Enrollment Form along with your other coverage’s information to complete your enrollment in the Healthcare Allowance plan.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The AmeriCorps VISTA Health Benefit Plan is a basic health benefit plan for members who demonstrate that they are legally exempt from having ACA-compliant coverage during the term of service. It is also available during the first 60 days of VISTA service for those who have applied for other coverage and are waiting for that coverage to take effect. A Member Enrollment Form will be required to demonstrate legal exemption from having ACA-compliant coverage to remain covered on the Health Benefit Plan past 60 days.
 
The plan is available to members at no cost and covers most non-routine services, limited preventive care visits (e.g., an annual ob-gyn visit for women), medical emergencies, surgical and hospitalization expenses, certain prescription drug costs, routine dental care, and limited vision services. The plan does not cover pre-existing conditions nor does it cover dependents, including your spouse. Although an excellent support for many VISTAs, the healthcare benefit program is not insurance and does not satisfy the individual responsibility requirement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
 
For details on eligibility and coverage for each plan, please visit: americorpsvista.imglobal.com
 

SUBROGATION FOR MEDICAL CARE EXPENSES

If you are in a car or other accident while serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, CNCS may initially pay for your medical care. If that happens, and you then collect from the insurance company of the person who was at fault (or from your insurance company if the person at fault has no coverage), CNCS has the right to recover from you the cost of whatever medical care it paid for. This situation is known as subrogation. In other words, if you are injured or become ill through the fault of another person, not with CNCS, and that person's insurance company, or your insurance company, settles with you, CNCS has the right to recover from you the cost of any health care it has paid, regardless of the reason for the settlement.
 

ACCESS TO TELEHEALTH

In addition to their elected health benefit, AmeriCorps VISTA members and Leaders can now access telehealth, i.e. virtual care, at no cost. This free service is provided through International Medical Group (IMG), the administrator of the AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Allowance and the AmeriCorps VISTA Health Benefit Plan, via a partnership with MYidealDOCTOR. 

Telehealth allows members and Leaders to immediately consult with board certified physicians, psychologists, social workers, and professional counselors 24/7/365 via phone or video chat, at no cost to the member or Leader. For more information and to access this benefit, please visit: https://americorpsvista.imglobal.com/my-benefits/connect-with-a-telehealth-provider.

 

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FEDERAL EMPLOYEES' COMPENSATION ACT

 
Under section 415(b) of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, as amended (42 U.S.C., § 5055), AmeriCorps VISTA members are considered employees of the federal government for purposes of coverage under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA), which is administered by the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) of the U.S. Department of Labor. The Department of Labor's OWCP office is solely responsible for the adjudication of FECA claims. This means that members are eligible for certain benefits in certain situations, and eligibility is determined by OWCP, not CNCS.

BENEFITS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] FECA provides compensation benefits for an illness or injury if it is judged by OWCP to be service-related (i.e., caused or aggravated by the performance of a member's assignment). Coverage by FECA begins for AmeriCorps VISTA members after they are sworn in to the AmeriCorps VISTA program. You are not covered by FECA, however, if the injury or disability results from your own misconduct, intoxication, or willful intent to bring about injury or death to yourself or others.
 
Benefits approved under FECA begin after termination from AmeriCorps VISTA service and include payment for continuing medical care and compensation for wage loss and permanent impairment of certain members or functions of the body in the event of a service-related disability. FECA also contains provisions for payment of certain death benefits, such as shipment of the body, funeral and burial costs, and survivor's benefits if the member's death results from an injury or illness sustained in the performance of official project duties.

CLAIMS PROCEDURES

 
If you are injured or experience an emergency illness related to your assignment, the project supervisor and the CNCS State Office must be notified immediately. To protect your right to apply to OWCP for compensation, you need to complete the form (CA-1 or CA-2). 
 
For faster and more accurate processing, please complete and submit the electronic version of the forms: 
Although an illness or injury may not appear to be serious enough to result in compensation eligibility, you should complete the claim forms to protect your rights in case future complications develop. You have up to three years from the date of injury or up to three years from the date you realize your assignment caused an injury to request your completed form be filed with OWCP.
 
Submit all FECA claims and relevant material to your CNCS State Office. The CNCS State Office will:
  • Advise and assist individual claimants regarding the preparation, submission, and follow-up of their respective FECA claims
  • Provide appropriate assistance in compiling and submitting all pertinent information relating to FECA claims
Parts of these forms require completion by the sponsoring organization. Notify your CNCS State Office if you need assistance in receiving these forms back from your former sponsoring organization.

APPEAL PROCEDURE

You may petition any claim rejected by OWCP by following the appeal rights process outlined in the rejection notice you received by mail from OWCP, or in the OWCP information guide, When Injured at Work. This guide and other resources about claims under FECA are available on the Division of Federal Employees' Compensation Home Page at http://www.dol.gov/owcp/dfec/regs/compliance/ca-11.htm.
 
 

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DEATH BENEFITS

In the event of a member's death during service, the next of kin or designated beneficiary is entitled to the following:
  • Coverage of expenses incurred at the place of death (ambulance service, transportation of the body, etc.)
  • Funeral and burial benefits from either CNCS (to a maximum of $1,000) or from OWCP if the death is found to be service related
  • Shipment of member's personal effects
  • Unpaid compensation or reimbursement owed to the member
  • Any benefits available to spouse or dependents from OWCP if the death is determined to be assignment-related

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Chapter 9: Leave Benefits

 

LEAVE BENEFITS AT A GLANCE

Below is a summary of leave benefits available during VISTA service. Review the chart and information below for additional requirements related to each leave type.

Leave type
Total Workdays
Conditions

National holiday

Only those observed by sponsor and/or subsite staff

 

Personal

10 service days in a full year of service

Generally, leave in first 3 months or last month is limited to emergencies and family matters.

If you reenroll or extend your service with the same project without a break in service, you are entitled to any unused personal leave earned in the prior term of service.

Must be taken in accordance with sponsor and/or subsite policies.

Personal in an extension of service

1 service day per 30 additional days of service

If you extend service with the same project without a break in service, you are also entitled to any unused personal leave earned in the prior term or service.

Medical

10 service days in a full year of service

If you reenroll or extend service with the same project without a break in service, you are entitled to any unused medical leave earned in the prior term of service.

Must be taken in accordance with sponsor and/or subsite policies.

Medical in an extension of service

1 service day per 30 additional days of service

If you extend service with the same project without a break in service, you are also entitled to any unused medical leave earned in the prior term or service.

Extended Medical Leave Benefits

Must exhaust personal and medical first

5 service days in a full year of service

The CNCS State Program Director may approve an additional 5 service days for a total of 15 medical service days in a full year of service, in cases that require extended recuperation. These extended medical leave benefits are not to be used as parental leave (covered below).

Parental Leave (birth/adoption)Must exhaust personal and medical leave firstThe CNCS State Program Director may approve an additional 10 service days of leave, for a total of 30 service days, if required.

Emergency

5 service days in a full year of service

Sponsor may allow if a natural disaster requires leaving the site or an immediate family member becomes critically ill or dies. Sponsor must notify the CNCS State Program Director.

Jury dutyAs necessary 

Military reserve

As required by the military

 

 

 

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NATIONAL HOLIDAYS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] AmeriCorps VISTA members enjoy the national holidays that are recognized by their sponsoring organization or sub-site, and are given as time off to the rest of the organization's personnel. Members do not get excused leave for federal holidays that are not recognized by their sponsoring organization and/or sub-site. For example, if your organization does not give its staff a holiday for Veterans Day, you are also expected to serve unless you request and receive approval for one day of personal leave. Additionally, if you want the day off for a religious observance, you should request a day of personal leave. Please contact your sponsoring organization to determine recognized holidays.
 
If your sponsoring organization provides its staff additional "floating holidays," "spring breaks," "summer recesses," etc., you are expected to continue to serve on your assignment unless authorized to take the time off as part of your personal leave. In such cases, an alternative service site for a limited duration may be considered if approved in advance by the VISTA supervisor and CNCS State Program Director. Review the "alternative service site" section later in this chapter for approval requirements.
 

 

PERSONAL LEAVE

You are entitled to 10 service days of personal leave during each full year of service. A service day is equivalent to the number of hours your sponsoring organization considers a typical full day of service. If you reenroll or extend service with the same project without a break in service, you are entitled to any unused personal leave earned in your prior term of service. Members who extend their period of service earn one day of personal leave for every 30 days of the extension.
 
You must request and receive approval in advance from the sponsoring organization/supervisor for all personal leave, specifying the dates of leave requested.
 
During personal leave, all regular member allowances are continued. CNCS does not pay travel expenses for personal leave.
 
 

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MEDICAL LEAVE

AmeriCorps VISTA members are entitled to 10 service days of medical leave during each full year of service. If you reenroll or extend service with the same project without a break in service, you are entitled to any unused medical leave earned in your prior term of service. Members who extend their period of service earn one day of medical leave for every 30 days of the extension. A service day is equivalent to the number of hours your sponsoring organization considers a typical full day of work. Partial days of medical leave also may be granted to the member. All living allowances continue during medical leave periods.
 
You are required to request prior approval for medical leave, except for extenuating circumstances when you are physically unable to request prior approval, from the sponsoring organization or supervisor. You should also specify the hours or dates of leave requested.
 
The AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization or supervisor must notify the CNCS State Program Director immediately if it appears that you will not be able to resume project duties within the maximum medical leave period of 10 service days. The CNCS State Program Director may approve an extension of your medical leave for up to another five (5) service days in cases of extended recuperation and in which you are likely to return to the project within the approved leave period, or in the event of some delay in obtaining a prognosis of your medical condition within the approved leave period.
 
 

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PARENTAL LEAVE

AmeriCorps VISTA members are entitled to use a combination of medical and personal leave (20 service days) for parental leave. The CNCS State Program Director may approve up to an additional 10 service days for parental leave, for a total of up to 30 service days, if required. No additional leave beyond 30 service days may be granted.
 
 

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EMERGENCY LEAVE

The sponsoring organization may grant you up to five service days of emergency leave. During emergency leave, all allowances continue. Emergency leave is granted in two types of exigent situations. First, it may be granted if you serve in an area where a natural disaster occurs and requires you to leave the area temporarily. Second, emergency leave may be granted if an immediate family member (spouse, domestic partner, parent, sibling, child, grandparent, or guardian) becomes critically ill or dies. Additional time away from the project requires the approval of the CNCS State Program Director. Emergency leave does not count against your personal leave time.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] If circumstances require you to take emergency leave, you should notify the sponsoring organization or supervisor at once and, if requested, provide the sponsoring organization or supervisor with some evidence of the emergency. If the sponsoring organization determines that an emergency exists, the sponsoring organization will inform the CNCS State Office.
 
If travel is required, AmeriCorps VISTA will pay for the fastest regularly scheduled means of transportation to and from the site of the emergency or to your home of record, provided the destination is in the United States or a U.S. territory. In exceptional circumstances, members may have to purchase their own tickets, which will be reimbursed at the lowest commercial bus or train fare available. In circumstances where air travel is the only option, tickets may be reimbursed at the lowest commercial air fare available. You will be reimbursed for actual travel expenses (e.g., tolls, parking), but you will receive no additional allowances for your travel.
 
In the event that CNCS cannot pay for or provide a prepaid ticket in advance of the approved emergency leave, the sponsoring organization should furnish the needed travel assistance. Such advances, however, should be authorized by the CNCS State Office.
 
 

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JURY DUTY

AmeriCorps VISTA members may be summoned for jury duty. Sponsoring organizations shall give members the necessary time away from project duties to comply with a jury duty summons or serve on a jury. You should provide a copy of the summons to your supervisor, and keep your supervisor apprised of your status while you need to be offsite to attend to your jury duty obligation. Allowances will be paid during the period of jury duty. Your time on jury duty is not counted against your personal leave, term of service, or education award.
 
If you are subpoenaed (for non-project-related purposes), however, you are required to use personal leave.
 
 

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MILITARY RESERVE LEAVE

If you enter AmeriCorps VISTA service before completing a military reserve obligation, you must change the location of your reserve unit if necessary. AmeriCorps VISTA members should try to minimize the disruption in AmeriCorps VISTA service as a result of discharging responsibilities related to their reservist duties. If you are allowed to choose when to fulfill your annual two weeks of active duty requirement, you should choose a period that does not disrupt your AmeriCorps VISTA service.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] A member is granted military reserve leave to attend the monthly reserve training sessions and the two weeks of active duty training. Such leave does not count against a member's personal leave, term of service, end-of-service stipend, or education award. You should notify the sponsoring organization/supervisor before taking military reserve leave and upon returning from such leave. You may not receive time off for active duty or other reserve-related service beyond the two weeks and the monthly training activities usually required for reserve status. Any other reserve-related service does not apply to your AmeriCorps VISTA service time for purposes of the education award. The sponsoring organization/supervisor notifies the CNCS State Office of the exact dates of your military reserve leave.
 
For military service-responsibilities that are expected to last more than 30 continuous days, the member is considered for placement in Deferred Term status. 
 
 

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FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE ACT

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides certain employees in the United States with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a covered family member and up to 26 six weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a covered armed service member. The Serve America Act Amendments to the National Community Service Act of 1990 extended FMLA protections to certain AmeriCorps and VISTA members.
 
VISTA members, including Leaders, are eligible for FMLA leave, if they satisfy all four of these conditions:
  1. Have successfully completed a full year (12 months) of service
  2. Serve with the same sponsor for a subsequent term of service
  3. Were assigned to the same sponsor for at least 1,250 hours (eight months) for the previous term of service
  4. Serve with a sponsor that has 50 or more employees 
Given these four parameters for FMLA eligibility, only a minority of VISTAs may be eligible for FMLA leave.  To begin the FMLA request process, a member should contact their sponsor, who can then liaise with the CNCS State Office for next steps.  
 
In the context of the AmeriCorps VISTA program, FMLA is a leave without pay status. An AmeriCorps VISTA member who is eligible for and takes “FMLA leave” stays enrolled in the AmeriCorps VISTA program, continues to receive healthcare benefits, and stays assigned to a VISTA project while taking the leave, but does not receive a living allowance. Further, member benefits and allowances (child care, accrual of the VISTA’s end-of-service award [i.e., Education Award or end-of-service stipend]) are suspended while on FMLA leave. The VISTA’s position at the project where the VISTA had been assigned remains available for when the VISTA returns and cannot be abolished or given to someone else during the VISTA's FMLA-approved absence. Upon return to the project, the VISTA’s program benefits that were suspended during FMLA leave, including the living allowance, resume.

 

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ALTERNATIVE SERVICE SITE

Members might be approved to serve at an alternative service site for a limited duration of time if their primary service site is closed.

For instance, if your service site is closed due to a weather event, natural disaster, or if your sponsoring organization provides its staff with additional “floating holidays,” “spring breaks,” “summer recesses,” etc., you are expected to continue to serve unless authorized to take the time off as part of your personal or sick leave. However, in lieu of taking personal or sick leave, you may serve at an alternative service site, for a limited duration, if approved in advance by the VISTA supervisor and CNCS State Program Director.

Your service plan should spell out the assignments expected of you during these periods. If it does not, consult with your supervisor.

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Chapter 10: AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders

 

AMERICORPS VISTA LEADERS

Just as AmeriCorps VISTA members work to expand and build the capacity of community projects, Leaders work to expand and build the capacity of individual AmeriCorps VISTA members and their respective service sites. Leaders have demonstrated leadership skills and qualities during their initial term(s) of service and have accepted a new level of responsibility.

 

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ROLE OF AMERICORPS VISTA LEADERS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The aim of a VISTA Leader is to expand and build the capacity of the VISTAs (and VISTA Summer Associates) they lead, in coordination with the projects in which they serve. Leaders provide support and coordination for members to increase the project's impact. VISTA Leaders are not, and do not function as, CNCS employees or employees of the sponsoring organization.  VISTA Leaders are not permitted to perform staffing, administrative or supervisory functions for their sponsoring organizations. Hence, they do not supervise other AmeriCorps VISTA members, the sponsoring organization staff, or community volunteers. VISTA Leaders do not replace the VISTA supervisor or any other sponsoring organization staff.  

AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders are assigned by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to projects or regions to assist sponsoring organizations in achieving program objectives and developing new project activities and sources of community support. Leaders set an example of leadership for AmeriCorps VISTA members, ensure positive relations, facilitate idea-sharing, and mediate issues with the community, project, supervisors, and AmeriCorps VISTA members. Leaders also play a support role in recruiting, mentoring, and coordinating AmeriCorps VISTA members.
 
VISTA Leaders have successfully completed at least one year of VISTA service, or one full term of full-time service (serving 1,770 hours or more) with either AmeriCorps State and National or AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), or at least one traditional term of Peace Corps service.  VISTA Leaders must also demonstrate exemplary skills and leadership in community service. AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders have demonstrated leadership ability to work constructively with community volunteers, supervisors, sponsoring organizations, and the low-income community.
 
An AmeriCorps VISTA member is not entitled to an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader assignment for simply having satisfactorily completed a previous service assignment. It is solely up to the CNCS State Office to select which projects may have AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders, to determine the number of AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders that may serve at designated projects, and to select those who will serve as AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders.
 
If circumstances warrant, a Leader may be removed from the position and duties of an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader by the CNCS State Office. The AmeriCorps VISTA Leader regulations, Code of Federal Regulations, Title 45, Part 2556, detail the qualifications necessary to become an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader, the selection procedure, and roles of Leaders. Moreover, AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders are subject to the same requirements for proper conduct and satisfactory performance as AmeriCorps VISTA members. Accordingly, like members, Leaders are subject to the Early Termination for cause proceedings, set forth in AmeriCorps VISTA Early Termination regulations, Code of Federal Regulations, Title 45, Part 2556, Subpart E.
 
 
 

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LEADER ORIENTATION

AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders participate in a three-and-a-half-day VISTA Leader Orientation designed to provide the knowledge and skills to help recruit, coach, and coordinate teams of AmeriCorps VISTA members. Through training and hands-on experiences, Leaders gain transferable skills in communication, decision-making, conflict resolution and coaching, facilitation, and recruiting.
 
As an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader, you should attend Leader Orientation within the first two to three months of your term of service or the first available training event, with limited exceptions. Leaders who have not begun their term may attend the training if they will be placed within one month of the training.
 
Leader Orientation introduces you to your new role and equips you with a set of skills to help support AmeriCorps VISTA members and ensure that their projects are sustainable. The goals of Leader Orientation are to:
  • Communicate the roles and responsibilities of AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders
  • Equip Leaders with a set of leadership skills they can apply in their daily work
  • Establish a learning community among Leaders that will continue throughout their term of service
  • Train Leaders to be effective recruiters for AmeriCorps VISTA
  • Educate Leaders about the tools and resources available to them to support their roles and projects
  • Help Leaders to develop strategies and plan for effectively supporting their members and sustaining their projects
  • Facilitate information sharing and collaboration among Leaders working in similar issue areas
  • Inspire Leaders to complete a successful year of service

 

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ADMINISTRATIVE POLICIES FOR LEADERS

CNCS limits the number of years served in the AmeriCorps VISTA program to a maximum of five years. An individual who has served only one year of service as a VISTA member may serve as a Leader for up to four years. An AmeriCorps VISTA Leader is not, however, guaranteed a second term as a Leader. To receive approval for reenrollment as a Leader, the Leader's service performance must be outstanding and the sponsoring organization and CNCS State Program Director must agree that it would benefit the project to reenroll the Leader for another year of service.

BECOMING A VISTA LEADER

The process for applying to serve as a VISTA Leader is similar to the process for applying for a regular VISTA position or requesting re-enrollment or reinstatement. Eligible individuals complete an application using My AmeriCorps and submit it for an available VISTA Leader position. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers will be asked to submit a Description of Service as part of their application package. Currently serving VISTA members who wish to re-enroll as a VISTA Leader with the same sponsor complete the Future Plans Form and indicate re-enrollment.   

TRANSITION FROM VISTA MEMBER TO LEADER

In rare instances, there may be a VISTA member who is serving a second or subsequent term when a VISTA Leader position at the sponsoring organization becomes vacant. In such cases, the sponsoring organization may recommend the promotion of the member to Leader if the member has successfully completed a full term of VISTA service and demonstrates exemplary skills and leadership in community service. A sponsoring organization may not recommend the promotion of a member to Leader midway through a member's first term of service. A member may become a Leader at some point in his or her second term of service providing the member plans to serve 12 months as a Leader.

LEADER'S RELATIONSHIP WITH SPONSORING ORGANIZATIONS, SUPERVISORS, AND MEMBERS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The AmeriCorps VISTA Leader has a distinct role within a sponsoring organization. Leaders coordinate and provide support to members, but they are not responsible for members. The project supervisor is directly responsible for the management of AmeriCorps VISTA members.
 
The Leader, however, is in a leadership role. At times, the Leader may serve as a mediator, a facilitator, an adviser, or a trainer. The supervisor and AmeriCorps VISTA Leader should make sure VISTA members understand the Leader's role and responsibilities.
 
The supervisor/sponsoring organization should not expect Leaders to take on roles similar to those of members in addition to their Leader roles and responsibilities. For example, if a Leader coordinates a project that involves eight members who implement literacy programs at six different sites, the Leader should not be expected to implement a literacy program.

REGIONAL AND PROJECT-BASED LEADERS

Several states, because of their size and geography, have assigned Leaders regionally. These Leaders serve on an AmeriCorps VISTA project and support not only their own project's AmeriCorps VISTA members, but also members serving with other projects in a specified area. This type of assignment is acceptable for Leaders as long as:
  • Leaders are supervised by a single AmeriCorps VISTA supervisor/sponsoring organization
  • Project sponsors involved agree with the proposal
  • Leaders do not operate in a CNCS State Office or sponsoring organization staff role

 

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LEADER BENEFITS

LIVING ALLOWANCE

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] AmeriCorps VISTA leaders are eligible for an additional $200 per month in their living allowance, effective on the date of their Leader assignment. If, however, the $200-per-month increase raises the living allowance above the federal or state minimum wage (whichever is higher), the Leader must be given the option to:
  • Keep the lower living allowance to retain public assistance payments
  • Accept the allowance increase, with the understanding that it may jeopardize the eligibility for, or level of, public assistance or other governmental payments
See VISTA Living Allowance Rates by County for more information about the living allowance rate in the area where you serve. The living allowance is subject to federal tax. As a result, the amounts that appear in the chart are reflective of the rate before federal taxes are deducted. 

HEALTH CARE

All AmeriCorps VISTA Leaders receive the same health care benefits as VISTA members, in accordance with the provisions of the administrative contract between CNCS and the benefits provider.

EDUCATION AWARD

Leaders who have not already received two Segal AmeriCorps Education Award enrollments may opt for the education award. Leaders who opt for an education award cannot also receive an end-of-service stipend.

END-OF-SERVICE STIPEND

Leaders who do not choose the education award receive an end-of-service cash stipend upon completion of their full term of service as a Leader. Leaders who elect to receive an end-of-service stipend cannot also receive an education award.

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Chapter 11: AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates

 

AMERICORPS VISTA SUMMER ASSOCIATES 

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate members serve for intensive, short terms of service lasting eight, nine, or ten weeks. Unlike year-round VISTAs, Summer Associates can perform direct service activities without limitation. As a Summer Associate, you are required to abide by the same laws and regulations as other AmeriCorps VISTA members (discussed in Chapter 14) and are afforded certain legal protections. Summer Associates are eligible for limited benefits (discussed below in Benefits and Support).
 
Summer Associate activities, combined with ongoing VISTA programming, should result in:
  • A credible effort to alleviate poverty, not simply make poverty more tolerable
  • Outcomes that increase the project’s direct impact on those being served

Specific member assignments may vary. For example, Summer Associates could:

  • Recruit, train, and coordinate (but not select or directly supervise) community-based volunteers, including high school and college students and older adults
  • Structure long-term ways for involving community members in project activities
  • Generate materials, supplies, and space for the project
  • Involve the private sector in the project
  • Develop materials for year-round project activities
  • Conduct community education, outreach, and awareness related to the project

 

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ADMINISTRATIVE POLICIES FOR SUMMER ASSOCIATES 

 

Service in the AmeriCorps VISTA program is limited to a maximum of five years. Members and Summer Associates may earn up to the aggregate value of two full education awards in a lifetime. Education Awards earned as a Summer Associate do count towards the aggregate value of two full education awards.

BENEFITS AND SUPPORT

Summer Associate benefits differ from those benefits offered to AmeriCorps VISTA members and VISTA Leaders.
 
Summer Associates receive:
  • A living allowance for the time served, which is equivalent to the amount received by full-time members serving in the same area
  • Choice between a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or an end-of-service summer stipend. Only those Summer Associates who successfully complete their full term of service are eligible to receive the education award or end-of-service summer stipend.
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Each Summer Associate completes the VISTA Summer Associates Benefit Election Form on their first day of service to elect the education award or the end-of-service summer stipend. Unlike other AmeriCorps VISTA members, Summer Associates cannot change their end-of-service award option at any point during their service term.
 
The summer stipend is calculated based on the number of days a Summer Associate is scheduled to serve, multiplied by the daily accrual rate. For details regarding the accrual rate for the end-of-service stipend, visit Chapter 5. Federal income tax and Social Security/Medicare (FICA) deductions are withheld from the end-of-service stipend at the time of payment.
 
Summer Associates do not receive:
  • Health care benefits
  • Child care allowances
  • Relocation allowances
  • Non-competitive eligibility

LEAVE

While neither personal nor sick leave is available to Summer Associates, three categories of leave that may be available to Summer Associates are discussed below. Please see the “Emergency Leave” section below for guidelines during absences.

Holidays

Summer Associates receive leave on federal holidays observed by their sponsor and/or sub-site. Summer Associates should consult their sponsor to determine recognized holidays and service schedules. 

Emergency Leave

When an emergency or illness prevents a Summer Associate from serving, sponsors and CNCS staff may assist the Summer Associate in meeting the required number of service days. CNCS staff must balance Summer Associate support with project support, avoiding excessive leave while supporting the Summer Associate through the emergency or illness.
 
The guidelines within which sponsors and CNCS staff may support Summer Associates in fulfilling their summer obligations are:
  • Summer Associates must report all absences to their site supervisor. The site supervisor will report the absence to the overall project supervisor. Unreported absence may be cause for early termination
  • Supervisors may arrange for limited (1-2 days) absences that will be made up by serving extra hours or extra days
    • Supervisors should prioritize the completion of make-up hours
    • Make-up days cannot extend past the last day of the Summer Associate’s service term
  • Supervisors must report to the CNCS State Office a Summer Associate’s absence beyond two days and/or requests for absences that will not be made up
    • CNCS State Office staff may allow up to five additional days of emergency leave for a death or critical illness in the immediate family, but this must be approved by the State Program Director in advance

Jury Duty

Summer Associates may be summoned for jury duty; if summoned or selected to serve on a jury, Summer Associates will continue to be enrolled in the VISTA program and retain their Summer Associate status.   If summoned for jury duty, you should provide a copy of the summons to your supervisor, and keep your supervisor apprised of your status while you need to be offsite to attend to your jury duty obligation. Allowances will be paid during the period of jury duty.  

WORKER’S COMPENSATION

Summer Associates are eligible to be considered for Worker’s Compensation under the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA).

INCOME DISREGARD

The Income Disregard provisions apply to any Summer Associate receiving government benefits.

COMPLETION OF FUTURE PLANS FORM

Due to the shortened nature of the Summer Associate service term, the Future Plans Form is available the first day of service and should be completed as soon as possible. 

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Chapter 12: End of Service

END OF SERVICE

Just as you spent time preparing to begin your term of AmeriCorps VISTA service, it is equally important for you to prepare for the conclusion of service. Whatever you choose to do after your AmeriCorps VISTA service, you should start planning at least three months before your end-of-service date. Make sure you complete all your paperwork well before your end-of-service date and inform your supervisor and sponsoring organization of your departure date, contact details, and any other information needed for you, the sponsoring organization, and the CNCS State Office to make your end of service as smooth as possible.
 
 

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END-OF-SERVICE CHECKLIST

Due Date
To Whom
Item or Activity
90 days before your end-of-service date

VMSU via the National Service Hotline 1-800-942-2677, VMSU@cns.gov, or nationalservice.gov/questions

  • Submit any request to change your home of record (changes submitted after your 10th month of service, or less than 60 days prior to your end-of-service date will not be considered). All requests must be approved by the Director of VISTA Member Support Unit (VMSU)
By the last day of your 10th monthmy.americorps.gov
  • Submit any requests to change your end-of-service benefit selection from Education Award to end-of-service cash stipend
At least 60 days before your end-of-service datemy.americorps.gov
  • Complete Part A of the AmeriCorps VISTA Member Future Plans or Early Termination Request Form (Future Plans Form)
At least 45 days before your end-of-service date
 

my.americorps.gov

 

  • Your supervisor will complete Part B—Performance Evaluation of the AmeriCorps VISTA Member Future Plans or Early Termination Request Form (Future Plans Form)
  • Participate in exit interview and evaluation of your performance with your supervisor
Last four weeks
my.americorps.gov
  • Review the comments your supervisor entered on your Future Plans Form in my.americorps.gov.
Member
  • If you elected to receive the end-of-service stipend, you will receive $400 of your accrued stipend (minus federal income tax and FICA deductions) in your living allowance payment for the next-to-the-last full pay period.
Within two weeks after completion of service (if not sooner)VISTA Member Support Unit
  • If you relocated to serve, submit your Close of Service Travel Reimbursement voucher. Payment of all travel reimbursements takes an average of 8-10 weeks from the time the voucher is received at the VISTA Member Support Unit.
After completion of service

Web Resources for AmeriCorps VISTA Alums

Nationalservice.gov

VISTA Campus

LinkedIn

  • Generate your Verification of Service letter with information on your Non-Competitive Eligibility.
  • Learn more about Alumni benefits and the Employers of National Service initiative on https://www.nationalservice.gov/.
  • Visit the Life after VISTA page on the VISTA Campus to view job postings, download career resources, submit your story of service, and stay in touch.
  • Be sure to create a LinkedIn profile if you don’t already have one and indicate your VISTA service. Also be sure to follow the official AmeriCorps VISTA LinkedIn page for important career updates.
AmeriCorps Alums
  • Join an AmeriCorps Alums chapter
  • Learn about discounts and matching education award scholarships
Healthcare Marketplace – 1-888-318-2956
  • If you have insurance through the Marketplace and your income changes, you’ll want to have your subsidy adjusted so you don’t end up receiving too much subsidy (and then have to pay it back at tax time).
  • If you are currently in the VISTA Health Benefits Plan and want to purchase health insurance through the Marketplace, you have 60 days after close of service to do so. Refer to the VISTA Healthcare FAQs for more information on this special enrollment period.

 

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PREPARING FOR END-OF-SERVICE

In order to have a successful end of service, please pay careful attention to the following items which are also outlined in the checklist above. 

FUTURE PLANS FORM

At least 60 days before your end-of-service date, you will need to complete the AmeriCorps VISTA Future Plans or Early Termination Request Form (Future Plans Form). This form is on your member homepage in my.americorps.gov under "Close-of-Service". It asks whether you wish to:
  • Complete service as scheduled
  • Extend my service for less than one year
    • Extensions are for no less than two weeks and no more than six months. Please note, the only end-of-service benefit available during an extension is the cash stipend.
  • Reenroll for an additional year, which means you would continue service for one year at the same project or at a different project (re-enrollment)
  • Terminate my service early
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Your Future Plans Form becomes available on your my.americorps.gov homepage 90 days before your end-of-service date.  You must complete this form at least 60 days before your end-of-service date. The sponsoring organization or supervisor will then complete the evaluation section and submit the form to the CNCS State Office. You are entitled to review the evaluation section before it is sent to the CNCS State Office.
 
After you complete the Future Plans Form, your project supervisor will fill out the Performance Evaluation section. Follow up to make sure your supervisor has completed the form at least 45 days before your end-of-service date. Even members who choose to end service early must complete the Future Plans Form.
 
The CNCS State Office is responsible for determining whether you have successfully completed a term of service and are eligible for an education award. Once the State Office indicates your eligibility by certifying the Future Plans Form and the VISTA Member Support Unit processes the form, you will have access to an end-of-service award.

EVALUATION OF YOUR SERVICE

The Future Plans Form requires the sponsoring organization to evaluate the performance of members approaching the end of their term of service or requesting a reenrollment or extension of service. You are entitled to review the evaluation section before it is sent to the CNCS State Office. During this time you should also arrange an exit interview with your supervisor to summarize the work you have done and to talk through and agree with your evaluation. The exit interview is also an opportunity for you to give feedback, to discuss your future plans, and to finalize your arrangements for leaving. If you request to reenroll or extend, refer to the section on Additional AmeriCorps VISTA Service.

CLOSE OF SERVICE TRAVEL ASSISTANCE 

VISTA candidates approved to relocate to serve at the beginning of service are eligible to receive a Relocation Travel Allowance at the close of service. The allowance is intended to offset the cost of returning home and shipment of personal effects between the service site and the approved home of record. The rate, established by the VISTA program, is based on the mileage between the site and the approved home of record. The Relocation Travel Allowance may not to exceed $1,000.
 
Travel reimbursement vouchers will be posted in my.americorps.gov no later than fifteen days prior to your end-of-service date. You will need to return the signed vouchers to the VISTA Member Support Unit to receive your travel payment reimbursement. The signed vouchers should be sent to:
 
Corporation for National and Community Service
250 E Street SW
Suite 4300, Mailroom
Washington, DC 20525
Attn: VMSU
 
The travel payment, made by direct deposit, will arrive eight weeks after the VISTA Member Support Unit receives your signed voucher. If you waived payment by direct deposit, a paper check will be mailed to the permanent address listed in your my.americorps.gov account. Vouchers must be returned to the VMSU within two weeks after completion of service.  If you fail to sign and return the close of service voucher within this time, payment may be delayed.

HOME OF RECORD

The approved home of record is the location approved at the start of service. The home of record is either:
  • The legal residence of your parent(s) or legal guardian if you had been residing with your parent(s) or legal guardian immediately prior to entering AmeriCorps VISTA service, or if you were a full-time student whose permanent residence was with your parent(s) or legal guardian, or
  • The residence established by you:

1. While attending college immediately prior to entering AmeriCorps VISTA service

2. While employed immediately prior to entering AmeriCorps VISTA service

3. For purposes of voting or payment of state taxes

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Modification of the home of record can be authorized prior to the tenth month of service, at the discretion of the Director of the VISTA Member Support Unit, if one of the following conditions exists:
  • You designated the official home of record as the legal residence of a parent or legal guardian, and the parent or legal guardian has established a new residence (if the new residence is outside the United States, CNCS will provide close of service assistance to the nearest port of exit).
  • You designated the official home of record as the legal residence of a parent or legal guardian, and the parent or legal guardian has died. CNCS will provide close of service assistance to the legal residence of the surviving parent or legal guardian, or next of kin (if the new residence is outside the United States, CNCS will provide close of service assistance to the nearest port of exit). 
  • You have married and request close of service assistance to the home of record of your spouse.
  • Close of service assistance to the new home of record is more economical to the United States government than the original home of record.
Requests to modify the home of record must be submitted in writing to the Director of the VISTA Member Support Unit via the National Service Hotline. Requests received after the end of the tenth month of service will not be considered.

BREAKS IN SERVICE

If you serve an additional year at the same site and have a break in service of 60 days or less, you will not be reimbursed for travel to your home of record until the end of your final year of service. The VISTA program cannot reimburse travel home between service years. Please see "Additional AmeriCorps VISTA Service" for more details.
 
If you serve an additional year within 60 days of completing your original term of service, and must relocate to a different service site, you will receive a Relocation Travel Allowance for the mileage from your current site to your new site. See Chapter 7 for an explanation of the Relocation Travel Allowance. You will receive Close of Service Travel Assistance at the end of the final year of service.
 
 

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END-OF-SERVICE STIPEND

If you elected to receive the end-of-service stipend, you automatically receive the payment with your last two living allowance payments, provided you complete your term of service as scheduled and your end-of-service documents are submitted to the CNCS State Office. You will receive approximately $400 of the end-of-stipend with your second to last living allowance payment; the remaining balance is disbursed with your last living allowance payment. Federal income tax and Social Security (FICA) deductions are withheld from the stipend at the time of payment.
 
 

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SEGAL AMERICORPS EDUCATION AWARD

If you elected to receive the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, the award becomes available for your use after you successfully complete service. The value of the award is tied to the maximum Pell Grant level during the fiscal year in which you served. (See Chapter 6 for detailed information on the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.)

PROCESS FOR ACCESSING EDUCATION AWARD

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Your my.americorps.gov account allows you the ability to make payments to lenders and higher education institutions. To access your award, click on the “My Education Award” link in your my.americorps.gov account. The VISTA Campus provides a course on how to use your education award effectively.
 
The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award must be used within seven years of the date you finish your service, unless you apply for and receive an extension prior to the end of your seventh year in accordance with 45 CFR §2526. If you have questions about your education award, you should contact the National Service Hotline at 800-942-2677, or visit the National Service Hotline website, click on the "Ask a Question" tab, complete the help request form, and submit.
 
 

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ADDITIONAL AMERICORPS VISTA SERVICE

At the discretion of CNCS, you may be afforded the opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA member beyond the initial year of enrollment.
 
Additional service is predicated on a clear indication that you will continue to provide a substantial contribution to the program. Approval is required for all continuations of service following endorsement by the sponsoring organization. VISTA members are limited to five years of service. 
 
In the tenth month of service, you receive the Future Plans Form, which asks whether you wish to complete service as scheduled or to reenroll or extend. In approving a request for continuation of service, your performance, as evaluated by the project supervisor and the CNCS State Program Director, along with your skills and experience, are considered. Continuation of service is also subject to the availability of an appropriate assignment and to the availability of funds for member support.
 
To request continuation of service, you must complete the Future Plans Form at least 90 days before your scheduled end-of-service date. (This form is on your member homepage in my.americorps.gov under “Close-of-Service”.) 
 
AmeriCorps VISTA will notify you and the sponsoring organization whether the request for continuation of service was approved at least four weeks before the end of service. The early termination provisions and volunteer grievance procedures do not apply to continuation of service denials.

RESTRICTIONS AND REQUIREMENTS

If there is a break of more than 120 days between service years, you are again subject to VISTAs criminal history check. The background check entails a search of the National Sex Offenders Public Registry, full disclosure of convictions, and an FBI criminal history check, which requires you to submit fingerprints. The VISTA program will provide a fingerprint subsidy. For questions, please contact your CNCS State Office.
 
 

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LIFE AFTER AMERICORPS VISTA

CERTIFICATION OF SERVICE

When you have completed service, log onto my.americorps.gov to print a letter of AmeriCorps VISTA Verification of Service. This letter serves as proof of your AmeriCorps VISTA service and includes your dates of service. Click the “My Service Letters” link to create and print your letter. If your letter is incorrect or if the system is unable to locate your record, please contact the National Service Hotline at https://questions.nationalservice.gov/.

STAYING INVOLVED

VISTA encourages you to stay in touch with our program and become involved with the national AmeriCorps Alumni Network after you complete your year of service. As an alum, you can help recruit new VISTA members, share your story of service, and continue to serve. For information and services that help you stay involved with the AmeriCorps community, visit the Alumni Page of the VISTA Campus.

SERVICE AND YOUR CAREER

For many, VISTA service is the first step in a rewarding career in public service. Helping to address critical community needs can be inspiring. Putting your idealism, energy, and experience to work in a career that helps others can be the perfect way to incorporate your service into the rest of your life.
 
In a 2016 study conducted by CNCS on AmeriCorps Alumni outcomes, it was noted that a high percentage of AmeriCorps VISTA alumni benefitted both personally and professionally during their service. Of the over 3,000 respondents surveyed in 2016:
  • 46% of AmeriCorps VISTA alumni who were employed within six months of ending service attributed their employment to a connection made while serving as a VISTA. 
  • About 50% of AmeriCorps VISTA alumni indicated that their service opened up a career path they wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
  • 74% of AmeriCorps VISTA alumni agreed that their service was a professionally defining experience.
  • 77% of AmeriCorps VISTA alumni agreed that their service was a personally defining experience.
In addition to the personal fulfillment gained during service, AmeriCorps VISTA offers some exceptional career benefits, such as Non-Competitive Eligibility for Federal Jobs, and graduate schools that match the Education Award. For more information on how to access these benefits visit the Preparing for Life after AmeriCorps VISTA section of the VISTA Campus.

VISTA CAMPUS JOB BOARD 

When searching for jobs, be sure to access the free VISTA Campus Job Board. AmeriCorps VISTA regularly encourages employers from the federal, private, and public sectors to post job opportunities of particular interest to VISTA alumni skillsets. Check back frequently to view and apply to postings.  

NON-COMPETITIVE ELIGIBILITY FOR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT JOBS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] One of the benefits of successfully completing your year of service as a VISTA is the option to use the Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE) hiring status to help obtain federal employment. NCE does not guarantee you a federal position; you must locate an agency with a vacancy and interest in hiring you. The links below provide further guidance on how to access and use your NCE benefit. Note that AmeriCorps VISTA alums are the only AmeriCorps Alums to receive this benefit, which is good for one year starting from your end of service date. NCE can be extended for up to two more years past the expiration date by the hiring agency, under certain conditions as listed below.   
  • NCE is a special hiring appointment granted to AmeriCorps VISTA alumni in Executive Order No. 11103 (April 10, 1963).  – Section 415(d), Title IV, of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, as amended. 
  • NCE permits (but does not require) a federal agency to noncompetitively hire an AmeriCorps VISTA alum who meets the minimum qualifications for the position. 
  • A hiring agency may extend the NCE period for two additional years if the VISTA alum, after the qualifying service, is: 
    • In the military; 
    • Studying at a recognized institution of higher learning; or 
    • Engaged in another activity which, in the hiring agency’s view, warrants extension. 
  • The use of NCE status is up to the federal hiring manager. 
  • VISTA alumni must use their Verification of VISTA Service letter available via my.americorps.gov as documentation for their NCE status. 

EMPLOYERS OF NATIONAL SERVICE INITIATIVE

Launched in 2014, the purpose of the Employers of National Service (EONS) initiative is to create a talent pipeline connecting AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni with leading employers from the private, public and nonprofit sectors. To learn more about Employers of National Service and see a full list of participating employers, visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/special-initiatives/employers-national-service/search-network.  Additional job-seeking resources can be found in the Alumni section of the National Service website, including: Understanding Benefits of Service, National Service Resume Basics, Creative Networking, Answering FAQs from Employers, and Employment and Alumni with Disabilities. 

APPLYING VISTA SERVICE TOWARDS FEDERAL BENEFITS/RETIREMENT 

AmeriCorps VISTA Alumni can count their service year(s) towards vacation accrual and retirement once employed with the federal government. VISTA alumni may make a FERS (Federal Employee Retirement System) service credit deposit payment for any period of VISTA service (excluding training time), regardless of when the service was performed. Paying the service credit deposit will make this volunteer time creditable toward federal retirement. VISTA alumni who become federal employees must contact the Human Resources/Benefits personnel at their federal agency to initiate the deposit process and to make sure they are accruing vacation at the appropriate rate. Learn more about applying VISTA service towards federal benefits/retirement at the OPM website

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Chapter 13: Administrative Policies

 

ADMINISTRATIVE POLICIES

From time to time, unforeseen events occur that affect a VISTA’s status of service. For example, the project loses a key financial supporter; the sponsor staff leave the organization; the VISTA becomes seriously ill; the VISTA does not perform adequately; the candidate displays unacceptable behavior at PSO; undisclosed criminal history is discovered, etc. In instances such as these, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) must act to resolve the untenable situation. A VISTA candidate who has not yet sworn in as a VISTA may face deselection.  A VISTA member may elect to resign from the VISTA program.  Also, a VISTA member may be given the opportunity to transfer to another program, or face 1) early termination for cause; 2) early termination for lack of suitable assignment; or 3) early termination for medical reasons.
 
This chapter discusses the steps taken when circumstances necessitate a change in service or a separation from service for a VISTA member.
 
 

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BREAK IN SERVICE

ADMINISTRATIVE HOLD STATUS

Under certain circumstances, the CNCS State Office may place you in “administrative hold” status in the VISTA program.  During the time you are on administrative hold, you are not assigned to an AmeriCorps VISTA project; however, you are still an AmeriCorps VISTA member and are subject to all AmeriCorps VISTA program laws, regulations, and policies.  
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Examples of when the CNCS State Office may place you on administrative hold status include, but are not limited to, when the project in which you have been serving ceases operations or when the sponsoring organization where you have been serving requests your removal from its AmeriCorps VISTA project.
 
At the discretion of CNCS, while you are on administrative hold, your living allowance may continue. However, the living allowance may cease if you are engaged in activities that violate CNCS or AmeriCorps VISTA program laws, regulations, or policies.
 
Your end-of-service stipend or education award accrues during the administrative hold period. The accrual of certain other payments – as listed in the table below – may also continue.
 
 

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STATUS OF SERVICE AND ELIGIBILITY FOR AMERICORPS VISTA BENEFITS

Status of Service
Education Award
End-of-Service Stipend
Living Allowance
Successful completion of year of service
 

Full

Full

Payments end
Deferral of service
Accrual discontinues
Accrual discontinues
Payments discontinue
Transfer to another AmeriCorps VISTA project
Accrual continues
Accrual continues
Payments continue
Early departure for another AmeriCorps program
Prorated,
if served at least 335 days
Prorated,
if served at least 335 days
Payments end
Deselection
No
No
No
Early termination for cause (misconduct)
No
No
Payments end
Medical termination
Prorated
Prorated
Payments end
Early termination for non-compelling reason(s)
No
No
Payments end

 

 

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CHANGE IN SERVICE

TRANSFER TO ANOTHER AMERICORPS VISTA PROJECT

Transfer between projects is an uncommon occurrence, but it is sometimes warranted.  Examples when this may be warranted include: project closure, natural disaster, or other extenuating circumstance. CNCS may approve the transfer of an AmeriCorps VISTA member to a different project during a term of service. The CNCS State Program Director may approve transfers when he or she determines the following conditions are met:
  • The member has the necessary qualifications and desire to continue service but is unable to do so at the current project assignment;
  • The project-sponsoring organization that would be receiving the member concurs in the transfer after contacting the former sponsoring organization or CNCS State Office for an evaluation or assessment of the AmeriCorps VISTA member.
AmeriCorps VISTA members are typically given a fifteen (15) day opportunity period to seek and secure transfer to another AmeriCorps VISTA project. During this opportunity period, AmeriCorps VISTA members are placed in administrative hold status in the VISTA program.

EARLY DEPARTURE FOR ANOTHER AMERICORPS PROGRAM

In addition to AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps has two other major community service programs. They are the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (AmeriCorps NCCC), and the AmeriCorps State and National program. CNCS supports members who are serving in one AmeriCorps program to continue their commitment to service by serving in another AmeriCorps program. To that end, AmeriCorps VISTA members are encouraged to serve in another AmeriCorps program following their AmeriCorps VISTA service.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] There may be instances when an AmeriCorps VISTA member who has nearly completed AmeriCorps VISTA service is accepted into a Peace Corps position or one of the other two AmeriCorps programs and is required to depart AmeriCorps VISTA service early to start training or service. To accommodate such an instance, an AmeriCorps VISTA member who has completed at least 335 days of service may terminate service with AmeriCorps VISTA with a prorated award in order to meet a window of opportunity to enter either AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State and National, or Peace Corps service.
 
A prorated portion of the education award or end-of-service stipend corresponds to that portion of the term served. For example, an AmeriCorps VISTA member who has served 350 days would be eligible to receive 96 percent of the education award or 96 percent of the end-of-service stipend (350/365 = .959). The VISTA member is required to prove acceptance by the other service program to receive a prorated education award or end-of-service stipend. The VISTA member may do so by submitting written proof of such acceptance to the CNCS State Office.

DEFERRAL OF SERVICE

During the course of AmeriCorps VISTA service, if you have to leave your AmeriCorps VISTA service for a period of more than 30 days but not more than six (6) months, and your departure is due to very narrow, extenuating circumstances, you may be placed in “deferral of service” status by the CNCS State Program Director or designee. However, approval for deferral of service status is quite rare.
 
Extenuating circumstances that justify attaining a deferral of service status are either a VISTA member’s need to take military reserve leave or to fulfill a jury duty obligation of more than 30 days.
 
You are not accorded deferral of service status if you are removed from AmeriCorps VISTA service for circumstances related to your proposed termination, your termination for cause, your eligibility for a medical termination, or your removal from a project. 
 
If you are placed in deferral of service status, you may be reinstated into AmeriCorps VISTA service within six (6) months without resubmitting an entire member application form and without attending another Pre-Service Orientation. If your leave based on deferral of service status extends beyond six (6) months, your deferral of service status ceases and you will be exited from the VISTA program. To be reinstated once the leave is over, the CNCS State Office may require you to resubmit a new member application form. 
 
During the time you are in deferral of service status, any or all allowances and end-of-term benefits are discontinued, including your living allowance, your accrual of the end-of-service stipend, your accrual of the education award, and your service-related travel reimbursement. If you return to successfully complete your service following a period of deferral, you are eligible to receive the end-of-service stipend or the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, whichever is applicable.
 
 

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SEPARATION FROM SERVICE

DESELECTION 

To ensure that AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations receive members who meet or exceed the expectations and requirements of service, CNCS may deselect an AmeriCorps VISTA candidate before enrollment in the VISTA program. Reasons for deselection include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Failure to meet Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) or Virtual Member Orientation (VMO) training selection standards which include, but are not limited to, the following types of conduct:
    • Inability or refusal to perform or complete training assignments,
    • Disruptive or inappropriate conduct during the PSO event or VMO sessions, or
    • Failure to attend training sessions (including VMO webinars). 
  • Refusal or inability to accept the VISTA assignment (VAD).
  • Refusal or inability to accept any term or condition of VISTA service.
  • Failure to take the VISTA Oath of Service and/or to properly submit the VISTA Oath of Service form.
  • Failure to commence VISTA service.

EARLY TERMINATION FOR CAUSE

CNCS may terminate you as an AmeriCorps VISTA member based on your conduct or performance (termination for cause) for any of the following reasons:
  • Conviction of a criminal offense under federal, state, or local statute or ordinance;
  • Violation of any provision of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, as amended, or a CNCS regulation, policy, or guideline;
  • Failure, refusal, or inability to perform prescribed project duties as outlined in the project application or assignment description and as directed by the sponsoring organization to which you are assigned;
  • Involvement in activities that substantially interfere with your performance of project duties;
  • Intentional false statement, omission, fraud, or deception in obtaining selection as a member;
  • Any conduct on your part that substantially diminishes your effectiveness as an AmeriCorps VISTA member; or
  • Unsatisfactory performance of assignment.
Grounds for termination for cause also include: a VISTA’s failure to perform assignments in the VMO; a VISTA’s failure to punctually submit fingerprints to CNCS for completion of a criminal history check; being Absent Without Leave (AWOL) from a project site (even for a day); and exhausting and exceeding allowable leave prior to the end of your service term.

MEDICAL TERMINATION

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] If you are unable to perform or resume project duties because of a medical condition, or if it reasonably appears that you are unable to perform or resume your project duties within the approved medical leave period, you are subject to medical termination. The CNCS State Program Director decides whether to terminate you for a medical reason(s) on the basis of information from your attending medical professional, or other relevant information obtained by CNCS.
 
When it is determined that you are unable to perform or resume project duties, CNCS issues you a written notice of medical termination, which includes the effective date. Following your submission of required documentation, you may be eligible to receive a prorated end-of-service award (i.e., a prorated education award or prorated stipend). If you medically terminate and wish to serve again with VISTA, you must reapply to the VISTA program to start a new, full term of VISTA service.  
 
You may appeal the CNCS State Program Director's decision of medical termination. If you choose to appeal, you must submit a written appeal and supporting documentation within fifteen (15) days of receiving the written notice of medical termination. The written appeal and supporting documentation is submitted to the appropriate Area Manager. 
 
The appropriate CNCS Area Manager reviews all appeal information submitted and may request additional information. After review of all pertinent information, the appropriate Area Manager renders a final decision on your appeal. If the final decision on appeal sustains the medical termination, the medical termination remains in effect. If the final decision on appeal overturns the medical termination, you are reinstated into AmeriCorps VISTA service retroactive to the effective date of termination. The final decision on appeal is a final agency decision. 

REMOVAL FROM PROJECT

Removal of an AmeriCorps VISTA member from serving in a particular project assignment sometimes occurs. There are two common ways such a removal may occur: (1) a project requests a member's removal, or (2) a project cannot continue to operate all or part of its AmeriCorps VISTA program.
 
With regard to the first scenario, the project requests the removal in writing to the CNCS State Office, and the request should be supported by a statement of reason.
 
The sole authority for terminating a member, or giving a member the opportunity to transfer, rests with CNCS. The sponsoring organization's request for removal of a member, including a written statement addressing the circumstances, is submitted to the CNCS State Program Director who notifies the member of the request. During the period when CNCS is assessing whether proposing termination for cause is warranted, or instead, providing the member an opportunity to transfer to another project, the member is placed in administrative hold status where he or she may not return to the project site or sponsoring organization. The member is notified in writing of his or her administrative hold status, whether he or she will receive allowances, and the prohibition on engagement in any project-related activities during that period.
 
The CNCS State Office will take one of the following actions concerning a member who has been removed from a project assignment:
  • Accept the member's resignation from the AmeriCorps VISTA program;
  • If removal was requested for reasons other than those listed above in "Early Termination from Service," the CNCS State Office will be available to support the member in locating another suitable assignment by providing the member a list of other operative AmeriCorps VISTA projects in the state. If the member does not secure reassignment within the prescribed opportunity period, the member is terminated from AmeriCorps VISTA service for lack of suitable assignment. In some instances, such an early termination from the AmeriCorps VISTA program would be for a non-cause reason. There are no 45 CFR Part 2556 appeal rights for early termination for lack of suitable assignment. Members may grieve terminations for lack of suitable assignment under 45 CFR Part 2556;
  • If removal from the project is for a reason listed above in "Early Termination for Cause," the member may appeal the early termination to establish whether such termination from AmeriCorps VISTA service is supported by sufficient evidence. Termination appeal procedures are outlined in 45 CFR Part 2556; or
  • If CNCS determines that removal from the project based on a reason cited under "Early Termination for Cause" is not established by adequate evidence, CNCS will cease termination for cause proceedings and provide the member an opportunity to secure reassignment at another AmeriCorps VISTA project.  If the member does not secure reassignment within the prescribed opportunity period, the member will be terminated for lack of suitable assignment. 
With regard to the second reason a member may be removed from a project assignment, the removal may occur because a project cannot continue to operate all or part of its AmeriCorps VISTA program. Examples of this type of removal from a project happen when the Memorandum of Agreement between CNCS and the sponsoring organization is terminated or not renewed. In such cases, the member’s removal from the project is due to no fault of his/her own, and the member is placed in administrative hold status and given an opportunity to secure reassignment. If, despite the member’s good faith efforts to secure reassignment, no appropriate reassignment is secured by the member within the prescribed opportunity period, the member may be terminated for lack of suitable assignment. Under such a circumstance, however, his/her termination would be based on a “compelling personal circumstance.” Accordingly, s/he may be eligible for a prorated end-of-service award. The CNCS State Program Director assesses the relevant facts and determines whether the member has established a compelling, personal circumstance, and is therefore eligible for a prorated award. 

TERMINATION FOR LACK OF SUITABLE ASSIGNMENT

If a CNCS State Office removes a member from a project, for reasons other than those listed above in "Early Termination for Cause," the CNCS State Office is available to support the member in locating another assignment by providing the member a list of AmeriCorps VISTA projects in the state. If the member does not secure reassignment within the prescribed time period, the member is terminated from AmeriCorps VISTA service for lack of a suitable assignment.
 
Termination for lack of suitable assignment is never, by itself, sufficient to make a VISTA member eligible for a prorated education award or end-of-service stipend.  Specifically, a member who is terminated for lack of a suitable assignment is not eligible for a prorated education award or end-of-service stipend unless the member can also demonstrate the early termination was due to a "compelling personal circumstance." For example, a member's lack of interest in a possible new assignment does not establish a compelling personal circumstance.  Similarly, the fact that a possible new assignment is not similar to the member’s prior project assignment does not establish a compelling personal circumstance.  Moreover, a member’s multiple, yet unsuccessful, efforts to secure reassignment are not sufficient, by themselves, to establish a compelling personal circumstance. Rather, examples of situations that constitute a compelling personal circumstance are listed below in "Early Termination of a VISTA Member for a Compelling Personal Circumstance."
 
If a member is offered an appropriate reassignment and declines the new assignment, CNCS has no obligation to offer additional or alternative assignments. In this instance, the member is not eligible to receive a prorated education award or end-of-service stipend.
 
A member terminated early for lack of suitable assignment does not have appeal rights under 45 CFR Part 2556; however, the member may grieve termination for lack of suitable assignment under 45 CFR Part 2556.

RESIGNATION

If the CNCS State Office believes that you may be subject to "for-cause termination" for any reasons cited above in "Early Termination for Cause," a CNCS State Office staff member will communicate with you about the matter. If the staff member states that grounds for termination exist, you will be given an opportunity to resign in lieu of being terminated for cause. You, or a designee, may inform the CNCS State Office in writing that you are resigning from the VISTA program. If you do not resign, the administrative procedures outlined in 45 CFR Part 2556 will be followed.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] You may also choose to resign from VISTA service for personal reasons. Resignations must always be in writing. When practicable, written notice of resignation should be given at least two weeks in advance to ensure that your departure will be minimally disruptive to the project and the VISTA program.
 
Members who intend to resign early from VISTA service should notify their supervisor, who will contact the CNCS State Office. The State Office will unlock the Future Plans Form in the Close of Service area of the member's my.americorps.gov account. Once the Future Plans Form is unlocked, the member completes Part A of the form and notifies the supervisor to complete Part B and submit to the CNCS State Office. It is important to notify CNCS in time to avoid overpayment of the biweekly living allowance and other member allowances and benefits.

EARLY TERMINATION OF A VISTA MEMBER FOR A COMPELLING PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCE

In rare circumstances, AmeriCorps VISTA members may qualify for a prorated end-of-service stipend or prorated education award because they demonstrate that they need to leave service early for a “compelling personal circumstance”.
 
The CNCS State Program Director retains the authority to approve a VISTA member's eligibility for a prorated end-of-service stipend or prorated education award if the member leaves service early because of a compelling personal circumstance, such as:
  • Serious medical condition or disability of the AmeriCorps VISTA member, which prohibits the member from effectively completing his/her term of service;
  • Death, critical illness, or disability of an immediate family member (spouse, domestic partner, parent, grandparent, sibling, child, or legal guardian), if this event makes completing a term unreasonably difficult or impossible; or
  • Conditions attributable to either nature or the program and not to the AmeriCorps VISTA member, such as natural disaster, strike, or premature closing of a project or program, that makes completing a term unreasonably difficult or impossible.
A prorated end-of-service stipend or prorated education award may also be given for public policy reasons or other extenuating circumstances, as determined by the CNCS State Program Director, such as:
  • Fulfilling military service obligations;
  • Fulfilling jury duty obligations;
  • Accepting permanent employment by a member who is a recipient of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF);
  • Accepting another AmeriCorps or NCCC position (if VISTA member has served at least 335 days); or
  • Accepting a Peace Corps Volunteer position (if VISTA member has served at least 335 days).
Under no circumstances does a VISTA member’s termination for cause make the member eligible for a prorated end-of-service award.  In addition, neither resigning from VISTA service, nor leaving VISTA service to enroll in school, nor leaving VISTA service to obtain or to engage in employment, makes a member eligible for a prorated end-of-service award.  Similarly, a VISTA member’s dissatisfaction with the VISTA project or program does not make the member eligible for a prorated end-of-service award. Additionally, absent a showing of a compelling personal circumstance, termination for lack of suitable assignment does not make a VISTA member eligible for a prorated end-of-service award.
 
Generally, members have the responsibility for demonstrating a compelling personal circumstance that prevents them from completing their term of service. Members must communicate and provide documentation of these circumstances to the CNCS State Office for a determination. In the case of early terminations that result from conditions attributable to the project and not the AmeriCorps VISTA member, depending on the circumstances, the member may not need to provide documentation.

Types of Acceptable Documentation to Show a Compelling Personal Circumstance

  • Serious medical condition or disability of the VISTA – Documentation from the treating physician or other medical provider that indicates the VISTA member is unable to continue to serve because of a serious medical condition or a disabling condition. Documentation must be on official letterhead and include the medical provider's contact information. 
  • Critical illness or disability of an immediate family member – Documentation from the treating physician or other medical provider that indicates an immediate family member has a critical illness or disabling condition. Documentation must be on official letterhead and include the medical provider's contact information.
  • Death of an immediate family member – A copy of the death certificate, reference to a published obituary, or other official written documentation of death (e.g., copy of newspaper article).
  • Fulfilling military service obligations – A copy of the VISTA member's orders to report for military service.
  • Fulfilling jury duty obligations – A copy of the court notice requiring the VISTA member to report, as well as selection, for jury duty.
  • Accepting employment by a member who is a recipient of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families – Documentation from the appropriate government office indicating the VISTA member is a recipient of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), as well as documentation of employment acceptance from the employer.
  • Accepting another AmeriCorps or NCCC position (if the member has served at least 335 days) – Documentation of the VISTA member's acceptance into the AmeriCorps or NCCC program and the training or start date.
  • Accepting a Peace Corps Volunteer position (if VISTA has served at least 335 days) – Documentation of the VISTA's acceptance into Peace Corps and the training or start date.

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Chapter 14: Terms & Conditions of Service

TERMS & CONDITIONS OF SERVICE

The chapter introduces you to other important terms and conditions of VISTA service, such as limitation on activities, expressing views and concerns regarding VISTA service, property loss, responsibility for financial debt, intellectual property created during service, the evacuation policy for VISTA members, and more.

TELESERVICE

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] A fundamental assumption of AmeriCorps VISTA service is that members serve in a low-income community at the sponsor’s location and project site. Under limited circumstances, the CNCS State Office may approve a VISTA member’s request to perform service with a project under a teleservice agreement where they can perform project-related duties from home. Members who request to serve under a teleservice arrangement under the auspices of a reasonable accommodation request are excluded from this policy, as those requests are covered under other laws and policies.
 
Requests for episodic teleservice, not to exceed two days per pay period (a pay period is 14 continuous days), may be considered after a member has been serving satisfactorily at the project site at least three months. Both the supervisor and the CNCS State Office must agree that the following VISTA service requirements are fully satisfied:
  1. The member knows the organization and the people within it well enough to effectively build capacity within the organization
  2. The member lives near and serves the people in the community and knows the community and people sufficiently to serve them well
  3. The member has proven to the sponsor/supervisor to be a reliable team member (punctual, motivated, professional, thorough, etc.)
  4. The member understands that VISTA service is not a 9-5 assignment; that it demands flexibility and availability in one’s schedule
  5. The supervisor acts as a coach and mentor and goes beyond the responsibilities of a supervisor to an employee
  6. The member has access to reliable internet and phone to be able to teleserve and be contacted as needed.
In addition to the prerequisites above, the member’s VISTA Assignment Description (VAD) must lend itself to teleservice by including tasks that can be completed from home. 
 
To apply for an episodic teleservice arrangement, a member must (1) request a Teleservice Checklist form from the State Office; (2) complete the form and obtain the VISTA supervisor’s approval and signature; and (3) submit the form to the State Office. The State Office must also approve the requested teleservice arrangement. A member cannot engage in teleservice unless the member gets the written approval of both the VISTA supervisor and the CNCS State Office. At the discretion of the CNCS State Office, a teleservice arrangement for a member can be revoked at any time, without prior notice.

RULES AND RESTRICTIONS 

As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you are expected to honor your commitment to serve on a full-time basis for one year (in addition to time spent in Pre-Service Orientation).  While members are allowed to seek and secure outside part-time employment, it must not conflict with the VISTA member’s service or service hours as assigned by the sponsor. 
 
Members must remain available for service at all times during the member's term of service, except for periods of approved leave. As a result, you may not be absent from the project without approval from the sponsoring organization or supervisor. 
 
If you take outside employment while serving as a VISTA member, you are not permitted to be an employee of or contractor for the sponsor or sub-site to which you are assigned to serve.  While in VISTA service, you may only accept outside employment for positions that are:
  • Legal;
  • Part-time;
  • Do not conflict with your service or service hours; 
  • Do not violate any applicable Federal, state, or local laws and regulations; and
  • Do not conflict with any AmeriCorps VISTA program requirements or policies.
Before accepting such outside employment, you must obtain the approval of your supervisor. If you are already working in a part-time position, you must immediately obtain the approval of your supervisor to continue to do so.  To approve your outside employment, your supervisor must ensure there is no conflict between the employment and your service or service hours.
 
For more details, please see the Outside Employment Policy Page on the VISTA Campus.  This page includes FAQs and the Outside Employment Request Form.
 
Additionally, individuals may not enroll in another AmeriCorps program while serving with AmeriCorps VISTA.  Concurrent enrollment in another program (AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State/National, etc.) is not permitted.  

ADDITIONAL TERMS OF SERVICE 

Under certain circumstances, a member may extend or reenroll in service beyond one year, for up to five years. You may pursue additional terms of service with your initial project or in another area of interest as a member or Leader. Extensions and reenrollments are subject to CNCS approval. 

EDUCATIONAL COURSES

VISTA members and Leaders may participate in online or in-person classes, regardless of subject matter, during their service year. However, the AmeriCorps VISTA program is a full immersion experience that requires its members to be able to attend community meetings and dedicate themselves to understanding and serving the community to which they are assigned. 
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Course work and class scheduling must not interfere with the operations of the VISTA project or your responsibilities. You and your supervisor will need to determine whether or not course requirements detract from your commitment to the VISTA project. If you enrolled in a class(es) before you became a VISTA, discuss your study plan right away with your supervisor and make sure that the class(es) will not interfere with your project. Enrollment in courses without prior authorization from your supervisor is cause for termination.
 
Service to the sponsoring organization and community takes precedence over course work. If a VISTA member or Leader is unable to complete assigned tasks or responsibilities due to course work, the supervisor will contact the CNCS State Office. If schedules and demands of the sponsoring organization and the course cannot be balanced, the CNCS State Office will direct the VISTA member or Leader to withdraw from the course. Failure to withdraw will be cause for termination from the VISTA program and forfeiture of all benefits.

FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS

A member may participate in scholarship and financial aid programs, provided the program requirements do not interfere with the operations of the VISTA project to which they are assigned or the responsibilities of the VISTA. The VISTA project’s needs supersede any such program requirements.

WORK STUDY, FELLOWSHIP, AND INTERNSHIP PROGRAMS

A VISTA may participate in paid work study, fellowships, and/or internship programs provided the fellowship or program is not in conflict with the duties and other relevant policies of VISTA service.

MEMBER HOUSING

One of the three fundamental assumptions of AmeriCorps VISTA is that the skills and energies of AmeriCorps VISTA members are used most effectively when they live and work with the low-income people they are serving. In keeping with this philosophy, you are expected to secure housing using your living allowance, which is provided to cover the basic costs of food, housing, and utilities. You should look for housing within the community to which you are assigned. Because members' living allowances are limited, you are allowed to accept offers of free or low-cost housing made by community members, local organizations, educational institutions, or sponsoring organizations.
 
Some examples of housing that you may accept include:
  • A community resident offers unused free housing space to you because he or she is proud to have an AmeriCorps VISTA member in the community.
  • A local business wants to offer a vacant apartment over the shop area.
  • A national housing company offers reduced-rate housing for volunteers who are serving in a given community and you meet the eligibility requirements.
  • A local, state, or federal government agency provides free or low-cost housing in areas with limited housing opportunities.
  • A sponsoring organization rents housing space on your behalf.
  • A sponsoring organization allows you to occupy a portion of existing space the sponsor already owns or rents.
Under no circumstances may you accept money directly from a sponsoring organization to supplement your living allowance or pay for rent or mortgage.  All housing support must be paid directly to the landlord, leasing agent, or mortgage holder.
 
Accepting free or reduced-cost housing may increase the amount of your reportable income for tax purposes.  If you receive housing assistance you may receive a 1099 form to aid you in reporting this on your tax return.
 
You are also fully responsible for any legal or financial issues with your landlord (e.g., the project closes and you owe money on your lease).
 
 

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EXPRESSING YOUR VIEWS AND CONCERNS REGARDING SERVICE

There are procedures that allow for systematic and open communication of your views, and for effective resolution of your concerns regarding the terms and conditions of your AmeriCorps VISTA service.

INFORMAL PROCEDURE

CNCS provides for:
  • A free and open opportunity for you to communicate your views to appropriate CNCS officials
  • An opportunity for you to be heard in connection with the terms and conditions of your service
  • Response to and possible resolution of your problems or concerns by appropriate CNCS officials
If you believe your concerns regarding the terms and conditions of service have not been properly addressed, you may communicate those concerns directly to your CNCS State Office which can be found here: https://www.nationalservice.gov/about/contact-us/state-offices

AMERICORPS VISTA GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE

During your service, a circumstance may arise that directly affects your service situation or that you believe violates regulations governing the terms and conditions of service, resulting in a denial or infringement of a right or benefit to you. In such a circumstance, you may file a grievance.
 
The member grievance procedure is contained in 45 CFR Part 2556. You should read the procedure in its entirety before initiating any grievance. Under this procedure, you are not permitted to grieve matters for which a separate administrative procedure (e.g., discrimination complaints as discussed in Chapter 15) is provided. Consequently, you may not grieve matters that are processed through the Volunteer Discrimination Complaint Procedure, which is contained in 45 CFR Part 1225 Subpart B.

PROPERTY LOSS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] VISTA members, Leaders, and candidates are responsible for safeguarding their personal property. Neither CNCS nor the VISTA program is an insurer of personal property or cash and does not replace or reimburse for the loss of personal property or cash. 
 
CNCS does not insure personal property; however, it can reimburse AmeriCorps VISTA members for lost, damaged, or stolen property under certain circumstances and for limited amounts. You are strongly urged not to take expensive property to assignments and to maintain your own insurance against property loss and damage during your service.
 
If essential belongings are lost, you will be reimbursed only with sufficient funds to obtain replacement items adequate to function on your assignment. For example, if you lose expensive items in your wardrobe, reimbursement is based on the cost of replacing the items with clothing suitable for the project assignment. No reimbursement is made for luxury items, such as photographic or electronic equipment, unless they are deemed essential to your assignment.
 
If you suffer a loss, the CNCS State Office requires a written statement, signed and dated by you, that:
  • Describes in detail the circumstances surrounding the loss.
  • Itemizes the property or allowance lost.
  • Explains why the property or allowance is essential to your ability to serve effectively.
  • Indicates whether or not the property or allowance was covered by insurance.
    • If the property or allowance was covered by insurance, includes the policy number (if known), whether and when a claim has been presented to the insurer, and the action, if any, the insurer has taken with respect to the claim.
  • States that you agree to reimburse CNCS for any such recovery of replaced property or payments received in reimbursement.
  • Provides evidence, in the case of theft, that such theft has been reported to the appropriate law enforcement authorities. Such evidence should include a copy of the police report. Lost or stolen allowance checks are not covered by these procedures. Please refer to Chapter 5’s guidance related to payment by paper check for the specific policy dealing with lost checks.

 

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OTHER MATTERS WHILE IN SERVICE

RESPONSIBILITY FOR FINANCIAL DEBTS

CNCS is not responsible for debts incurred by you to commercial creditors, regardless of when you incur a debt. CNCS has no authority to act as an intermediary to collect private debts on behalf of a creditor or claimant, nor does CNCS have the authority to direct you to take specific action concerning your financial affairs.
 
You are encouraged to pay all legal debts promptly to avoid a situation that would impair your ability to effectively complete your term of service. In cases of continued financial irresponsibility to the extent of embarrassment or adverse reflection upon the sponsoring organization's project or the AmeriCorps VISTA program, CNCS may take administrative or disciplinary action up to and including termination.
 
Neither you nor the sponsoring organization is authorized to obtain extension of credit by representing yourself as an employee of the federal government. CNCS also assumes no financial responsibility for a nonmember spouse or for dependents.

KEEPING IN TOUCH

Change of Address Notification

If your contact information changes (phone number, email, mailing address), you must update your profile on your Member Homepage in your my.americorps.gov account immediately to ensure timely delivery of correspondence and tax documents.

Change of Name Notification

The CNCS State Office and the VISTA Member Support Unit should be notified in writing via the National Service Hotline of a change in your name or marital status for record keeping. Legal documentation of the name change (marriage certificate, divorce decree, name change form) is required.  Documentation should be provided to the National Service Hotline via fax (703-206-7276) and include a cover page with full name, NSPID and contact information.

Disclosure and Use of Member Addresses

CNCS will use members' private addresses for internal administrative purposes only. Your private address (home of record or residence during service) may be disclosed by CNCS with your prior written permission, or to duly authorized representatives of federal investigative agencies, including CNCS's Office of Inspector General, and pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.
 
The mailing address of AmeriCorps VISTA projects are public knowledge and may be disclosed when requested.

SUPPLIES AND EQUIPEMENT

Because it is the policy of CNCS to encourage self-help and mobilization of resources, CNCS does not provide equipment or supplies required by members in their project assignment. If special equipment or supplies are necessary to successfully implement a project, they must be provided by the sponsoring organization.

DONATED AND OTHER GIFTS TO BENEFIT THE PROJECT

CNCS does not pay shipping costs for gifts or materials that have been donated or obtained by you to benefit the project to which you are assigned. Such costs should be borne by the sponsoring organization.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY CREATED DURING SERVICE

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] You have the right to copyright work that is subject to copyright, including software designs, training manuals, curricula, videotapes, and other products created by you while serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. You may not sell any work, however, that includes an AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, or other CNCS logo without prior written approval of CNCS. By enrolling in AmeriCorps VISTA, with regard to products created by you while serving as a VISTA member, you agree to give CNCS and the sponsoring organization an unlimited, royalty-free, nonexclusive, and irrevocable license to obtain, use, reproduce, publish, or disseminate products, including data produced for the sponsoring organization, and you agree to authorize others to do so. CNCS may distribute such products through a designated clearinghouse.

EVACUATION POLICY FOR AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBERS

If an emergency situation arises in your area of service that poses a potential or actual threat to life or property, such as a natural disaster, you are expected to abide by the evacuation policy for AmeriCorps VISTA members:
  • Follow the orders or recommendations of the state and local governments regarding the need to evacuate an area.
  • Seek safe haven (evacuation shelters, etc.) and contact the CNCS State Office and your project supervisor to notify them of your whereabouts within 48 hours. If the CNCS State Office cannot be reached, contact the National Service Hotline at 800-942-2677; identify yourself, your project, your current location, and how best to contact you.
  • If after five days you cannot return to your project site:
    • Contact the CNCS State Office to confirm the state of emergency. If the state office cannot be contacted, return to your home of record, and call the National Service Hotline at 800-942-2677, to inform CNCS of your return home. If your home of record is in the affected community, remain in the safe haven. If the state office foresees the possibility of you returning to your site within a work week, it may request you to remain in safe haven, provided you are secure.
    • Unless otherwise directed by the CNCS State Office, you are placed in administrative hold and you continue to receive a living allowance for 30 days. You may seek an assignment at another project in another area through a request to the CNCS State Office. If after 30 days, your original project site remains closed, and no other assignment has been identified, then your service is terminated for compelling reasons.
  • An advance for emergency expenses, including return to home of record, up to $500, is available from your sponsoring organization. If funds are not available, contact the CNCS State Office. If the state office cannot be reached and you need to request an advance for travel, call the National Service Hotline at 800-942-2677, for assistance. Remember to keep the receipts to verify your emergency travel expenditures.

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Chapter 15: Basic Laws & Federal Regulations

 

BASIC LAWS & FEDERAL REGULATIONS

CNCS is a federal agency in the Executive Branch of the U.S. government. The following federal laws and regulations must be carried out by CNCS, and followed by AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations, accordingly. As a VISTA member, you are required to follow these laws and regulations and are afforded certain legal protections provided by them.
 
 

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ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS: AGE & CITIZENSHIP

You may apply to serve as a VISTA as long as you will be at least 18 years old when you take the oath of service. There is no upper age limit and many retired individuals have fond memories of serving with VISTA.  

To serve in an AmeriCorps VISTA position, individuals must be US citizens, US nationals, lawful permanent residents, or persons legally residing in a state.  Persons legally residing in a state include those having the following legal residency classifications:

  • Refugee status
  • Asylum or Asylee status
  • Temporary protected status
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Prior to attending training or starting service, you may be requested to submit documentation verifying that you are either a United States citizen, a United States national, or a person legally residing within a state. Your CNCS State Office will provide instructions.  To be eligible to serve as AmeriCorps VISTA members, all non-U.S. citizens must have a permanent resident visa (e.g., green card) or other indication of eligible status.
 
By law, only VISTA members who are either: US citizens; US nationals; or lawful permanent resident aliens (sometimes referred to as “lawful permanent residents”), are eligible to receive an AmeriCorps Segal Education Award in lieu of an end-of-service cash stipend. Persons legally residing in a state – but who are not US citizens, US nationals, or lawful permanent residents – are only eligible to receive an end-of-service cash stipend.
 
See 45 C.F.R. Part 2556 for more information regarding these basic eligibility requirements.
 
 

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OATH OF SERVICE

Upon enrollment in AmeriCorps VISTA service, you must take an oath as set forth in 5 U.S.C. § 3331. If you legally reside in a state but are not a citizen or national of the United States, you may serve in AmeriCorps VISTA without taking or subscribing to the oath, if CNCS determines that your service will further the interest of the United States. In such a case, you will be required to take an alternative oath or affirmation.
 
 

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CIVIL RIGHTS AND NON-DISCRIMINATION

GOVERNING FEDERAL LAWS AND ORDERS

As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, a number of federal laws protect your civil rights. These laws prohibit discrimination in programs and activities where you serve-that is, programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from CNCS. The laws prohibit:
  • Discrimination based on race, color, or national origin (Title VI of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 [42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d et seq.])
  • Discrimination based on sex (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 [20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.])
  • Discrimination based on disability (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 [29 U.S.C. §§ 791 et seq.])
  • Age Discrimination (Age Discrimination Act of 1975 [42 U.S.C. §§ 6101 et seq.])
  • Discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, religion, or political affiliation (Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973 [42 U.S.C. § 5057])
Presidential Executive Order 13160 (June 23, 2000) also prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, sexual orientation, and parental status in federally conducted education and training programs, such as AmeriCorps VISTA training conducted by CNCS.
 
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, mentioned above, requires sponsoring organizations to make their programs and facilities accessible to persons with disabilities, be they AmeriCorps VISTA members, beneficiaries employees, or the general public. Accessibility includes the physical accessibility of buildings (including buildings where public meetings are held), public information dissemination (for the sight, hearing, or mentally impaired), and workplace accessibility. This law also requires sponsoring organizations to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified members, beneficiaries, employees, or members of the public. CNCS regulations that deal with section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are contained in 45 CFR Part 1232.
 
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), mentioned above, also requires sponsoring organizations to eliminate, to the maximum extent possible, English proficiency as an artificial barrier to full and meaningful participation by beneficiaries, AmeriCorps VISTA members, and members of the public in federally assisted programs.
 
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), also mentioned above, requires sponsoring organizations to eliminate (with certain exceptions) sex discrimination in their education programs and activities, regardless of whether or not a sponsoring organization is itself an educational institution.
 
In addition, as set forth in the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973 (DVSA), mentioned above, for a sponsoring organization to be extended federal financial assistance, it must make and comply with all non-discrimination assurances in the grant, contract, or agreement authorizing the federal financial assistance. The sponsoring organization must specifically assure that no person with responsibilities for the operation of the organization will discriminate with respect to the program because of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, or political affiliation. CNCS monitors continued compliance with these assurances.

Title VI Filing

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Any AmeriCorps VISTA applicant, trainee, or member, or other program beneficiary, who believes he/she has been discriminated against, based on race, color, or national origin in the services provided by an AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization may file a discrimination complaint with CNCS under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) procedures. Title VI also prohibits AmeriCorps VISTA program beneficiaries, based on race, color, or national origin, from being excluded by sponsoring organizations from participation in an AmeriCorps VISTA program. Under Title VI, program beneficiaries are also prohibited from being denied the benefits, from sponsoring organizations, of AmeriCorps VISTA programs because of race, color, or national origin. Finally, under Title VI program beneficiaries are prohibited from being subjected to discrimination by sponsoring organizations because of race, color, or national origin. (42 U.S.C. §2000d)
 
Therefore, any AmeriCorps VISTA applicant, trainee, or member, or other program beneficiary, who believes he/she has been subjected to discrimination by a sponsoring organization, in violation of Title VI, may file a written complaint with CNCS's Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) or the Chief Executive Officer of CNCS using the procedures set forth in 45 CFR 1225, Subpart B, "Nondiscrimination in federally assisted programs-effectuation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

Title IX Filing

Title IX prohibits AmeriCorps VISTA program beneficiaries from being denied the benefits of, or being subject to discrimination under, any education program or activity operated by a sponsoring organization because of their sex (20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.) Any applicant, trainee, or member, or other program beneficiary, who believes he/she has been discriminated against, because of sex, in any education program or activity provided by an AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization may file a discrimination complaint with CNCS by filing a written complaint with CNCS's Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) or the Chief Executive Officer of CNCS using the procedures set forth in 45 CFR Part 1225, Subpart B, "Nondiscrimination in federally assisted programs effectuation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." The same procedures used for filing a complaint under Title VI (see above) are used for filing a complaint under Title IX.

DVSA Filing

The Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973 (DVSA) prohibits discrimination in the recruitment, selection, placement, service, or termination of any AmeriCorps VISTA applicant, trainee, member, or other program beneficiary, because of race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, disability, or political affiliation. If you believe you have been subject to any such discrimination, you may file a discrimination complaint with CNCS. Any such person may use the discrimination complaint procedures set forth in 45 CFR Part 1225, Subpart B.

PROHIBITION AGAINST HARASSMENT

As discussed above, the federal laws governing AmeriCorps VISTA members strictly prohibit harassment in sponsoring organization programs and activities. Harassment may be a form of legally prohibited discrimination; regardless, it is always unacceptable.
 
CNCS is committed to the notion that all persons serving in the AmeriCorps VISTA program be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of non-merit factors such as race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, political affiliation, marital or parental status, or military service. To that end, CNCS is committed to sponsoring organization environments and service sites being free of sexual, racial, ethnic, religious, or other harassment.
 
Slurs and other verbal or physical conduct relating to an individual's sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or any other non-merit basis constitute harassment when it has the purpose or effect of interfering with service performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive service environment. Harassment includes, but is not limited to:
  • Explicit or implicit demands for sexual favors
  • Pressure for dates; deliberate touching, leaning over, or cornering; offensive teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions
  • Letters, phone calls, or distribution or display of offensive materials
  • Offensive looks or gestures; gender, racial, ethnic, or religious baiting; physical assaults or other threatening behavior
  • Demeaning, debasing, and abusive comments or actions that intimidate; the comments or actions must be unwelcome
Harassment may be by persons of the same or different races, sexes, religions, or ethnic origins. It may be carried out by another service member, a sponsoring organization staff member, a project or site employee or supervisor, or another program beneficiary such as a client. Conduct directed at one member may create an offensive environment for other members.
 
It is also unlawful for a sponsoring organization to retaliate against an AmeriCorps VISTA member who complains of harassment, regardless of whether or not the sponsoring organization believes the underlying complaint is valid. It is also unlawful for a sponsoring organization to retaliate against a member who testifies or participates in any way in a harassment investigation, proceeding, or litigation.
 
When investigating allegations of sexual and other illegal harassment, the whole record is reviewed. The circumstances, such as the nature of the comments or actions, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred are considered and a determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.
 
It is helpful for a victim of harassment to inform the harasser directly and immediately that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. If the victim is an AmeriCorps VISTA member, the member should use any appropriate complaint mechanism or grievance system available, as discussed above and below.

DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT PROCEDURES

It is advisable for an AmeriCorps VISTA member who believes he/she may be a victim of discrimination or harassment as described above to first bring it to the attention of his/her sponsoring organization. If, because of the circumstances, it is not possible to do so, the member should contact the CNCS State Office or the Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) at CNCS Headquarters in Washington, DC. Claims not brought to the attention of EOP within 45 days of their occurrence may not be accepted in a formal complaint of discrimination. No one can be required to use a program, project, or sponsor dispute resolution procedure before contacting EOP, and if another procedure is used, it does not affect the 45-day time limit. EOP may be reached at (202) 606-7503 (voice), (301) 577-7134 (TTY), or eo@cns.gov.
 
 

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LIMITATION ON MEMBER ACTIVITIES AND DUTIES

CNCS GUIDELINES ON SERVICE OF MEMBERS IN RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS OR ACTIVITIES

CNCS acknowledges that religious activities play a positive role in healthy communities, that religion is a defining characteristic of many community organizations (faith-based and secular), and that religious-based belief and action are central to many AmeriCorps VISTA members' lives.
 
It is important, however, that AmeriCorps VISTA programs and their members do not endorse or promote, or appear to endorse or promote, religion or a specific religious belief. Consequently, we impose a number of limitations on activities that AmeriCorps VISTA programs can support and in which members can engage while serving, or when otherwise representing, AmeriCorps VISTA. AmeriCorps VISTA members are free to pursue these activities on their own initiative on non- AmeriCorps VISTA time, and using non-AmeriCorps VISTA funds or resources. The AmeriCorps VISTA logo should not be worn while doing so. These limitations are:
  • Members may not give religious instruction, conduct worship services, or engage in any other religious activity as part of their AmeriCorps VISTA duties or would be perceived as part of their duties by members of the community in which they serve.
  • No religious instruction, worship, proselytizing, or other religious activity may be conducted as part of a project to which members are assigned or referred. Textbooks and other materials used in connection with the project should not have religious or sectarian content.
  • Members who serve in an institution that gives religious instruction or engages in other religious activities may not be used as replacements for regular personnel of the institution. For example, members assigned to serve in a program conducted under the auspices of a church-related school may not be used as substitutes for regular teachers in the school. They may work on new programs, however, that are carried on in addition to the school's regular programs and that are conducted in conformance with these rules.
  • The opportunity to receive the benefits of any project in which members serve will be open to persons in need without regard to their religious affiliation. Admission to programs supported by AmeriCorps VISTA shall not be based directly or indirectly on religious affiliation or on attendance at a church, church-related school, or other church-related institution or organization. The availability of the project's benefits to all needy persons in the area served will be publicized.
  • Participation in an AmeriCorps VISTA project, by members or recipients, shall not be used as a means to induce participation in sectarian or religious activities.

LIMITATION ON POLITICAL ACTIVITIES

AmeriCorps VISTA members, as well as AmeriCorps VISTA programs and projects, are subject to certain restrictions related to their engagement in political activities. Such political activities are classified as either: (1) engaging in electoral activities; (2) engaging in lobbying; or (3) participating in demonstrations.

Engaging in Electoral Activities

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] AmeriCorps VISTA members may participate in electoral activities to the extent the activities are allowed under a federal law called the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. Chapter 73. The Hatch Act defines the rules and restrictions on political activities in which federal workers may engage. The Domestic Volunteer Service Act, at 42 U.S.C. § 5055, applies the Hatch Act to AmeriCorps VISTA members during their service.
 
The Hatch Act applies to all AmeriCorps VISTA members, whether they serve full-time or part-time, at all times during their service, including off duty hours. Permissible activities under the Hatch Act, unless prohibited by other statutory authority, apply to members when they are on authorized leave or are not perceived to be performing as an AmeriCorps VISTA member (e.g., while not actually, or perceived as, performing service, or off duty service time).
 
Under the Hatch Act, during off duty service time, AmeriCorps VISTA members may engage in certain political activities, as follows:
  • May be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections
  • May register and vote as they choose
  • May assist in voter registration drives
  • May express opinions about candidates and issues
  • May contribute money to political organizations
  • May attend political fundraising functions
  • May attend and be active at political rallies and meetings
  • May join and be an active member of a political party or club
  • May sign nominating petitions
  • May campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances
  • May campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
  • May make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections
  • May distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
  • May hold office in political clubs or parties, including serving as a delegate to a convention
Under the Hatch Act, AmeriCorps VISTA members are prohibited from engaging in the following activities at all times during service, including off duty service time:
  • May not use their official authority or influence, as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, to influence an election
  • May not knowingly solicit or discourage the political activity of any individual or organization that has business before the Corporation for National and Community Service or the AmeriCorps VISTA program (e.g., an AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization or project)
  • May not engage in political activity while in service time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member (e.g., while on duty as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at a sponsoring organization or project)
  • May not engage in political activity while in any office of the AmeriCorps VISTA program (e.g., while at the sponsoring organization or the project)
  • May not engage in political activity while using a vehicle owned or leased by the AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization or project
  • May not be a candidate for public office in a partisan election
  • May not wear political buttons while in service time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member (e.g., while on duty as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at a sponsoring organization or project)
  • May not engage in political activity while wearing an article of clothing, badge, insignia, or other similar item that identifies CNCS or the AmeriCorps VISTA program
Also, AmeriCorps VISTA members generally may not solicit, accept, or receive political contributions, with one rare exception: An AmeriCorps VISTA member may solicit a political contribution from another individual if the request is for a contribution to the multicandidate political committee of a federal labor organization or a federal employee organization, to which both the AmeriCorps VISTA member and the individual belong. Such a solicitation is still prohibited, however, if the member who solicits is an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader and the individual solicited is an AmeriCorps VISTA member.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations and projects may not use funds or personnel in a manner that supports or identifies the AmeriCorps VISTA program with partisan or nonpartisan election activities. Sponsoring organizations and projects also may not use funds or personnel in a manner that supports or results in voter registration activities, or that provides transportation to the polls. Additionally, no AmeriCorps VISTA member or employee of a sponsoring organization may take any action with respect to a partisan or nonpartisan political activity that would result in the identification or apparent identification of the AmeriCorps VISTA program with such activity. The Hatch Act also prohibits AmeriCorps VISTA members from engaging in voter registration activities or providing transportation to the polls during VISTA service hours.

Engaging In Lobbying

Under federal law, AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations may not assign AmeriCorps VISTA members to perform service or engage in activities related to influencing the passage or defeat of legislation, or of legislative proposals or initiatives. Also, AmeriCorps VISTA members are generally prohibited from engaging in such lobbying activities; however, there are two rare exceptions to this prohibition on lobbying:
  • An AmeriCorps VISTA member may draft, review, testify, or make a representation on a legislative measure if the member is asked by a legislative body, a committee of a legislative body, or member of a legislative body.
  • An AmeriCorps VISTA member may draft, review, testify, or make a written representation to a legislative body regarding a legislative measure directly affecting the operation of an AmeriCorps VISTA project or program to which the member is assigned, as long as:
  1. The sponsoring organization notifies the CNCS State Program Director on a quarterly basis of all activity occurring pursuant to this exception; and
  2. The legislative measure related to the funding of the AmeriCorps VISTA project or program affects the existence or basic structure of the project or program.

Participating in Demonstrations

As mentioned above, AmeriCorps VISTA members may participate in political rallies and meetings (i.e., demonstrations) with certain limitations. They may participate in these types of activities only while on authorized leave, or while off-duty or not otherwise engaged in performing AmeriCorps VISTA service. Such activities cannot be related to projects of the sponsoring organizations where the member serves. Moreover, AmeriCorps VISTA members may only participate in such activities to the extent that: (1) the member does not represent or attempt to represent the views of AmeriCorps VISTA members on any public issue; (2) the member's participation could not be reasonably understood by the community as being identified with the AmeriCorps VISTA program, the project, or other elements of his or her service; and (3) the member's participation does not interfere with the performance of his or her duties.
 
No sponsoring organization may approve an AmeriCorps VISTA member's involvement in planning, initiating, participating in, or otherwise aiding or assisting in any demonstration.
 
An AmeriCorps VISTA member must contact the CNCS State Office, and get its permission, before he/she engages in any of the activities—electoral, lobbying, or demonstration—discussed above.

Social Media Use and Prohibited Political Activities 

Generally, as part of your official duties, members and sponsor/grant-funded staff may design, launch, and operate social media sites on behalf of the sponsor organization. Moreover, they may communicate about official program and project-related activities associated with the project. However, members and sponsor/grant-funded staff are strictly prohibited from engaging in the following types of communications on social media as part of their service or grant-funded activity:
  • Lobbying Activities – attempting to influence the passage or defeat of legislation or proposals by initiative petition;
  • Electoral Political Activities – engaging in partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to a public office;
  • Other Political Activities – participating in, or endorsing, events or activities that are likely to include advocacy for or against political parties, political platforms, political candidates, proposed legislation, or elected officials;
  • Organizing Activities – assisting, promoting, or deterring union organization, or organizing or engaging in protests, petitions, boycotts, or strikes; and
  • Voter Registration Activities – conducting a voter registration drive, or discussing options regarding transportation to the polls. 

LIMITATION ON DISPLACEMENT OF EMPLOYED WORKERS AND IMPAIRMENT OF CONTRACTS FOR SERVICE

AmeriCorps VISTA members are prohibited from performing activities or duties that would otherwise be carried out by employed workers, or would supplant the hiring of, or result in the displacement of, employed workers, or would impair existing contracts for service (45 U.S.C. § 5044).
 
CNCS regulations on non-displacement of employed workers and non-impairment of contracts for service are contained in 45 CFR Part 2556. 

LIMITATION ON RECEIVING ANY COMPENSATION OR OTHER BENEFITS FOR SERVICE OF AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBERS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Agencies or organizations to which AmeriCorps VISTA members are assigned, or which operate or supervise an AmeriCorps VISTA project, are prohibited from requesting or receiving any compensation from members, or from those who benefit from the services that members provide (42 U.S.C. § 5044). In addition, it is the policy of AmeriCorps VISTA that members not accept any benefit from the sponsoring organization or the community served through their AmeriCorps VISTA assignments, unless otherwise permitted by CNCS policy (such as housing, transportation, bus passes, and training materials and tools). Members are expected to serve the community, not themselves.
 
Cash or in-kind contributions to an AmeriCorps VISTA project, provided under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding between the primary AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization and another participating agency, is not considered compensation for member services. CNCS must, however, review and concur in all such Memoranda of Understanding prior to implementation.

LIMITATION ON LABOR OR ANTI-LABOR ACTIVITY

CNCS funds must not be used, directly or indirectly, to finance labor or anti-labor organizations or related activities (42 U.S.C. § 5044). Consequently, an AmeriCorps VISTA member must not be assigned to activities or duties that assist, directly or indirectly, any labor or anti-labor organizing activity or related activity.

PROHIBITION ON NEPOTISM

To avoid actual or apparent favoritism in the operation of a VISTA project, the AmeriCorps VISTA program prohibits certain VISTA placement and assignment arrangements, as follows.

VISTA Members

A VISTA sponsoring organization may operate a VISTA project out of a single project site, or multiple sites. When a “project site” is referenced, the prohibited arrangement is limited to that particular site, rather than a project as a whole. A VISTA member cannot be placed or assigned to a VISTA project site if the VISTA is:
  • In the immediate family (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, parent or guardian whether by blood or adoption, child whether by blood or adoption) of a project site staff member or a project site’s board of directors
  • A close relative, whether by blood or adoption, (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin) of a project site staff member or a project site’s board of directors

VISTA Project Supervisory Employees

A project site employee is prohibited from holding a VISTA project supervisory position, if she/he is:
  • In the immediate family (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, parent or guardian whether by blood or adoption, child whether by blood or adoption) of any CNCS program official responsible for the AmeriCorps VISTA project or any project site employee who holds supervisory authority over him/her
  • A close relative, whether by blood or adoption, (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin) of any CNCS program official responsible for the AmeriCorps VISTA project or any project site employee who holds supervisory authority over him/her

LIMITATION ON AMERICORPS VISTA FRATERNIZATION

Relationships between AmeriCorps VISTA members and staff members (including volunteer and contracted personnel) of CNCS, sponsoring organization1, and project site that are exploitive or that have the appearance of partiality, preferential treatment, or the improper use of position for personal gain, are prejudicial to the morale of AmeriCorps VISTA members and will not be tolerated.
 
Inappropriate relationships between AmeriCorps VISTA members and the aforementioned staff members are prohibited. Inappropriate relationships are those that compromise, or appear to compromise, supervisory authority or could result in preferential treatment. Relationships are prohibited if they appear to involve the improper use of rank or position for personal gain.
 
You must avoid nonprofessional relationships with other AmeriCorps VISTA members or staff members that create real or perceived conflicts of interest, discord, or distractions that interfere with other members' productivity, or potentially could result in charges of sexual harassment. These problems are serious in situations in which one person has authority over another.
 
Nonprofessional relationships between members and the aforementioned staff include, but are not limited to:
  • Intimate/sexual relationships
  • Borrowing or lending money, automobiles, or other personal property
  • Engaging in financial or business dealings, or acting as an agent or sponsor with any commercial services
  • Allowing services to be performed (compensated or uncompensated) that have no reasonable connection with AmeriCorps VISTA activities
  • Gambling for goods, services, or money
  • Any activity and/or relationship that, in the judgment of the CNCS State Program Director, may be reasonably perceived to undermine discipline, good order, and/or morale
  • Socializing that might lead to the perception of a relationship or overtures to activities listed above
Inappropriate relations include, but are not limited to:
  • Nonprofessional relationships between a CNCS State Office staff member assigned to monitor or oversee a project, and an AmeriCorps VISTA member or Leader of that project
  • Nonprofessional relationships between an AmeriCorps VISTA supervisor and an AmeriCorps VISTA member the supervisor oversees
  • Nonprofessional relationships between an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader and an AmeriCorps VISTA member the Leader guides. Such relationships are strictly prohibited. Violators may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including removal
 

[1] A VISTA sponsoring organization may operate a VISTA project out of a single project site, or multiple sites. When a “project site” is referenced, the prohibited arrangement is limited to that particular site, rather than a project as a whole.
 
 

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PROTECTION OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE BENEFITS WHILE SERVING IN AMERICORPS VISTA

AmeriCorps VISTA members who are eligible to receive assistance or services (i.e., benefits) under any governmental program (e.g., Temporary Aid to Needy Families [TANF], Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income) prior to enrollment as a member or who are receiving such assistance or services during AmeriCorps VISTA service shall not be denied such benefits or given a decreased benefit because of the member's failure or refusal to register for, seek, or accept employment or training during the period of service. This protection of benefits, provided at 42 U.S.C. § 5044, applies to any governmental program, including federal, state, and local programs.

INCOME EXCLUSION OF AmeriCorps VISTA ALLOWANCES FROM BENEFIT CALCULATIONS UNDER GOVERNMENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Payments received by AmeriCorps VISTA members (including living allowances) shall not in any way reduce or eliminate the level of, or eligibility for, assistance or services that any AmeriCorps VISTA member may be receiving or is eligible to receive under any federal, state, or local governmental assistance program. This statutory provision is designed to ensure that persons, and families of persons, receiving assistance or services under any federal, state, or local governmental program before entering AmeriCorps VISTA service do not lose benefits, or have benefits reduced, as a result of their service.
 
For example, persons who were receiving public assistance benefits before entering AmeriCorps VISTA service will not have their allowances considered in determining whether they are still eligible for benefits for their dependents. In addition, the Domestic Volunteer Service Act clearly states that the same treatment be given to any benefits for which AmeriCorps VISTA members were eligible, although not actually receiving, prior to their service (42 U.S.C. § 5044). This provision does not apply to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps. (see below).
 
This provision also applies to persons who become eligible for assistance or services while serving as AmeriCorps VISTA members (e.g., a member reaches the age of 65 while serving and becomes eligible for Social Security benefits). AmeriCorps VISTA income shall not be counted in determining eligibility for, or the level of, Social Security retirement benefits.
 
 

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PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS AND BENEFITS

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps

The Department of Agriculture administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps. Department of Agriculture regulations state that AmeriCorps VISTA members who were receiving SNAP benefits before joining AmeriCorps VISTA will not have their benefit allotment reduced or eliminated as a result of their allowances. However, members not receiving SNAP benefits before joining AmeriCorps VISTA will have their allowances counted as income for purposes of determining their level of SNAP benefit eligibility. Members may be held responsible for SNAP overpayments. Carefully check your allotments to ensure that you are not given SNAP benefits for which you are not eligible. If you apply for SNAP after you become an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you will have a decreased SNAP allotment. Department of Agriculture Food Stamp Regulations pertaining to AmeriCorps VISTA income exclusion are contained in the 7 CFR § 273.9(c)(10)(iii).

Women, Infants, and Children Program

The Department of Agriculture also administers the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program. Department of Agriculture regulations on the WIC program that pertain to AmeriCorps VISTA income exclusion are contained in the 7 CFR § 246.7.

Social Security Disability Payments

Under regulations and rulings issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration, neither payments made to, nor the activities performed by, AmeriCorps VISTA members are to be considered in determining the member's continued eligibility for Social Security disability benefits. This policy means that persons receiving disability payments before joining AmeriCorps VISTA may continue to receive benefits during their service regardless of the level of allowances received or the nature of the duties performed.
 
In regulations dealing with Supplemental Security Income for the aged, blind, and disabled, payments to AmeriCorps VISTA members are specifically excluded in determining the resources of an individual (20 CFR § 416.1236(a)(9)).
 
Social Security Administration instructions pertaining to Supplemental Security Income, as well as to the Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program, stipulate that none of the "substantial gainful activity" tests (e.g., earnings, comparability of work activity, or worth of work activity) is to be applied to AmeriCorps VISTA activity performed under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act (POMS DI 10505.025B2). Similar language is also contained in Social Security Ruling 84-24, Titles II and XVI: "Determination of Substantial Gainful Activity for Persons Working in Special Circumstances-Work Therapy Programs in Military Service-Work Activity in Certain Government-Sponsored Programs."

Veterans Benefits

Under regulations issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 38, sections 3.261 and 3.262, compensation or reimbursement received by AmeriCorps VISTA members will be excluded from income in claims for compensation, pension, dependency, and indemnity compensation.

Housing Assistance Programs

In accordance with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Notice of Federally Mandated Exclusions from income, payments to AmeriCorps VISTA members cannot be considered as income for the purpose of determining income eligibility for Section 8 housing programs and other federally subsidized housing.

WELFARE REFORM LAW

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, Public Law 104-193 is a federal welfare reform law. This law affects, in a number of ways, AmeriCorps VISTA members who are eligible for or receive welfare even though the income disregard provisions of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act, discussed above, are in effect. AmeriCorps VISTA members receiving cash assistance from states should discuss any issues directly with their state (or county) agency worker to discuss whether their AmeriCorps VISTA service will adversely affect their eligibility for cash assistance.
 
The welfare reform law prohibits states from using federal money to keep a family on welfare beyond a five-year cumulative lifetime limit. In each state, however, 20 percent of welfare recipients can be exempted.
 
The Domestic Volunteer Service Act does not affect a state's ability to impose time limits on AmeriCorps VISTA members who currently receive cash assistance. In many states, any cash assistance that members receive from the state while in AmeriCorps VISTA will be counted against the state's time limits.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Within the framework of the welfare reform law, states can impose unique requirements regarding registration for employment or training programs. The federal law allows for a two-year time limit on cash assistance payments before welfare recipients must be working or enrolled in job training or vocational education programs. States, however, can impose even shorter time limits than the two years allowed by federal law.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA members should contact their state (or county) agency welfare workers and inform them that persons who serve in AmeriCorps VISTA are not available for employment or job training programs. In some cases, welfare workers may determine that AmeriCorps VISTA service satisfies the state's requirement for participation in an employment or training program. Welfare workers may determine that AmeriCorps VISTA service is an exemption from any employment or training program.
 
When you are dealing with state or county officials, you should remember to identify yourself as an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act, because the income disregard provisions of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act do not apply to other AmeriCorps programs. Inform your CNCS State Office immediately if you are having difficulties explaining these provisions. Your CNCS State Office can supply you with a letter that explains the income disregard provisions, which can be given to your case worker. Depending on the situation, you may need to seek the assistance of a legal aid attorney to represent you if your payments will be decreased or denied. CNCS is unable to pay for legal assistance, but staff will assist in providing documentation to assist your legal representative.

AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBERS CONSIDERED FEDERAL EMPLOYEES ONLY FOR LIMITED PURPOSES

AmeriCorps VISTA members are regarded as federal employees only for certain purposes under 42 U.S.C. § 5055, including the Hatch Act, the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (worker's compensation), the Federal Tort Claims Act, the IRS Code, and Title II of the Social Security Act. Members are not regarded as federal employees for purposes of unemployment compensation, and allowances received from CNCS are not regarded as wages, except for income tax and Social Security purposes.
 
Moreover, AmeriCorps VISTA members are not employees of sponsoring organizations. Because members serve under the authority of federal statute, their limited employment relationship is with the federal government (discussed above), not the sponsoring organization, and is governed by federal law, not state law. The AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization is not authorized to make contributions to any state unemployment compensation fund on behalf of AmeriCorps VISTA members assigned to the organization.

LIABILITY COVERAGE (FEDERAL TORT CLAIMS ACT)

AmeriCorps VISTA members are considered federal employees for the purpose of coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The federal government assumes liability for any damage to property or injury to persons caused by a member that arises only out of his/her official duties and for which the member would be liable under local law. If any claim is made against a member with respect to an automobile accident or other damage allegedly caused during the course of the member's service activities, the member should immediately report such claim to the project supervisor or sponsoring organization, who in turn will contact the CNCS State Office. Refer to Chapter 7 for procedures to be followed in the event of an accident involving a member.
 
In cases of potential liability on the part of the AmeriCorps VISTA member for damage to property or injury to persons, other than motor vehicle accidents, the sponsoring organization or supervisor must immediately inform the CNCS State Office, which after consultation with CNCS's Office of General Counsel, will advise the sponsoring organization on what steps to take.
 
Members and sponsoring organizations are prohibited from making any statements to other parties to accidents concerning the ultimate liability of the government on a particular claim. Statements concerning responsibility for an accident should only be made to government investigating officers. CNCS's Office of General Counsel or the Department of Justice, if appropriate, will make the final determination as to whether an accident occurred within the scope of the member's project-related activities and the extent of the federal government's liability.
 
Members and sponsoring organizations are expected to give full cooperation to CNCS's Office of General Counsel in obtaining necessary evidence and materials, and to the Department of Justice or United States Attorney in the event any legal action is begun in connection with an accident.
 
During off-duty hours, or in any situation in which members are not engaged in project-related activities, members are as personally liable as any other citizen for any damage or injury they cause.

FEDERAL EMPLOYEES' COMPENSATION ACT

AmeriCorps VISTA members are also considered employees for the purpose of coverage under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA), also known as the Federal Worker's Compensation Act.
 
Under section 415(b) of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, (42 U.S.C. § 5055), AmeriCorps VISTA members who are injured or suffer occupational disease in the course of their AmeriCorps VISTA service may claim and be eligible to receive benefits to cover medical expenses under FECA. FECA is administered not by CNCS, but rather by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Worker's Compensation Programs (OWCP). OWCP, not CNCS, decides whether an AmeriCorps VISTA member should be granted or denied a worker's compensation claim.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

Despite being employees for the limited purposes as noted above, AmeriCorps VISTA members assigned to local sponsoring organizations are not eligible to receive unemployment compensation for their service. AmeriCorps VISTA members are not in an employment relationship with either the federal government or the project sponsoring organization for employment compensation purposes. They are, therefore, not covered by federal or state unemployment compensation during their periods of AmeriCorps VISTA service, or because they served.  

While they serve in the AmeriCorps VISTA program, some AmeriCorps VISTA members may receive unemployment compensation earned during previous employment. That compensation is unrelated to their AmeriCorps VISTA service and is limited to unemployment compensation previously owed to the member. Such compensation cannot be based on continued compensation during service. The authority to continue such unemployment compensation while in the AmeriCorps VISTA program remains with the state unemployment compensation official and not with CNCS. Accepting unemployment compensation that has not been authorized by the governor, or his designee, may result in overpayments, which can be collected by the state.

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CIVIL SERVICE BENEFITS

AmeriCorps VISTA members enrolled for a period of service of at least one year are entitled to the following federal civil service benefits, see 42 U.S.C. § 5055 for additional information.

NON-COMPETITIVE ELIGIBILITY IN FEDERAL CIVIL SERVICE

AmeriCorps VISTA members may be hired as a non-competitive eligible appointee after successfully completing at least one full year of VISTA service. A non-competitive eligibility appointment means that a federal agency may hire a former member by establishing that the individual meets the minimum qualifications for a job, including any written test requirement. If the former member meets the qualification standards, they do not have to compete with the general public to be hired.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA service, however, is not creditable toward the service requirements for career tenure or toward completion of a probationary period. The probationary period begins with the appointment to federal civil service.
 
Non-competitive hiring privileges extend for one year after completion of AmeriCorps VISTA service, except that the employing agency may extend the period for an additional two years for a former member who enters military service, studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in activities that, in the view of the appointing authority, warrant an extension of the one-year limit.
 
As a former AmeriCorps VISTA member, you are not guaranteed a federal civil service job.
 
Civil service openings are limited; obtaining employment will depend on such factors as your ability to locate an agency with a vacancy, your qualifications and suitability for the position, and the agency's interest in hiring you. You must comply with the position announcement instructions and provide the requested applicant information. Information on available federal positions may be obtained from Federal Job Information Centers across the country. These centers are listed in metropolitan area phone directories under "U.S. Government." You can also find federal positions listed at: http://www.usajobs.gov/.
 
To establish non-competitive status, you will need proof of eligibility for job consideration under the special hiring procedures described. You may print a letter that states your non-competitive eligibility from my.americorps.gov after you successfully complete your year of VISTA service.

FEDERAL CIVIL SERVICE CREDIT

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] One of the benefits you receive as a member hired into the federal civil service is that your time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member will be credited toward a pension in the Federal Employees Retirement System, provided you pay a portion of your retirement contribution to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The payment is based upon a statutorily mandated percentage of the stipend payment. The education award, like the stipend, is considered a form of payment. Therefore, AmeriCorps VISTA members who elect the education award also will be required to make the same percentage cash payment to their retirement account as if they had actually received the stipend.
 
The service credit deposit payment should be made within two years of the individual becoming a federal employee. If the payment is delayed for a period greater than two years, interest will be payable. VISTA alumni who become federal employees must contact the Human Resources/Benefits personnel at their current federal agency to initiate the deposit process.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA service may be credited in connection with subsequent federal employment in the same manner as a like period of regular civilian employment by the federal government. AmeriCorps VISTA service will apply toward purposes of determining seniority, reduction in force and layoff rights, leave entitlement, and other rights and privileges based on length of service under laws administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and other laws establishing terms and conditions of service of federal civilian employees.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA service, however, is not credited toward completion of any probationary or trial period, or completion of any service requirement for a career appointment.
 
 

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LEGAL SUPPORT AND REQUEST FOR INFORMATION

LEGAL EXPENSES

CNCS has the discretion to pay expenses incurred in the legal defense of AmeriCorps VISTA members in judicial and administrative proceedings that relate to AmeriCorps VISTA service. These expenses include counsel fees, court costs, bail, and other incidental costs. There is, however, no provision for the payment of attorney fees when members are involved in disputes addressing the denial or decrease of government benefits (see, for example, income disregard disputes under 42 U.S.C. § 5044), AmeriCorps VISTA termination (45 CFR Part 2556), or grievance (45 CFR Part 2556) procedures. CNCS's regulations on payment of member legal expenses are in 45 CFR Part 2556.

THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT (FOIA) AND THE PRIVACY ACT

The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552) gives citizens the right, with certain basic exceptions, to inspect federal records or have access to information maintained by the federal government. CNCS regulations on implementation of the Freedom of Information Act are contained in 45 CFR Part 2507.
 
The Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. § 552a) gives citizens a proprietary right to their records and to control access to information maintained about them, with a few exceptions, by the federal government. This right applies to systems of records that contain personal data and where an individual record can be located by name or an assigned personal identifier. CNCS regulations on implementation of the Privacy Act are contained in 45 CFR Part 2508.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA members may access information regarding the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act through CNCS's Internet site at: http://www.nationalservice.gov.