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. They are not regarded as federal employees for purposes of unemployment compensation, and allowances received from the Corporation are not regarded as wages, except for income tax and Social Security purposes.
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 Corporation 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 Corporation State Office, which after consultation with the Corporation'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. The Corporation'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 the Corporation'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 the Corporation, but rather by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Worker's Compensation Programs (OWCP). OWCP, not the Corporation, decides whether an AmeriCorps VISTA member should be granted or denied a worker's compensation claim.
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 for their periods of AmeriCorps VISTA service. AmeriCorps VISTA members elect a stipend or an Education Award in lieu of unemployment compensation.
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 the Corporation. 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.