Supporting and Supervising VISTA Members

Introduction

Invested and well-equipped supervisors are key to any successful project. When supervisors understand the unique requirements for VISTA members as well as their particular needs and interests, they position themselves to effectively support the individual VISTAs and the project as a whole. VISTA members who feel supported and valued are more committed to their projects and more effective in their service. A successful VISTA/supervisor relationship benefits the entire community: the VISTA member, the supervisor, and the population served. When VISTA members are inspired by a supervisor, their service experience and effectiveness (and sometimes life paths) are enhanced.

Supervision

Supervision ensures that every VISTA has the right conditions and requirements to perform their service, including a full understanding of the project’s mission, goals, and vision, as well as a solid understanding of the community they are serving.

Each VISTA member must be assigned a supervisor who provides in-person direct supervision and support on a day-to-day basis. Supervisors are advised to have weekly one-on-one check-in meetings with their VISTAs.

Project directors—who may also have the role of supervisor—orient and train other supervisors, who are then responsible for knowing and consistently applying all VISTA program rules and policies to all VISTA members. This orientation includes leave time, prohibited activities, and VAD adherence.

Core supervisor responsibilities are the following:

  • Deliver OSOT
  • Consistently apply VISTA policies, project policies, and site policies. Direct any questions about VISTA policies and project policies to the project director, who answers them or escalates them to the CNCS State Office if necessary
  • Support the VISTA to the best of their abilities to meet their project and development goals
  • Ensure that the VISTA member is supported in adhering to the VAD, including providing relevant training and assistance in working toward goals, as well as ensuring the VISTA is not redirected to unrelated or unallowable activities
  • Familiarize key stakeholders, including staff and partners, with the VISTA project
  • Facilitate access to administrative support
  • Document the facts and measures taken to address a performance or conduct issue

 

Core project director responsibilities are the following:

  • Participate in training delivered by CNCS
  • Train supervisors
  • Provide training and technical assistance on project policies
  • Consistently apply VISTA policies and project policies
  • Direct any questions about VISTA policies or procedures to the CNCS State Office
     

If a conflict arises, the first approach should be, to the extent feasible, to address the issue at the project level. If the conflict cannot be resolved at the project level, the project director should promptly contact the CNCS State Office for further support. See the section on Challenges with Members for more information.

Distinctions between VISTA Members and Employees

Although the supervisor provides day-to-day direction and guidance to the VISTA members, the VISTA members are not employees of the sponsor or site. One of the challenges of hosting VISTAs is ensuring that everyone who interacts with them understands they are with your organization for a very specific purpose and not as “general help”.

Some ways in which supervising VISTAs is similar to supervising employees are:

  • VISTAs are expected to act in a professional manner and conduct themselves in accordance with the workplace norms of your organization
  • They are subject to the same or similar working conditions as their colleagues and should be oriented to the organization’s policies and given any standard staff training at the beginning of the service term
  • VISTAs should be included in staff meetings for their department and organization
  • Supervisors should give VISTAs appropriate feedback on their performance
     

Some ways in which supervising VISTAs is different from supervising employees are:

  • VISTAs are national service members, and they commit themselves to serving for one year in the community and to the goals of the assigned project
  • VISTA members are often early in their career and may need extra guidance and support in adjusting to the organization’s workplace norms and establishing professional working habits
  • VISTAs serve for limited benefits and are often interested in cultivating an experience that is meaningful both professionally and personally. They may be interested in more coaching, mentoring, and professional development than the average employee. They also may have a deeper appreciation for recognition from your organization and community. 
  • VISTAs may need extra support integrating into the organization and community quickly and effectively. They need to transition quickly in order to make a difference during their one-year term, and this can be a bigger adjustment for VISTA members who are from outside the community or new to the field in which they are serving.
  • Each VISTA has a specific assignment with a capacity-building focus. Other staff in your organization may not recognize the distinct VISTA function, and supervisors play a key role in helping other staff and partners understand both the nature of VISTA service and each VISTA’s specific assignment. This includes supporting VISTA members in setting and maintaining boundaries when others ask the VISTA to help with activities unrelated to the VAD.
  • VISTAs may be anxious about finances as well as what their next step will be once their service year ends.
  • VISTAs cannot be terminated by the site or sponsor, but the sponsor may request the VISTA member’s removal from the project.
  • Some VISTAs may have years of experience in the workplace and see their service opportunity as a way to transition to a new career field or give back after retiring from employment.

 

VISTAs are also not employees of CNCS, except for very specific purposes.[1] In addition, VISTAs are not, for any purpose, employees of the sponsoring organizations or subrecipient organizations where they are assigned; VISTA members have no legal employment relationship with the sponsoring organization or subrecipient organization. Finally, CNCS retains sole authority for an individual’s selection/admission, replacement, removal, and termination.

Strong supervision of a VISTA member includes the following:

  • Build familiarity with the VISTA member’s VAD
  • Assess a VISTA’s relevant background and skills and consider them when planning for OSOT
  • Learn about the VISTA member’s professional development interests and support them in developing and implementing a plan for professional development that builds skills and knowledge
  • Schedule dedicated weekly one-on-one check-ins
  • Support the VISTA in planning ahead for the end-of-service transition
  • Recognize the contributions and impact of the VISTA member
  • Provide resources and guidance in working with the community

Changes to VISTA Member Supervision

Any change to the supervision plan for a VISTA member needs to be navigated proactively to avoid potential pitfalls for the project. If the VISTA’s supervisor is not available to supervise them full-time—perhaps due to a new position within the organization, a leave of absence, or a departure from the organization—it is critical that the supervisor communicate with the project director about the impending change. The project director should work with the supervisor to identify a new or interim supervisor and train that individual on VISTA and their responsibilities. The project director can also provide extra support to the VISTA members during the transition to ensure they continue to receive effective supervision.

All changes to the project director or supervisor roles should be communicated to the CNCS State Office as early as possible for support through that transition.

Coaching the VISTA Member

Coaching is about performance, action, and strategies that lead to success. Coaching grows from the foundation of good supervision. Some suggested strategies for developing a coaching relationship with VISTA members include:

  • Promoting a culture of ongoing learning and growth
  • Asking open-ended questions and collaborating in problem-solving with VISTA(s)
  • Discussing with your VISTA(s) your conversation style, how you’ll give feedback, and other working agreements
  • Providing actionable, positive feedback when appropriate
  • Being open to hearing VISTA complaints, obstacles, and frustrations without judgment
  • Assisting VISTAs in finding their own solutions to problems
  • Developing protocols for addressing conflict
  • Employing the experiential learning cycle: Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation (see David Kolb’s work on learning styles for details).

Retention

Member retention is important not only for the success of accomplishing the VISTA project’s goals, but also for the VISTA member’s professional development and experience. VISTAs are more likely to serve effectively and complete their service terms when they feel valued at their sites. Some ways that sponsors can ensure their VISTA members feel valued are:

  • Ensuring that all staff understand the VISTA program and the VISTA member role
  • Delivering a strong OSOT (See Planning for On-Site Orientation and Training)
  • Providing regular feedback, direction, and support, including weekly one-on-one check-ins
  • Finding out what VISTAs need to succeed and addressing those needs
  • Helping make life easier by providing supplemental benefits (See Supplemental Benefits)
  • Giving VISTA members ownership of their projects
  • Providing ongoing training and support for professional development (See Ongoing Training)
  • Thanking VISTA members personally and recognizing them publicly

Administrative Support

In addition to the time and attention dedicated to good supervision, sponsors and sites take responsibility for providing administrative support that is central to project success. This support is often categorized as office space, technology, office supplies, and service-related transportation. CNCS does not provide the equipment or supplies required by VISTAs for their assignments. In addition to the equipment and supplies, sponsors and sites are responsible for reimbursing VISTAs for service-related travel or for providing other means of transportation as needed to accomplish their assignments.

Space, Technology, Office Supplies

VISTA members should have access to all materials that are needed to complete their assignments. Examples of these materials include: the use of a computer, printer, Internet access, e-mail access, consumable supplies, telephone, copier, and fax, just as for any staff member. These supplies should be ready and available for VISTA member use on the first day of service.

VISTA members should not be expected to use personal items, technology or otherwise, to complete VISTA service.

Service-Related Transportation

Sponsors and sites are responsible for reimbursing VISTAs for service-related travel, or for providing other means of transportation as needed to accomplish the assignment. The sponsor may require the VISTA member to comply with the sponsoring organization's rules, in addition to complying with all applicable VISTA requirements, when operating a sponsor's vehicle.

Supporting service-related travel can mean making plans for VISTA members to use organization vehicles, reimbursing them for public transportation, or reimbursing them for use of their personally-owned vehicles. Reimbursement for use of a personally-owned vehicle must be at either the federal mileage rate or the mileage rate established by the site for staff. It is important to keep in mind that VISTAs are normally on tight budgets, and they often appreciate when the site can pay for their transportation directly rather than asking for them to pay it out of pocket and request reimbursement, particularly for pricier trips.

Supporting and reimbursing members for service-related travel applies only to transportation necessary to complete the VISTA’s specific assignment, and not to commuting, travel to VISTA-sponsored events, or relocation travel. See VISTA Member Handbook – Service-Related Transportation for greater detail about the topic.

Accidents While Driving for Service-Related Purposes

If a VISTA member is driving for service-related purposes and is involved in an accident, there are important steps that the VISTA and sponsor must follow as outlined in the Emergencies section. Chapter 7 of the VISTA Member Handbook is also a good reference.

Program Budget

Many VISTA projects and assignments do not require a dedicated budget for VISTA members to advance their projects and achieve the objectives, but some do. If the VISTA will build the capacity of a program that requires a particular budget to make progress possible, the sponsor and site are responsible for ensuring that resources are available and the VISTA member has reasonable access to those resources.

Delivering On-Site Orientation and Training

One of the most important roles of a supervisor is to introduce the VISTA members to their new community and help them begin building their identity with the project. Some VISTA members relocate to serve in VISTA.  Settling comfortably into a new community may be one of the most difficult challenges that VISTAs face. This challenge can be addressed by having OSOT that is early and thorough. This is key to a successful year for any VISTA member and project.  

See Planning On-Site Orientation and Training for more information.

Ongoing Training

While VISTA service begins with VMO and OSOT, the training and professional development of VISTA members continues throughout their service term. These opportunities take many forms: formal and informal, group-based and individually-focused, face-to-face, virtual, as well as written.

Ongoing training should address the VISTA members’ needs in carrying out their VAD, take place early enough to make a difference during the service year, and address the VISTAs’ learning styles. Sponsors are responsible for ensuring VISTAs receive the training necessary to complete their assignments. Many VISTA members approach their year of service as a time for professional and personal growth and are interested in maximizing learning opportunities.

Opportunities through the Sponsor

VISTA members and sponsors are encouraged to pursue opportunities that align with the project’s needs and the VISTA’s professional development interests.

Each VISTA member’s OSOT should include conversations with the supervisor about training and professional development interests and priorities. The supervisor can provide key support for the ongoing training of VISTA members in a number of ways, including:

  • Working with VISTAs to assess training needs and develop plans to meet them using individual development plans
  • Recommending organizations that provide relevant courses and training, including professional associations and colleges
  • Supporting participation in appropriate opportunities identified by VISTA members
  • Securing funds from the sponsor’s training and travel budgets to support ongoing training;
  • Advocating for reduced or waived training fees on the VISTA member’s behalf
  • Identifying relevant professional coalitions, groups, and networks for potential membership
  • Making connections to other professionals for networking, informational interviews, and mentoring
  • Suggesting books and strong written sources related to the project’s focus or VISTA member interests
  • Setting up opportunities for VISTAs to shadow the senior leaders with the sponsor or in the community
  • Ensuring that VISTA members are included in trainings the sponsor provides for its staff;
  • Coordinating events tailored to the needs of current VISTAs on the project
  • Creating forums for VISTA members to share experiences and train each other on their projects
  • Plugging VISTAs into national service networks that offer training open to members
  • Connecting VISTA members to VISTA alums to learn about their areas of expertise

Opportunities through VISTA

VISTA provides a variety of opportunities for VISTAs throughout their service terms. The opportunities vary in intensity, ranging from short virtual sessions to multi-day in-person events. Many of these items, and more, are available via the VISTA Campus.

VISTA In-Service Training (IST)

In-Service Training (IST) is a multi-day, in-person training offering sessions on a range of topics relevant for VISTA members across projects and locations. IST is designed for VISTA members in their first few months of service who have a clear understanding of their VISTA assignment and have identified areas for their own professional development.

IST provides VISTA members with concrete information on topics relevant and important to their service, further building the capacity of VISTAs to effectively execute their VADs and successfully complete their service terms. IST addresses common training needs among VISTA members, provides an environment for VISTA members to discuss their projects, and ask questions in person. IST also offers a forum for VISTA members to connect with their peers. The CNCS State Office can provide current information on IST opportunities for VISTAs.

VISTA Online Courses

VISTA offers online courses designed for VISTAs in service. VISTA members can gain access to academic credit recommendations by successfully completing the “Volunteer Mobilization” course or the “Resource Development: Fundraising and Grant Writing” course. VISTA also offers a course entitled “Poverty in Your Community” and one called “Community Engagement”. In these courses, VISTAs complete weekly readings and practical assignments that will inform the work they do and can be applied at the site. VISTA members have a chance to connect with other VISTAs in the course and a facilitator who can help answer questions, give feedback, and offer help. For more information, see the VISTA Campus.

VISTA Webinars

Webinars are offered each month on a variety of topics, and are also recorded and made available on-demand. Topics include volunteer engagement, resource development, outreach and communications, poverty, and tools for VISTA service. Webinars are also available on VISTA benefits, serving effectively, and life after VISTA. For more information, see the VISTA Campus.

VISTA Member Handbook

The VISTA Member Handbook is the program’s primary resource for VISTA members.  Its 15 chapters cover a wide range of topics that are central to a successful service term. Sponsors are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the content. When VISTA members have questions, the VISTA Member Handbook is often the best place to check for information before directing them to the VISTA Member Support Unit.

Civil Rights and Responsibilities

In accordance with federal law and CNCS policies, VISTA members must serve in service environments that are free of discrimination and harassment. CNCS has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or harassment in all national service environments based on any of the following groups: race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. VISTA members should not experience discrimination or harassment as a result of contact with sponsor and subrecipient staff, supervisors, other VISTAs, clients, and volunteers. All sponsoring organizations and subrecipient sites are responsible for ensuring that all VISTA members assigned to them are not subject to discrimination or harassment during their terms of service.

Discrimination

Discrimination is treating people differently because of who they are, where they come from, or the groups they belong to. Discrimination in a VISTA service setting is illegal when it targets a person or group based on such non-merit factors as race, gender, or religion, also known as protected classes. The Corporation for National and Community Service defines protected classes as the following:

  • Race, color, or national origin
  • Sex/gender
  • Disability (physical or mental)
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Political affiliation
  • Gender identity and expression
  • Sexual orientation

Illegal discrimination targets a person or group because of a difference and singles them out for different treatment. It can happen to anyone and may be a one-time occurrence or part of an ongoing pattern.

Harassment

Illegal harassment is severe and/or pervasive verbal or non-verbal communication relating to an individual’s gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, or any other non-merit factor that interferes with a VISTA’s performance and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive service environment. Harassment can consist of spoken or written words, images, or actions and can happen to anyone. It includes but is not limited to:

  • Explicit or implicit demands for sexual favors
  • Pressure for one’s company
  • Unwelcome, persistent letters, phone calls, emails, or other media
  • Distribution or display of offensive material
  • Offensive looks or gestures, physical encroachment, or threatening behavior

Sexual harassment creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive service environment and prevents a VISTA from serving effectively.

Sexual harassment can include, but is not limited to:

  • Spoken words or unspoken actions
  • Annoying or uncomfortable behavior
  • Activity that happens over a period of time

Complaint Procedures

 VISTA members who believe they may be subject to discrimination or harassment as described above are advised to first bring it to the attention of their sponsoring organization, if feasible. If, because of the circumstances, it is not feasible to do so, the VISTA member should contact the Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) at CNCS Headquarters in Washington, DC. EOP is the CNCS program dedicated to and charged with reviewing and investigating claims of discrimination and harassment made by service members, including VISTA members. 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.

Safety

Supervisors and their organizations are responsible for structuring assignments so that the VISTA's health and safety are not jeopardized.  Supervisors must not require VISTA to perform duties that would cause them to sustain injuries.

Member Terms and Conditions

Some activities are prohibited while VISTA members are on duty or perceived to be on duty, while others are limited entirely during a VISTA member’s term of service. It is important for supervisors to not only to be knowledgeable about these terms and conditions but also to communicate that information to the VISTA members.

If a supervisor or sponsor learns about their VISTA member(s) participating in any prohibited activities, they are expected to let the VISTA know that their particular actions are prohibited and that continuing to participate in these activities can result in the VISTA’s removal from the service position. If the activity/behavior persists, the sponsor should contact the CNCS State Office.

See the section on Challenges with Members for more information on addressing prohibited activities.

For more information on VISTA terms and conditions, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Basic Laws & Federal Regulations.

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 VISTA members' lives.

It is important, however, that VISTA projects and their VISTA members do not endorse or promote, or appear to endorse or promote, religion or a specific religious belief. Consequently, CNCS imposes a number of limitations on activities that VISTA projects can support and in which VISTAs can engage while serving, or when otherwise representing VISTA. VISTA members are free to pursue these activities on their own initiative on non-VISTA time, and using non-VISTA funds or resources.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Basic Laws & Federal Regulations.

Limitation on Political Activities [1]

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

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Basic Laws & Federal Regulations.

Limitation on Displacement of Employed Workers and Impairment of Contracts for Service

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.

CNCS regulations on non-displacement of employed workers and non-impairment of contracts for service are contained in 45 CFR Part 2556.150.

Limitation on Receiving Any Compensation or Other Benefits for Service of AmeriCorps VISTA Members

Agencies or organizations to which VISTA members are assigned, or which operate or supervise a VISTA project, are prohibited from requesting or receiving any compensation from VISTA members, or from those who benefit from the services that members provide (42 U.S.C. § 5044). In addition, it is the policy of the VISTA program that VISTA members not accept any benefit from the sponsoring organization or the community served through their VISTA assignments, unless otherwise permitted by CNCS policy (such as housing, transportation, bus passes, and training materials and tools). See the section on Supplemental Benefits for details.

Cash or in-kind contributions to an VISTA project, provided under the terms of a MOU between the primary VISTA-sponsoring organization and another participating agency, is not considered compensation for VISTA member services. CNCS must, however, review and concur in all such MOUs 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, a 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 VISTA program prohibits certain VISTA member placement and assignment arrangements.

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

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 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

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Basic Laws & Federal Regulations.

Limitation on AmeriCorps VISTA Fraternization

Relationships between AmeriCorps VISTA members and staff members (including volunteers and contracted personnel) of CNCS, sponsors, and sites that are exploitive or otherwise inappropriate, or that have the appearance of partiality, preferential treatment, or the improper use of position for personal gain, are prejudicial to the morale of VISTA members and will not be tolerated.

Inappropriate relationships between VISTA members and the aforementioned staff members are prohibited. Inappropriate relationships are those that compromise, or appear to compromise, supervisory authority, impede the ability for VISTA members to perform their duties, or could result in preferential treatment. Relationships are prohibited if they appear to involve the improper use of rank or position for personal gain.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Basic Laws & Federal Regulations.

Limitation on Americorps VISTA Members Considered as Federal Employees[2]

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.

Member Benefits

Strong support requires a basic understanding of the benefits available to VISTA members. Building this knowledge equips supervisors to understand the overall member experience as well as support VISTAs in accessing benefits.

Supervisors are expected to access VISTA member benefits information in the same way members do, via the VISTA Benefits page as well as in the VISTA Member Handbook. This section highlights particular points to be aware of when supervising VISTA members.

Living Allowance

The VISTA program provides a living allowance that enables each VISTA member to live very frugally, like members of the communities they are serving. The allowance is based on poverty rates for a single individual in that county. Current living allowance rates by county are listed here.

The living allowance is paid biweekly and deposited directly into each VISTA member’s bank account. Sponsors should encourage new VISTAs to double-check the account number and routing number they submitted for direct deposit since incorrect information can lead to significant delays in receipt of a living allowance payment.

Federal income tax deductions, if applicable, are withheld from the living allowance. No state, county, or city tax deductions are withheld. VISTA members are responsible for paying the appropriate taxes.

For individuals who are receiving public assistance before starting service, the VISTA living allowance is normally not counted toward their income. See Other Public Benefits for more information.

Leave

All VISTA members are entitled to up to 10 days of personal leave and up to 10 days of medical leave during the course of their yearlong term of service. Supervisors should ensure that VISTAs understand the site and sponsor’s policies and processes for requesting leave and providing notice for unplanned absences. The VISTA must request and receive approval in advance from the sponsor/supervisor for all personal leave, specifying dates of leave requested in accordance with sponsor policy. Leave should not interfere with a VISTA settling-in and becoming oriented to the site, or with closing service and transitioning from the sponsor. In some circumstances, VISTA members are eligible for additional leave. See Emergencies for more information.

VISTAs enjoy the national holidays that are recognized by the sponsor and are given as time off to the sponsor’s personnel. A VISTA must serve on holidays that are not recognized by the VISTA’s sponsoring organization. For example, if the sponsor denotes Veterans Day as a workday for its staff, a VISTA is expected to serve on that day unless the VISTA has requested and received approval to use one day of personal or medical leave.

If a VISTA member’s assigned site is closed due to a weather event, or if the site provides its staff with additional “floating holidays,” “spring breaks,” “summer recesses,” etc., the VISTA member is expected to continue to serve unless authorized to take the time off as part of personal leave or medical leave. In cases where a VISTA member prefers to not use personal leave and instead continue to serve while their assigned site is closed, VISTAs may serve from an alternative service site for a limited duration. The supervisor should seek approval from the CNCS State Office if the VISTA supervisor recommends approval of the VISTA member’s request to serve at an alternative service site.

Details regarding all leave types—i.e., medical, personal, national holiday, benefits during an extension of service, extended medical leave benefits, emergency, military reserve, jury duty, parental—are reviewed in Chapter 9: Leave Benefits of the VISTA Member Handbook.

Relocation Assistance

Individuals who are moving more than 50 miles from their home of record to their service sites are eligible for relocation assistance, including a relocation travel allowance and a settling-in allowance.

The relocation travel allowance is based on the direct mileage between the home of records and the site, up to $1,000, regardless of the mode of transportation used. This allowance should, but may not, cover all expenses incurred. Candidates are notified of the amount in advance by the VMSU and should not book any travel until they get that notice by email. The relocation travel allowance is paid by direct deposit six to eight weeks after the VISTA member begins service and submits their relocation voucher. VISTAs receive the relocation travel allowance a second time when they complete service, for travel back to their home of record.

The settling-in allowance is a one-time payment of $550 intended to cover initial costs such as utility deposits and rental application fees. It is automatically included in the first living allowance payment. Federal taxes are withheld but state and local taxes are not.

When talking with potential candidates, supervisors should ensure they understand that while relocation assistance is provided, the funds will not be deposited until after a new VISTA member has traveled to the site and moved into their new community.

Healthcare Benefits

The AmeriCorps VISTA program offers two healthcare benefits options to members, one for VISTA members who already have health coverage and the other for those who do not. VISTA members are eligible for special enrollment periods of 60 days from their service start and end dates to sign up for health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

VISTA members who maintain health coverage during their service term may enroll in the AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Allowance. This allowance is a reimbursement program that covers out-of-pocket costs associated with healthcare up to a maximum amount. Out-of-pocket expenses may include the annual deductible, coinsurance, copayments, and other charges for qualified medical expenses and limited dental and vision services. The Healthcare Allowance does not cover costs associated with purchasing insurance, costs for non-essential health expenses, or charges associated with dependents or other individuals covered under the health insurance.

VISTA members who do not have healthcare coverage during their term of service are eligible to enroll in the VISTA Health Benefit Plan. The Plan is available to eligible VISTA members at no cost and covers eligible expenses for medical office visits, most lab and x-ray services, limited preventive care (e.g., an annual ob-gyn visit for women), limited dental and vision, medical emergencies, surgical and hospitalization expenses, and certain prescription drug costs. It does not cover pre-existing conditions or care for dependents, including spouses.

In addition to enrolling in one of the health benefit options described above, many VISTA members can access telehealth, sometimes referred to as virtual care, at no cost. Telehealth allows VISTAs to consult with board certified physicians, psychologists, social workers, and professional counselors via phone or video chat, at no cost to the member. Telehealth coverage and availability may vary by state.

Each new VISTA member receives an email inviting them to complete a Member Enrollment Form to select a benefit option. The enrollment deadline is 60 days from the start of VISTA service.

Sponsor may provide supplemental health benefits to VISTAs, but there are some conditions and limits. See Supplemental Benefits for more information.

Childcare Benefits

VISTA members who have children under the age of 13 may qualify for the VISTA program’s childcare benefit. Eligibility is based on total household income and the state income limit. The approved benefit rates will be the child care provider’s rates or the maximum allowable rate in the state in which the child care is being provided (whichever is lesser).

Anyone receiving VISTA child care subsidies cannot receive child care benefits from any other source. Candidates should compare the available state child care benefits to the VISTA child care benefits to determine which program best supports their family before making a decision about child care.

The Benefits Hub on the VISTA Campus contains information about this benefit.

Emergencies

In some circumstances, VISTA members are eligible for additional financial support, including emergency travel and emergency expense allowance.  Please see Managing Member Emergencies for specific guidance.

OTHER LEGAL COVERAGES

Sponsors should also be aware that VISTAs have liability coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act and the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act, also known as the Federal Worker’s Compensation Act. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the federal government assumes liability for any damage to property or injury to persons caused by a member that arises only out of their official duties and for which the member would be liable under local law. Under the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act, members who are injured or suffer occupational disease in the course of their VISTA service may claim and be eligible to receive benefits to cover medical expenses. Forms and processing requirements are covered in Chapter 7 of the VISTA Member Handbook.

See Managing Member Emergencies for more information.

End-of-Service Benefits

Upon successful completion of a year of service, a VISTA member is eligible to receive either the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (education award) or the VISTA end-of-service cash stipend. Each candidate must make a selection in My AmeriCorps before beginning service. (Persons legally residing in a state, but who are not US citizens, US nationals, or lawful permanent resident aliens, are only eligible to receive an end-of-service stipend.) They can switch from the education award to the cash stipend before the end of the tenth month of service, but they cannot switch from the cash stipend to the education award.

The Benefits Hub on the VISTA Campus contains information about these benefits.

Post-Service Federal Benefits

Upon successfully completing service, alums receive one year of non-competitive eligibility for employment in the federal government. This special hiring status enables them to apply for federal jobs with the advantage of not having to go through the standard public competitive selection process. That means that they can be appointed to federal positions that may or may not be available to the general public, and their applications could be processed faster than others.

If a VISTA alum is hired into the federal civil service, their time as a VISTA member will be credited toward a pension in the Federal Employees Retirement System as long as they pay a portion of their retirement contribution. 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 establishing terms and conditions of service of federal civilian employees.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Basic Laws & Federal Regulations.

Member Policies

Beyond VISTA terms and conditions, there are several other VISTA member policies that sponsors must be familiar with. Supervisors play active roles in approving and overseeing activities in these areas. 

Outside Employment

To make VISTA service accessible to the widest possible range of candidates regardless of economic status, the VISTA program allows outside employment that is unrelated to a VISTA member’s assigned project and VAD. (Prior restrictions were lifted with a 2015 policy change.)

Commitment to one’s assigned project is the paramount focus of all VISTA members, regardless of whether a VISTA member is working outside of their VISTA service assignment. Any outside employment must not conflict with the VISTA member’s training, service, or service hours as assigned by CNCS or the sponsor. To the maximum extent practicable, VISTA members must remain available for service without regard to regular working hours. The VISTA project’s needs supersede any requirements of outside employment.

While in VISTA service, the VISTA may only accept outside employment for positions that are:

  • Legal
  • Part-time
  • Do not conflict at all with the VISTA’s service or service hours
  • Do not violate any applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations and
  • Do not conflict with any AmeriCorps VISTA program requirements or policies

Before accepting such outside employment, the VISTA must speak with and obtain the written approval of their supervisor to do so. To approve outside employment, their supervisor must ensure there is no conflict between the employment and the VISTA’s service or service hours.

Sponsors must document their approval or disapproval, as appropriate, of all requests for VISTAs to accept or continue outside employment by maintaining each completed Outside Employment Request on file and sending a copy to both their CNCS State Office and to vistaoutsideemploymentrequest@cns.gov.

See the VISTA Campus for the full Outside Employment Policy and the Outside Employment Request Form.

Teleservice

A fundamental assumption of VISTA service is that VISTA 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, on an episodic basis, perform project-related duties from home. Teleservice, which is not to exceed two days per pay period, may be considered after a VISTA member has been serving satisfactorily at the project site at least three months.

The VISTA member’s supervisor must approve a VISTA member’s completed Teleservice Checklist (obtained from the CNCS State Office) before it is submitted to the CNCS State Office for final approval. These checklists must be maintained by the sponsor.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook –Terms & Conditions of Service.

Educational Courses

VISTA members and Leaders may participate in online or in-person classes, regardless of subject matter, during their service year. However, the VISTA program is a full immersion experience that requires its VISTA members to be able to attend community meetings and dedicate themselves to understanding and serving the community to which they are assigned. 

Service to the sponsoring organization and community takes precedence over coursework. Enrollment in courses requires the approval of the supervisor. If a VISTA member or Leader is unable to complete assigned tasks or responsibilities due to coursework, the sponsor should contact the CNCS State Office.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook –Terms & Conditions of Service.

Supplemental Benefits from Sponsor and Site

Financial support for VISTA members may be provided by the sponsor and/or site under the following conditions:

  • Support is offered and available equally to all VISTA members at a site
  • Cash or checks (unless for reimbursable expenses) are not given directly to the VISTA member
  • Support offered does not violate VISTA’s legislation that mandates VISTAs must, to the maximum extent practicable, make a commitment to live among and at the economic level of the people they are serving

Below is a list of support that a sponsor may provide to VISTA members. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor is a sponsor required to provide any such support.

Housing

A sponsor may, at its discretion, provide support for housing for VISTA members. While there is no maximum threshold set for the amount of assistance, it should be consistent with the VISTA member’s commitment to live among and at the economic level of the people served.

A sponsor’s support for housing must be offered equally to all VISTA members serving at the site. Sponsors, at their discretion, can offer housing support to Leaders without offering the same benefit to VISTA members at the site, provided the housing support is offered to all Leaders serving with the sponsor.

Support for housing can be provided in the form of a one-time security deposit or as monthly rent, mortgage payments, or help with utility bills. All housing support must be paid directly to the landlord, leasing agent, or mortgage holder. A sponsor or others may not offer money directly to a VISTA to supplement the VISTA's living allowance, or to pay rent, utilities, or other costs. Nor may VISTAs accept third-party payments for utilities or other housing costs other than for rent.

Please be aware that CNCS has no involvement in, or legal responsibilities related to, any housing-related arrangements that are entered into between a VISTA or Leader and a sponsor.  CNCS is not a party to any such matters if any issues arise.

Accepting free or reduced-cost housing could possibly increase the VISTA's reportable income for tax purposes. For more information see the Member Housing section in VISTA Member Handbook – Terms & Conditions of Service.

Relocation Assistance

  • Additional relocation travel assistance – Sponsors may arrange and pay for or reimburse VISTA members for the travel and/or shipping costs that exceed the support provided by CNCS without regard to the number of miles the VISTA member moved. Sponsors must purchase the travel or reimburse the VISTA member for such costs based on receipts provided by the VISTA.
  • Match settling-in allowance – Sponsors may provide an additional settling-in allowance up to the settling-in allowance set by CNCS without regard to the number of miles the VISTA member moved. This support can help cover costs associated with settling into a new city that often exceed CNCS’s settling-in allowance (i.e., rental or lease application fees, credit check fees, security deposit, first and last month’s rent, deposits to turn on gas and utilities, etc.). Sponsors must pay the funds directly to the landlord or leasing agent, utility company, etc., or reimburse the VISTA member for such costs based on receipts provided by the VISTA.
  • Donated furniture, appliances, equipment – Sponsors may give donated or used items to VISTAs in order to furnish their homes.

Transportation

In addition to reimbursing VISTA members for all service-related transportation, VISTAs are eligible to receive the following benefits:

  • Parking permits/passes – Sponsors may pay parking permit or pass fees associated with a service site without regard to whether the same support is provided to all staff.
  • Public transit pass – Sponsors may provide VISTAs with transit passes to offset the costs of commuting. If public transit is required for service-related transportation or travel, sponsors may provide a monthly or annual public transit pass in lieu of reimbursing the VISTA member for actual transit costs.
  • Mileage and gas gift cards for use of privately owned vehicle – Sponsors may provide VISTAs with gas gift cards to offset the costs of commuting.

Food

  • Meal plans associated with housing or free access to the sponsor’s cafeteria – Sponsors may provide meal plans associated with housing or free access to their cafeteria.
  • Grocery card – Sponsors may provide gift cards to grocery stores to VISTA members without regard to whether they are provided to all staff.

Support Services

  • Client support services – Sponsors may allow VISTA members access to support programs that their organization administers and that are available to the public. VISTA members must follow the same objective criteria, qualification guidelines, and other processes that members of the public follow, without exception. VISTAs must not be involved in the administration or processing of any of these programs. In reviewing a VISTA’s application for such assistance or services, the sponsoring organization must adhere to its policies and processes for awarding such services. The VISTA member’s involvement must not present concerns where a reasonable person would perceive favoritism or a conflict of interest on behalf of the parties involved. For example, if a VISTA wants to apply to receive food from the food bank where they serve, they are subject to the same eligibility criteria and processes (application review, wait times, level of food distribution) as the public. CNCS is never involved in a VISTA’s receipt or denial of such assistance or services.
  • Employee benefit programs (health, dental, employee assistance program) – Sponsors may provide VISTA members access to employee benefit programs and/or provide VISTAs with a healthcare subsidy to offset the costs of purchasing a qualifying health plan, but certain restrictions apply:
    • The sponsor must not define the VISTA member as an employee for the purpose of enrolling the VISTA member in such benefit programs.
    • The sponsor must offer the benefit equally to all VISTA members serving at a site.
    • The sponsor must manage, respond to, and resolve any issues raised by VISTA members or others related to any subsidy the organization chooses to provide. CNCS will not be involved in any such issues that may arise.
    • The subsidy must be in the form of a reimbursement. VISTA members must provide proof of coverage and cost in order to receive the reimbursement.
    • The sponsor must inform the VISTA members that the subsidy the organization provides is considered taxable income and they must report it as such.
    • The sponsor is required to develop and document the organization’s policy and process for implementation.
    • The sponsor may not reimburse a VISTA member for a penalty associated with not having ACA-compliant coverage. All Americans are subject to the provisions of the ACA. It is the responsibility of each VISTA member to review their individual circumstances and determine if the ACA requires them to have compliant coverage and to pay a penalty, if assessed one.
  • Emergency Assistance – Sponsors may assist VISTAs members who experience emergency situations that fall outside the VISTA program’s Emergency Expense Allowance (see the section on Managing Member Emergencies). This assistance is allowable when it does not present concerns that a reasonable person would perceive favoritism or a conflict of interest on behalf of the parties involved.

Other

  • Access to sponsor managed facilities – Sponsors may allow VISTA members to access their gymnasium, recreational facilities, library, or computer labs without regard to whether all staff is granted the same privileges. Sponsors may also assist VISTAs with accessing local centers that provide similar services.
  • Birthday, holiday, and other special occasion gifts – Sponsors may provide gifts provided they do not exceed existing employee or community volunteer appreciation gifts.
  • Career and education support – In keeping with the VISTA program’s commitment to provide educational and professional development, sponsors may provide support with regard to attending professional conferences and classes, such as the payment of conference fees, travel, lodging and meals, or per diem that applies to standard employees. A VISTA’s participation in such conferences and classes must not interfere with VISTA service hours or performing of VISTA service. Discounting or paying educational costs are also allowable when a mechanism is in place to pay the cost directly to schools or lenders, or receipts exist to ensure that such payments are made on behalf of the VISTA. For full details regarding VISTAs taking educational courses during their service year, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Terms & Conditions of Service.
  • Fingerprinting costs – Sponsors may reimburse VISTA members for fingerprinting costs incurred beyond the $25 subsidy. See the section on Preparing for New VISTA Members for more information on member fingerprinting.

Other Public Benefits

Some public benefits, not administered by the VISTA program, are of particular interest to VISTA members as their service may impact their eligibility to receive them.

Protection of Public Assistance Benefits While Serving in AmeriCorps VISTA

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 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.

VISTA members may use the service letters provided via their My AmeriCorps account related to public benefits. (See Service Letters for more information.)

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Basic Laws & Federal Regulations.

College Cost Reduction and Access Act

This federal regulation includes two programs that can significantly reduce, or even eliminate student debt, Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Income-Based Loan Repayment.

For more information, see Benefits of Service – Reduction of Education Costs and the College Cost Reduction & Access Act FAQ sheet for AmeriCorps.

Service Letters

During and after their service, VISTA members (and alums) may access service letters through their My AmeriCorps portal that may support them in confirming their status for a variety of purposes. 

Currently Serving Certification

This letter includes the dates of service and certifies that the VISTA member is currently serving. 

Public Benefits Income Disregard

In accordance with federal law, payments received by a VISTA through the VISTA program (e.g., living allowance payments) do not reduce or eliminate the level of, or eligibility for, assistance or services that a VISTA may be receiving or is eligible to receive under any federal, state, or local government assistance program. This statutory provision is known as the “income disregard” provision; the provision designed to ensure that persons receiving assistance before joining VISTA do not lose public benefits or have them reduced as a result of their receipt of VISTA payments during service.

Social Security Income Disregard

If the Social Security Administration needs proof of the income you received during your term of service as a VISTA, it is recommended that you print out an income disregard letter to help explain your situation to the benefits officer.

Verification of Service

Once VISTAs have completed service, they can access a Verification of Service letter in their My AmeriCorps account. This letter includes the dates of service and serves as proof of service. This letter documents noncompetitive eligibility.

Member Recordkeeping

Records are essential for running a VISTA project with integrity. They support the project’s operations and demonstrate compliance.

While sponsors have the flexibility to create and maintain records in the ways that work best for them, they must ensure that they are meeting the minimum recordkeeping requirements for their VISTA projects.

Leave Hours/Days

Sponsors are responsible for monitoring their VISTA’s attendance at their service site as well as approving or declining use of leave. They must track the number of leave hours/days used by each VISTA, creating a record of specific leave dates and making sure leave use does not exceed the maximum number of days for each type of leave.

All VISTA members are eligible for up to 10 days of personal leave and up to 10 days of medical leave over the course of their yearlong service term. See the section on Managing Member Emergencies for details regarding eligibility for leave types that may apply to VISTA members in emergency situations.

Performance or Conduct Issues

Sponsors are responsible for documenting any challenges that develop with VISTA members, including issues with performance or conduct, as well as actions taken to address those challenges, such as performance improvement plans or corrective action plans.

See the section on Challenges with Members for more information on documenting and responding to these situations as they arise.

Outside Employment

Sponsors must document their approval or disapproval, as appropriate, of all requests for VISTAs to accept or continue outside employment by maintaining copies of completed Outside Employment Request Forms. See the section on Outside Employment for more information.

Teleservice

The VISTA member’s supervisor must approve a member’s Teleservice Checklist before it is submitted to the CNCS State Office for final approval. These checklists must be maintained by the sponsor.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook –Terms & Conditions of Service.

Managing Member Emergencies (On- and Off-Duty)

While in service, a VISTA member or a Leader may face an emergency. In some instances, CNCS can help with the emergency. Those instances are described in this section. VISTAs are often unfamiliar with emergency-related benefits, and the sponsor can play a crucial role in leading them to available support when relevant.

Sponsors must report any change in the status of a VISTA, as a result of an emergency, to the CNCS State Office within 24 hours. This includes leaving the project early, absence without notification of leave, hospitalization, arrest, and other extended absences. Sponsors should make sure to reflect a VISTA member’s absence from the project on the SVF to ensure accurate living allowance payments.

Emergency Contact Information

Each sponsor is responsible for collecting and maintaining emergency contact information for their VISTA members at the beginning of the member’s service term.

Emergency Leave

Beyond the standard leave benefits, VISTAs are sometimes eligible for additional emergency leave.

Emergency leave is rare. The sponsor may allow up to five service days of emergency leave under only two circumstances: 1) if an immediate family member (spouse, parent, sibling, child, grandparent, mother in-law, brother in-law, sister in-law, father in-law, or guardian) becomes critically ill or dies; or 2) if a natural disaster requires that the VISTA leave the site. (See the section on Natural Disasters for more information.) Any additional time away from the project requires the approval from the CNCS State Office. Emergency leave does not count against a VISTA’s personal leave time. Emergency leave should not be used in the event of a member illness.

If circumstances require a VISTA member to take emergency leave, the VISTA member must notify the sponsor at once and, and if requested, provide the sponsor with evidence of the emergency. The sponsor must inform the CNCS State Office immediately, if the sponsor determines an emergency exists.

Emergency Travel

When circumstances require a VISTA to take emergency leave that requires travel, CNCS will pay for the fastest, regularly-scheduled means of transportation to and from the project site to the emergency, or to the home of record, within the United States or a U.S. Territory in the form of a prepaid travel ticket. The sponsor should contact the CNCS State Office to start the process of requesting emergency travel support.

In the rare event that CNCS cannot provide a prepaid ticket in advance of the approved emergency travel and the VISTA member cannot purchase their own travel, the sponsor furnishes the needed travel assistance. This assistance includes advancing up to $500 from the sponsor’s own funds to the VISTA member, as agreed upon in the MA between the sponsor and CNCS. The funds will be reimbursed to the VISTA member by CNCS, who will reimburse the sponsor. It is suggested that the sponsor establishes a policy on how this $500 advancement and pay back will be handled.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Leave Benefits.

Emergency Expense Allowance

The VISTA program 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 VISTA members. The sponsoring organization can assist VISTAs 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 VISTA member by CNCS. 

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Financial Support.

Jury Duty

A VISTA member may be summoned for jury duty. The VISTA member should provide a copy of the summons to the sponsor. A sponsor must give a VISTA member the necessary time away from project duties to comply with jury duty requirements, and this time is not counted against the VISTA member’s personal leave. All regular benefits continue to accrue during the period of jury duty.

The sponsor should notify the CNCS State Office immediately if it appears that a VISTA may not be able to resume project duties within two weeks of starting jury duty.

If the VISTA is subpoenaed on a non-project-related matter, the VISTA is required to use personal leave.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Leave Benefits.

Military Leave

If an individual enters VISTA service before completing a military reserve obligation, the VISTA must change the location of their reserve unit if necessary. VISTA members should try to minimize the disruption in VISTA service as a result of discharging responsibilities related to their reservist duties. If allowed to choose when to fulfill the annual two weeks of active duty requirement, VISTA members should choose a period that does not disrupt their VISTA service.

A VISTA 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 VISTA member's personal leave, and benefits continue to accrue. VISTA members should notify the sponsor before taking military reserve leave and upon returning from such leave.

The sponsor should notify the CNCS State Office immediately if a VISTA member’s military reserve duties will last beyond two weeks, with the exact dates of military reserve leave. A copy of the military leave orders may be requested.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Leave Benefits.

Parental Leave

A VISTA is entitled to use a combination of their allotted medical leave (up to 10 service days) and personal leave (up to 10 service days) for the birth or adoption of a child. If the VISTA exhausts all 20 days of personal and medical leave, the CNCS State Office may approve up to an additional 10 service days of parental leave. No additional leave beyond 30 service days may be granted. To receive additional parental leave, the sponsor must provide evidence of medical and personal leave remaining and a request for additional leave for the VISTA member to the CNCS State Office.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Leave Benefits.

Family and Medical Leave Act

Very few VISTA members are eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. Sponsors should consult with the CNCS State Office if they think a VISTA may be eligible for and interested in FMLA leave. To be eligible, a VISTA member must be at least in the second year of VISTA service with the same sponsor, and meet other baseline requirements for eligibility.

For more information, and a list of requirements, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Leave Benefits.

Natural Disasters

When an emergency situation arises that poses a potential or actual threat to life or property, a VISTA is expected to:

  • Follow the orders or recommendations of the state or local authorities regarding the need to evacuate an area, and
  • Seek shelter and contact their supervisor and CNCS State Office to notify them of the VISTA’s location

If the CNCS State Office cannot be reached, contact the National Service Hotline at 1-800-942-2677.

VISTA members are eligible for emergency leave if a natural disaster requires them to leave their sites. (See the section on Emergency Leave for more information.)

If a VISTA member needs to travel from the disaster area to their home of record or another safe location, the CNCS State Office can approve emergency travel support. (See the section on Emergency Travel above for more details.) The sponsor may also provide a loan for up to $500 for emergency expenses. The sponsor should determine, with the VISTA member, the terms of repayment.

The CNCS State Office will advise the VISTA member on options as the situation evolves, including Administrative Hold (an excused absence status, usually with pay, that CNCS accords to a VISTA while they are enrolled in the VISTA program but is not reporting to a VISTA project site), the opportunity to seek reassignment in another area, and/or ending service early for a compelling reason.

VISTA members sometimes feel moved to respond themselves when disaster strikes; however, the commitment and responsibility of VISTAs is to their local low-income community, in particular the local project and its beneficiaries. CNCS does not consider requests from VISTAs serving outside of impacted areas who wish to temporarily relocate to engage in disaster response activities. VISTA members who wish to participate in disaster response activities on a short-term basis may do so using personal leave.

Driving Accidents

If a VISTA member is involved in an accident while driving for service-related purposes, the VISTA’s liability for injuries or property damage sustained by third parties is covered under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Neither CNCS nor the VISTA program is responsible for any damage to the VISTA’s own vehicle.

The VISTA should immediately notify local law enforcement and comply with local requirements. The sponsor should notify the CNCS State Office within 24 hours. The CNCS State Office will provide guidance on the V-81 and other forms need to be completed. Please review the Service-Related Transportation section of Chapter 7 in the VISTA Member Handbook.

The VISTA and the sponsor are prohibited from making any representation concerning the ultimate liability of the federal government on a particular claim to other parties to an accident. CNCS’s Office of General Counsel and, where applicable, the Department of Justice, makes the final determination on whether an accident occurred within the scope of the VISTA’s project-related activities and the extent of the government’s liability.

The sponsor must advise the CNCS State Office if civil action is brought against either the VISTA member or the sponsor as a result of the accident, or if the VISTA is asked or ordered to testify or to be deposed. Neither CNCS nor the VISTA program is responsible for any indemnification or contribution to the sponsor for any damages sustained by the sponsoring organization.

For more information and the process for reporting such accidents, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Travel & Transportation Support.

Liability Coverage (Federal Tort Claims Act)

VISTA members have liability coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the federal government assumes liability for any damage to property or injury to persons caused by a VISTA that arises only out of their official duties and for which the VISTA member would be liable under local law.

If a VISTA is involved in an accident and is at fault while driving a privately owned vehicle and undertaking VISTA duties, the VISTA’s liability for injuries or property damage sustained by third parties is covered under the Federal Tort Claims Act. CNCS or the VISTA program is not responsible for any damage to the VISTA’s own vehicle.

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.

For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Basic Laws & Federal Regulations.

Worker’s Comp (Federal Employees’ Compensation Act)

VISTA members are considered federal employees for the purpose of coverage under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA), also known as the Federal Worker's Compensation Act. Under FECA, VISTA members who are injured or suffer occupational disease in the course of their VISTA service may claim and be eligible to receive benefits to cover medical expenses.

VISTAs who are injured or experience an emergency illness related to their VISTA assignment must immediately notify the sponsor and the CNCS State Office. The CNCS State Office can then provide additional information regarding forms and how to file a claim. For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Basic Laws & Federal Regulations.

Member Hospitalization

If a VISTA member is absent from their site due to hospitalization, the sponsor must notify the CNCS State Office as early as is practicable. The VISTA must utilize remaining medical and personal leave for the duration of the hospitalization. If additional leave is needed for a critical illness, the sponsoring organization may approve up to five days of emergency leave.

Member Arrest

If a VISTA member is arrested during a service term, the VISTA is required to report the arrest to the sponsor and CNCS State Office within three calendar days of the arrest.

Death in Service

If a VISTA dies during their service term, the sponsor must notify the CNCS State Office as early as is practicable. The CNCS State Office coordinates with the next of kin to ship personal effects and transportation of the body, if necessary.

Challenges with Members

Managing VISTA member performance and conduct can be complex and challenging, especially because of the VISTA program’s unique requirements. Sponsors should engage the CNCS State Office early for guidance on setting clear expectations for VISTA members and utilizing performance improvement plans and corrective action plans.

There are times when, for a variety of reasons, the match between the VISTA member, the sponsor, and the VISTA program does not work out. While each VISTA member commits to a one-year term of service, some VISTA members choose to leave their site and/or end their service term early. Additionally, some sponsors decide it’s not in the best interest of the community and organization for a member to finish their term of service at the assigned site.

In many cases, it’s feasible for the sponsor, the VISTA member, and the VISTA program to work toward a resolution that enables the VISTA member to continue service at the assigned site. Such an outcome is optimal.  However, the CNCS State Office should be engaged early when challenges arise as they can provide critical support in assessing the circumstances and guiding the sponsor and VISTA member toward a positive outcome.

In some cases, separation of the VISTA member from the site and sponsor is the most appropriate path, and it’s essential that the sponsor engage the CNCS State Office as soon as possible so they can lead all parties or take action to effect the VISTA member’s separation from the project. Separation can happen via a member’s resignation or CNCS’s removal of the VISTA member from the sponsor or site by the CNCS State Office.

The sole authority for removing a VISTA member from a sponsor, terminating a VISTA member, or offering a VISTA member the opportunity for reassignment rests with CNCS.[1] While the request for a VISTA member’s removal from a sponsor may originate from a sponsor’s request, neither the sponsoring organization nor the site to which a member is assigned shall remove a VISTA from service.[2] Additionally, CNCS has the authority to remove a VISTA member from a sponsor without the request or consent of the sponsor.[3]

When a VISTA member’s departure creates a vacancy, it is up to the CNCS State Office to determine whether filling the position again is appropriate and possible. The CNCS State Office typically considers a number of factors, including the reason for the vacancy, overall project performance, and available resources before determining whether a sponsor will be approved to fill a vacancy at a future date.

Member Resignation or Member-Initiated Reassignment

If a VISTA member expresses interest in leaving the VISTA project early, the supervisor should first have a conversation with the VISTA member to understand the root of their interest in leaving and see if continued service at the project may be a possibility. The CNCS State Office should be consulted as soon as possible, and may, depending on the circumstances, be able to approve additional VISTA member benefits (for example, emergency leave) or offer support (such as coaching on reasonable accommodation) to facilitate continued service. The CNCS State Office can also consult on whether a VISTA member’s situation may qualify as a compelling personal circumstance that would qualify the VISTA member for a pro-rated end-of-service benefit upon exit from the VISTA program.

A VISTA member can only effect a resignation from the VISTA program as a whole; a VISTA member cannot resign from a particular VISTA project. If a VISTA member has made a final decision to resign from the VISTA program as a whole, the VISTA member should send immediate written notification to the sponsor and CNCS State Office of this fact. The supervisor must also promptly report this to the project director, who is required to notify the CNCS State Office within 24 hours of the VISTA member’s notification to the sponsor. This initial notification should be by email and is critical to ensure that the VISTA member is exited from the program promptly as to avoid overpayment of living allowance and other benefits. The sponsor must send the CNCS State Office a copy of the VISTA member’s dated resignation letter, which should specify the effective date of the resignation, the reason for the resignation, and that the VISTA member is resigning from the VISTA program as a whole, not just from the VISTA sponsor. The CNCS State Office will unlock the member’s FPF. The sponsor is responsible for ensuring that the VISTA member submits Part A of the FPF and the sponsor submits Part B of the FPF. (For more information on submitting FPF, see the section on Future Plans Form.)

If a VISTA member expresses a need to leave their site but has serious interest in continuing to serve as a VISTA elsewhere, the project director, supervisor, or member should notify the CNCS State Office of the desire to seek reassignment to another project. The CNCS State Office will collect information from the VISTA member, the supervisor, and the project director in order to assess the possibility of continued service with the VISTA program and provide guidance to the sponsor and member involved. If the VISTA is removed from the sponsor, the sponsor plays no further active role in the individual’s status in the VISTA program, though they may be contacted for information giving rise to their removal from the sponsor and/or for references if the VISTA member continues with the VISTA program and is under consideration by other sponsors.

Performance and Conduct

Sponsors should promptly notify the CNCS State Office of any acute or developing challenges related to VISTA member performance or conduct.

Examples of performance challenges include:

  • Failure, refusal, or inability to perform assigned project duties
  • Involvement in activities that substantially interfere with the performance of assigned project duties
  • Unsatisfactory performance of assigned project duties

Examples of conduct challenges include:

  • Any conduct on the VISTA’s part that substantially diminishes their effectiveness as a VISTA including: excessive absences, excessive lateness, absences without leave (AWOLs), engagement in disruptive or unprofessional behaviors at the service site
  • Behaviors that undermine the operations of the site where they are assigned
  • Behaviors that are counterproductive or impair the morale of the staff and/or other VISTAs at the site

To the extent possible, the VISTA member’s supervisor should provide timely and clear written feedback to the VISTA member about any concerns that arise and expectations going forward. If the challenges in performance or conduct are of such a nature and degree that the sponsor does not deem it appropriate to provide feedback to a VISTA member, supervisors should immediately contact the CNCS State Office and seek guidance. Supervisors should always promptly document for themselves and for the CNCS State Office challenges with VISTA members. Documentation should focus on facts (e.g., dates of absences, tardiness, missed deadlines) rather than generalizations (e.g., lack of communication, poor performance) and include actions taken by the sponsor to correct any problems (e.g., meetings, performance improvement plans).

Sponsor-Initiated Removal

As challenges develop, to the extent practicable, sponsors should work with VISTA members directly to address any problems. A key step is ensuring that expectations are clear. If expectations for performance and conduct were not established at the beginning of service via a thorough OSOT, the supervisor should ensure the VISTA member is educated on what is expected of them. If clear expectations have been set and the VISTA is still not meeting them, depending on the nature and degree of the performance or conduct issues, the sponsor may consider putting a written performance improvement plan or corrective action plan as an appropriate next step.

If the sponsor has worked directly with the VISTA member to address problems without success, or the problem is new but severe, the sponsor can request the removal of a VISTA member from their project. Sponsors cannot remove a VISTA member from the VISTA program; only CNCS can remove a VISTA member, and such removal is at the discretion of CNCS.

If a supervisor wants a VISTA member removed from the project before the VISTA’s term of service is scheduled to end, the supervisor should engage the project director, who should contact the CNCS State Office prior to taking any action. A request for removal must be in writing (email) and describe all reasons behind the request. The CNCS State Office will request documentation for both 1) facts related to the problem and 2) the sponsor’s attempts to address the problem with the VISTA member.

If the CNCS State Office grants the sponsor’s request for removal, the sponsor will be notified promptly, and the VISTA member will be removed from assignment at the project and advised to cease reporting to the site. Once the VISTA member has been removed from the project, the sponsor plays no further active role in the individual’s status in the VISTA program, though they may be contacted for information related to the sponsor’s request for removal, or for references if the VISTA member continues with the VISTA program and is under consideration by other sponsors.

CNCS will use the documentation submitted by the sponsor to assist CNCS in determining whether to initiate termination for cause proceedings against the VISTA member, or, alternatively, to offer them the opportunity for reassignment to another project. If the CNCS State Office removes the VISTA member from the project while the next step is determined, the member may be placed on Administrative Hold. Administrative Hold is an excused absence status (usually with pay) that CNCS accords to a VISTA member while enrolled in the VISTA program but not reporting to a VISTA project site. It is a status that can only be imposed by CNCS, and is imposed at CNCS’s discretion. While in Administrative Hold status, the VISTA member should not, and is directed not to, report to any VISTA site for service.

In all cases, a VISTA member has the opportunity to voluntarily resign from the VISTA program at any time prior to their termination from the VISTA program.

For more information on this topic, see VISTA Member Handbook – Separation from Service.

CNCS-Initiated Removals and Terminations for Policy Violations

CNCS has responsibility and authority for terminating VISTA members who violate VISTA terms, conditions, or policies. Supervisors and project directors have responsibility for promptly reporting to the CNCS State Office any knowledge of violations, even when they are satisfied with their VISTA members and wish for them to continue service.

Examples of violations include, but are not limited to:

  • Exhaustion of leave days or absence without leave (AWOL)
  • Outside employment that violates the outside employment policy (for example, illegal employment or full-time employment)
  • Engaging in activities prohibited on duty, such as religious proselytizing
  • Engaging in activities prohibited at all times, such as fundraising for partisan political candidates
  • Conviction of any criminal offense under federal, state, or local statute or ordinance
  • Intentional false statement, misrepresentation, omission, fraud, or deception in seeking to obtain selection as a VISTA in the VISTA program

If the CNCS State Office learns of any activity that requires a VISTA member to be removed from the site and/or sponsor, they will notify the sponsor promptly.

The CNCS State Office directly monitors VISTA member compliance with certain VISTA program policies, regulations, and instructions, the violation of which can also lead to CNCS-initiated terminations.

Examples of such violations include:

  • Noncompliance with VMO requirements
  • Failure to submit FBI fingerprint cards on time
  • Engaging in prohibited political activity (e.g., Hatch Act violation)
  • Undisclosed criminal history revealed on FBI background check results

The CNCS State Office may also remove a VISTA member from a project through no fault of the member – e.g. if the sponsor cannot continue to operate all or a part of its VISTA project. VISTAs who are removed due to site, project, or sponsor closure are given the opportunity to seek reassignment at another sponsor.

In all cases, a VISTA member has the opportunity to voluntarily resign from the VISTA program at any time.

For more information on this topic, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Separation from Service.

Transition Out of Service

VISTA members serve for a limited time, so planning for their departure is important for them, the project, and the community.

This section provides a number of resources to use before, during, and after a VISTA member’s transition to support them and to ensure the capacity they have built is sustained.

Project Planning

The departure of a VISTA member represents a critical juncture for the project, as the assignment will either transition to a new VISTA member or draw to a close. Work with your CNCS State Office on how to plan for project transition and sustainability.

Member Planning

The best supervisors and project directors act as mentors and advocates as their VISTA members approach the ends of their service terms and plan their next steps.

Sponsors can support a successful transition out of service for VISTAs by:

  • Asking VISTA members about their goals for after their service term and how the supervisor can support them
  • Encouraging VISTAs to start planning three months before their end dates, if they haven’t already
  • Showing flexibility as members take leave time to plan for their next steps, including interviewing or visiting schools
  • Promoting resources for VISTA members, such as the Life after VISTA Guide, VISTA Campus Job Board, non-competitive eligibility for federal employment, AmeriCorps Alums, USA Jobs AmeriCorps VISTA Search Track, and Employers of National Service
  • Asking VISTA members to reflect on their experiences as VISTA members, as well as how the sponsor can support strong service experiences in the future
  • Recognizing them and thank them for dedicating their term to the community, privately and/or publicly

See VISTA Campus – Transitioning for resources on this topic.

Exiting Members from Service via the Future Plans Form

The FPF in the Portal is a critical administrative requirement at the end of the service term. It is the mechanism by which VISTA members select their end-of-service action (regular exit, extension, reenrollment, or early exit). The sponsor plays an active role in ensuring each VISTA member submits a FPF at least 45 days prior to the end of the VISTA member’s service, and the sponsor also submits a performance evaluation and action recommendation.

The available end-of-service actions and description are provided below.

Regular Exit

The majority of VISTA members end their service as scheduled, following a full year of service. This is a regular exit.

Reenrollment

A reenrollment occurs when a VISTA member will continue with the VISTA program for another one-year term without a break in service. Reenrollments are contingent on a sponsor’s recommendation to CNCS that the VISTA member serve on a project, whether the same project or a different project, and CNCS State Office approval. Sponsors are encouraged to ensure VISTA member performance is thoroughly documented in project materials, including both PPRs and FPF, to facilitate CNCS State Office approval. VISTA members who have attended a VISTA Orientation (i.e., VMO or previously Pre-Service Orientation) within the last five years are not required to attend again. VISTA members are only able to serve a total of five full-year service terms. If the VISTA reenrolls with the same project without a break in service, they are entitled to unused personal leave and medical leave earned in the prior year of service.

Extension

An extension to a VISTA member’s one-year term supports the project’s capacity development. It can provide additional time to transfer a project or function successfully, or to complete a project that would be inappropriate or impractical to turn over to another VISTA member. Extensions can last from two weeks to six months and are subject to approval by the CNCS State Office. During an extension, the VISTA member carries over the same health benefit from the original term of service. They receive a pro-rated cash stipend as an additional end-of-service benefit for their extension and may take up to one day of personal leave and one day of medical leave per 30 additional days of service. If the VISTA extends service with the same project without a break in service, they are entitled to unused personal leave earned in the original term of service. For any VISTA member who extends their service, two FPFs will need to be completed, one leading up to the scheduled end date and a second leading up to the extension end date.

Early Termination

Early terminations are time-sensitive and handled on a case-by-case basis. See the section on Challenges with Members for information on the circumstances that can lead to an early exit and how to proceed.

Deferral

Deferral of service is exceptionally rare and handled on a case-by-case basis for military reserve leave or jury duty leave lasting more than 30 days. Deferred VISTAs may be reinstated within six months without resubmitting an application and attending VISTA Orientation. For more information on deferral, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Administrative Policies.

Future Plans Form (FPF) Submission

Timely submission of Future Plans Form (FPF) is essential for ensuring that VISTA members get access to their end-of-service benefits, including education awards, service verification letters, and travel reimbursements. It also ensures that living allowances are accurately paid.

This is the standard timeline for most exits:

  • Each VISTA member receives an automated email 90 days from their scheduled end date asking them to complete their section of their FPF, Part A. They are expected to submit this at least 60 days before their scheduled end date.
  • After the VISTA member submits Part A, the sponsor must submit Part B, the performance evaluation and action recommendation. They are expected to submit this at least 45 days before the scheduled end date.
  • After the sponsor has completed and certified the FPF, the VISTA member will have the opportunity to review their evaluation and recommendation, and enter a comment on it if they wish.
  • After the sponsor submits Part B and the VISTA member reviews it, the CNCS State Office completes Part C to approve the VISTA member and sponsor selections. They do this at least 14 days before the scheduled end date.
  • After the CNCS State Office submits Part C, the VISTA Member Support Unit processes the end of service action. This happens on or shortly after the VISTA member’s approved end date and opens access to the VISTA member’s end-of-service benefits.
  • If five days have passed since the VISTA member’s end date and they do not have access to their end-of-service benefits yet, they should contact the VMSU.