BASIC LAWS & FEDERAL REGULATIONS
The following federal laws and regulations must be carried out by the Corporation, and followed by AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations, accordingly. As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you are required to abide by these laws and regulations and are afforded certain legal protections provided by them.
ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS: AGE & CITIZENSHIP
You may apply to serve as a VISTA as long as you will be at least 18 years old when you take the oath of service. There is no upper age limit and many retired individuals have fond memories of serving with VISTA.
Prior to attending training or starting service, you must submit documentation verifying that you are either a United States citizen, a United States national, or a person legally residing within a state. Your Corporation State Office will provide instructions.
You are a person legally residing in a state if you fall under one of the following legal residency classifications: refugee status, asylum or asylee status, temporary protected status, deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) status.
By law, only VISTA members who are either: US citizens; US nationals; or lawful permanent resident aliens (sometimes referred to as “lawful permanent residents”), are eligible to receive an AmeriCorps Segal Education Award in lieu of a cash stipend. Persons legally residing in a state are only eligible to receive a cash stipend.
See 45 C.F.R. §2556 for more information regarding these basic eligibility requirements.
OATH OF SERVICE
Upon enrollment in AmeriCorps VISTA service, you must take an oath as set forth in 5 U.S.C. § 3331. If you legally reside in a state but are not a citizen or national of the United States, you may serve in AmeriCorps VISTA without taking or subscribing to the oath, if the Corporation determines that your service will further the interest of the United States. In such a case, you will be required to take an alternative oath or affirmation.
To be eligible to serve as AmeriCorps VISTA members, all non-U.S. citizens must have a permanent resident visa (e.g., green card) or other indication of eligible status (see Appendix C).
CIVIL RIGHTS AND NON-DISCRIMINATION
GOVERNING FEDERAL LAWS AND ORDERS
As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, a number of federal laws protect your civil rights. These laws prohibit discrimination in programs and activities where you serve-that is, programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from the Corporation. The laws prohibit:
- Discrimination based on race, color, or national origin (Title VI of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 [42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d et seq.])
- Discrimination based on sex (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 [20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.])
- Discrimination based on disability (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 [29 U.S.C. §§ 791 et seq.])
- Age Discrimination (Age Discrimination Act of 1975 [42 U.S.C. §§ 6101 et seq.])
- Discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, religion, or political affiliation (Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973 [42 U.S.C. § 5057])
Presidential Executive Order 13160 (June 23, 2000) also prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, sexual orientation, and parental status in federally conducted education and training programs, such as AmeriCorps VISTA training conducted by the Corporation.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, mentioned above, requires sponsoring organizations to make their programs and facilities accessible to persons with disabilities, be they AmeriCorps VISTA members, beneficiaries employees, or the general public. Accessibility includes the physical accessibility of buildings (including buildings where public meetings are held), public information dissemination (for the sight, hearing, or mentally impaired), and workplace accessibility. This law also requires sponsoring organizations to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified members, beneficiaries, employees, or members of the public. Corporation regulations that deal with section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are contained in 45 CFR Part 1232, which is reprinted in full in Appendix C.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), mentioned above, also requires sponsoring organizations to eliminate, to the maximum extent possible, English proficiency as an artificial barrier to full and meaningful participation by beneficiaries, AmeriCorps VISTA members, and members of the public in federally assisted programs.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), also mentioned above, requires sponsoring organizations to eliminate (with certain exceptions) sex discrimination in their education programs and activities, regardless of whether or not a sponsoring organization is itself an educational institution.
In addition, as set forth in the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973 (DVSA), mentioned above, for a sponsoring organization to be extended federal financial assistance, it must make and comply with all non-discrimination assurances in the grant, contract, or agreement authorizing the federal financial assistance. The sponsoring organization must specifically assure that no person with responsibilities for the operation of the organization will discriminate with respect to the program because of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, or political affiliation. The Corporation monitors continued compliance with these assurances.
Title VI Filing
Any AmeriCorps VISTA applicant, trainee, or member, or other program beneficiary, who believes he/she has been discriminated against, based on race, color, or national origin in the services provided by an AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization may file a discrimination complaint with the Corporation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) procedures. Title VI also prohibits AmeriCorps VISTA program beneficiaries, based on race, color, or national origin, from being excluded by sponsoring organizations from participation in an AmeriCorps VISTA program. Under Title VI, program beneficiaries are also prohibited from being denied the benefits, from sponsoring organizations, of AmeriCorps VISTA programs because of race, color, or national origin. Finally, under Title VI program beneficiaries are prohibited from being subjected to discrimination by sponsoring organizations because of race, color, or national origin. (42 U.S.C. §2000d)
Therefore, any AmeriCorps VISTA applicant, trainee, or member, or other program beneficiary, who believes he/she has been subjected to discrimination by a sponsoring organization, in violation of Title VI, may file a written complaint with the Director of the Corporation's Office of Civil Rights and Inclusiveness or the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation using the procedures set forth in 45 CFR Part 1203, "Nondiscrimination in federally assisted programs-effectuation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
Title IX Filing
Title IX prohibits AmeriCorps VISTA program beneficiaries from being denied the benefits of, or being subject to discrimination under, any education program or activity operated by a sponsoring organization because of their sex (20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.) Any applicant, trainee, or member, or other program beneficiary, who believes he/she has been discriminated against, because of sex, in any education program or activity provided by an AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization may file a discrimination complaint with the Corporation by filing a written complaint with the Director of the Corporation's Office of Civil Rights and Inclusiveness or the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation using the procedures set forth in 45 CFR Part 1203, "Nondiscrimination in federally assisted programseffectuation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." The same procedures used for filing a complaint under Title VI (see above) are used for filing a complaint under Title IX.
The Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973 (DVSA) prohibits discrimination in the recruitment, selection, placement, service, or termination of any AmeriCorps VISTA applicant, trainee, member, or other program beneficiary, because of race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, disability, or political affiliation. If you believe you have been subject to any such discrimination, you may file a discrimination complaint with the Corporation. Any such person may use the discrimination complaint procedures set forth in 45 CFR Part 1225, which is also reprinted in full in Appendix C.
PROHIBITION AGAINST HARASSMENT
As discussed above, the federal laws governing AmeriCorps VISTA members strictly prohibit harassment in sponsoring organization programs and activities. Harassment may be a form of legally prohibited discrimination; regardless, it is always unacceptable.
The Corporation is committed to the notion that all persons serving in the AmeriCorps VISTA program be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of nonmerit factors such as race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, political affiliation, marital o parental status, or military service. To that end, the Corporation is committed to sponsoring organization environments and service sites being free of sexual, racial, ethnic, religious, or other harassment.
Slurs and other verbal or physical conduct relating to an individual's sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or any other nonmerit basis constitute harassment when it has the purpose or effect of interfering with service performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive service environment. Harassment includes, but is not limited to:
- Explicit or implicit demands for sexual favors
- Pressure for dates; deliberate touching, leaning over, or cornering; offensive teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions
- Letters, phone calls, or distribution or display of offensive materials
- Offensive looks or gestures; gender, racial, ethnic, or religious baiting; physical assaults or other threatening behavior
- Demeaning, debasing, and abusive comments or actions that intimidate; the comments or actions must be unwelcome
Harassment may be by persons of the same or different races, sexes, religions, or ethnic origins. It may be carried out by another service member, a sponsoring organization staff member, a project or site employee or supervisor, or another program beneficiary such as a client. Conduct directed at one member may create an offensive environment for other members.
It is also unlawful for a sponsoring organization to retaliate against an AmeriCorps VISTA member] who complains of harassment, regardless of whether or not the sponsoring organization believes the underlying complaint is valid or not. It is also unlawful for a sponsoring organization to retaliate against a member who testifies or participates in any way in a harassment investigation, proceeding, or litigation.
When investigating allegations of sexual and other illegal harassment, the whole record is reviewed. The circumstances, such as the nature of the comments or actions, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred are considered A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.
It is helpful for a victim of harassment to inform the harasser directly and immediately that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. If the victim is an AmeriCorps VISTA member, the member should use any appropriate complaint mechanism or grievance system available, as discussed above and below.
DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT PROCEDURES
It is advisable for an AmeriCorps VISTA member who believes he/she may be a victim of discrimination or harassment as described above to first bring it to the attention of his/her sponsoring organization. If, because of the circumstances, it is not possible to do so, the member should contact the Corporation State Office or the Office of Civil Rights and Inclusiveness (OCRI) at Corporation Headquarters in Washington, DC. Claims not brought to the attention of OCRI 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 OCRI, and if another procedure is used, it does not affect the 45-day time limit. OCRI may be reached at (202) 606-7503 (voice), (202) 606-3472 (TTY), or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LIMITATION ON MEMBER ACTIVITIES AND DUTIES
CORPORATION GUIDELINES ON SERVICE OF MEMBERS IN RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS OR ACTIVITIES
The Corporation 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 belief and action are central to many AmeriCorps VISTA members' lives.
It is important, however, that AmeriCorps VISTA programs and their members do not endorse or promote, or appear to endorse or promote, religion or a specific religious belief. Consequently, we impose a number of limitations on activities that AmeriCorps VISTA programs can support and in which members can engage while serving, or when otherwise, representing AmeriCorps VISTA. AmeriCorps VISTA members are free to pursue these activities on their own initiative on non- AmeriCorps time, and using non-AmeriCorps funds. The AmeriCorps VISTA logo should not be worn while doing so. These limitations are:
- Members may not give religious instruction, conduct worship services, or engage in any other religious activity as part of their AmeriCorps VISTA duties that would be perceived as part of their duties by members of the community in which they serve.
- No religious instruction, worship, proselytizing, or other religious activity may be conducted as part of a project to which members are assigned or referred. Textbooks and other materials used in connection with the project should not have religious or sectarian content.
- Members who serve in an institution that gives religious instruction or engages in other religious activities may not be used as replacements for regular personnel of the institution. For example, members assigned to serve in a program conducted under the auspices of a church-related school may not be used as substitutes for regular teachers in the school. They may work on new programs, however, that are carried on in addition to the school's regular programs and that are conducted in conformance with these rules.
- The opportunity to receive the benefits of any project in which members serve will be open to persons in need without regard to their religious affiliation. Admission to programs supported by AmeriCorps VISTA shall not be based directly or indirectly on religious affiliation or on attendance at a church, church-related school, or other church-related institution or organization. The availability of the project's benefits to all needy persons in the area served will be publicized.
- Participation in an AmeriCorps VISTA project, by members or recipients, shall not be used as a means to induce participation in sectarian or religious activities.
LIMITATION ON POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
AmeriCorps VISTA members, as well as AmeriCorps VISTA programs and projects, are subject to certain restrictions related to their engagement in political activities. Such political activities are classified as either: (1) engaging in electoral activities; (2) engaging in lobbying; or (3) participating in demonstrations.
Engaging in Electoral Activities
AmeriCorps VISTA members may participate in electoral activities to the extent the activities are allowed under a federal law called the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. Chapter 73. The Hatch Act defines the rules and restrictions on political activities in which federal workers may engage. The Domestic Volunteer Service Act, at 42 U.S.C. § 5055, applies the Hatch Act to AmeriCorps VISTA members during their service.
The Hatch Act applies to all AmeriCorps VISTA members, whether they serve full-time or parttime, at all times during their service, including off duty hours. Permissible activities under the Hatch Act, unless prohibited by other statutory authority, apply to members when they are on authorized leave or are not perceived to be performing as an AmeriCorps VISTA member (e.g., while not actually or perceived as performing service, or off duty service time).
Under the Hatch Act, during off duty service time, AmeriCorps VISTA members may engage in certain political activities, as follows:
- May be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections
- May register and vote as they choose
- May assist in voter registration drives
- May express opinions about candidates and issues
- May contribute money to political organizations
- May attend political fundraising functions
- May attend and be active at political rallies and meetings
- May join and be an active member of a political party or club
- May sign nominating petitions
- May campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances
- May campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
- May make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections
- May distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
- May hold office in political clubs or parties, including serving as a delegate to a convention
Under the Hatch Act, AmeriCorps VISTA members are prohibited from engaging in the following activities at all times during service, including off duty service time:
- May not use their official authority or influence, as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, to influence an election
- May not knowingly solicit or discourage the political activity of any individual or organization that has business before the Corporation for National and Community Service or the AmeriCorps VISTA program (e.g., an AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization or project)
- May not engage in political activity while in service time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member (e.g., while on duty as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at a sponsoring organization or project)
- May not engage in political activity while in any office of the AmeriCorps VISTA program (e.g., while at the sponsoring organization or the project)
- May not engage in political activity while using a vehicle owned or leased by the AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization or project
- May not be a candidate for public office in a partisan election
- May not wear political buttons while in service time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member (e.g., while on duty as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at a sponsoring organization or project)
- May not engage in political activity while wearing an article of clothing, badge, insignia, or other similar item that identifies the Corporation or the AmeriCorps VISTA program
Also, AmeriCorps VISTA members generally may not solicit, accept, or receive political contributions, with one rare exception: An AmeriCorps VISTA member may solicit a political contribution from another individual if the request is for a contribution to the multicandidate political committee of a federal labor organization or a federal employee organization, to which both the AmeriCorps VISTA member and the individual belong. Such a solicitation is still prohibited, however, if the member is an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader and the individual is an AmeriCorps VISTA member.
AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations and projects may not use funds or personnel in a manner that supports or identifies the AmeriCorps VISTA program with partisan or nonpartisan election activities. Sponsoring organizations and projects also may not use funds or personnel in a manner that supports or results in voter registration activities, or that provides transportation to the polls. Additionally, no AmeriCorps VISTA member or employee of a sponsoring organization may take any action with respect to a partisan or nonpartisan political activity that would result in the identification or apparent identification of the AmeriCorps VISTA program with such activity. The Hatch Act also prohibits AmeriCorps VISTA members from engaging in voter registration activities or providing transportation to the polls during VISTA service hours.
Engaging In Lobbying
AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations may not assign AmeriCorps VISTA members to perform service or engage in activities related to influencing the passage or defeat of legislation, or of legislative proposals or initiatives. Also, AmeriCorps VISTA members are generally prohibited from engaging in such lobbying activities; however, there are two rare exceptions to this prohibition on lobbying:
- An AmeriCorps VISTA member may draft, review, testify, or make a representation on a legislative measure if the member is asked by a legislative body, a committee of a legislative body, or member of a legislative body.
- An AmeriCorps VISTA member may draft, review, testify, or make a written representation to a legislative body regarding a legislative measure directly affecting the operation of an AmeriCorps VISTA project or program to which the member is assigned, as long as:
- The sponsoring organization notifies the Corporation State Director on a quarterly basis of all activity occurring pursuant to this exception; and
- The legislative measure related to the funding of the AmeriCorps VISTA project or program affects the existence or basic structure of the project or program.
Participating in Demonstrations
As mentioned above, AmeriCorps VISTA members may participate in political rallies and meetings (i.e., demonstrations) with certain limitations. They may do these types of activities only while on authorized leave, or while off-duty or not otherwise engaged in performing AmeriCorps VISTA service. Such activities cannot be related to projects of the sponsoring organizations where the member serves. Moreover, AmeriCorps VISTA member may only participate in such activities to the extent that: (1) the member does not represent or attempt to represent the views of AmeriCorps VISTA members on any public issue; (2) the member's participation could not be reasonably understood by the community as being identified with the AmeriCorps VISTA program, the project, or other elements of his or her service; and (3) the member's participation does not interfere with the performance of his or her duties.
No sponsoring organization may approve an AmeriCorps VISTA member's involvement in planning, initiating, participating in, or otherwise aiding or assisting in any demonstration.
An AmeriCorps VISTA member must contact the Corporation State Office, and get its permission, before he/she engages in any of the activities-electoral, lobbying, or demonstration-discussed above.
LIMITATION ON DISPLACEMENT OF EMPLOYED WORKERS AND IMPAIRMENT OF CONTRACTS FOR SERVICE
AmeriCorps VISTA members are prohibited from performing activities or duties that would otherwise be carried out by employed workers, or would supplant the hiring of, or result in the displacement of, employed workers, or would impair existing contracts for service (45 U.S.C. § 5044).
Corporation regulations on nondisplacement of employed workers and nonimpairment of contracts for service are contained in 45 CFR Part 2556 (see Appendix C).
LIMITATION ON RECEIVING ANY COMPENSATION OR OTHER BENEFITS FOR SERVICE OF AmeriCorps VISTA MEMBERS
Agencies or organizations to which AmeriCorps VISTA members are assigned, or which operate or supervise an AmeriCorps VISTA project, are prohibited from requesting or receiving any compensation from members, or from those who benefit from the services that members provide (42 U.S.C. § 5044). In addition, it is the policy of AmeriCorps VISTA that members not accept any benefit from the sponsoring organization or the community served through their AmeriCorps VISTA assignments, unless otherwise permitted by Corporation policy (such as housing, transportation, bus passes, and training materials and tools). Members are expected to serve the community, not themselves.
Cash or in-kind contributions to an AmeriCorps VISTA project, provided under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding between the primary AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization and another participating agency, is not considered compensation for member services. The Corporation must, however, review and concur in all such Memoranda of Understanding prior to implementation.
LIMITATION ON LABOR OR ANTI-LABOR ACTIVITY
Corporation funds must not be used, directly or indirectly, to finance labor or anti-labor organizations or related activities (42 U.S.C. § 5044). Consequently, an AmeriCorps VISTA member must not be assigned to activities or duties that assist, directly or indirectly, any labor or anti-labor organizing activity or related activity.
PROHIBITION ON NEPOTISM
To avoid actual or apparent favoritism in the operation of a VISTA project, the AmeriCorps VISTA program prohibits certain VISTA placement and assignment arrangements, as follows:
A VISTA member cannot be placed or assigned to a VISTA project site , if the VISTA is:
- In the immediate family (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, parent or guardian whether by blood or adoption, child whether by blood or adoption) of a project site staff member or a project site’s board of directors
- A close relative, whether by blood or adoption, (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin) of a project site staff member or a project site’s board of directors
VISTA Project Supervisory Employees
A project site employee is prohibited from holding a VISTA project supervisory position, if she/he is:
- In the immediate family (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, parent or guardian whether by blood or adoption, child whether by blood or adoption) of any Corporation program official responsible for the AmeriCorps VISTA project or any project site employee who holds supervisory authority over him/her.
- A close relative, whether by blood or adoption, (e.g., grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin) of any Corporation program official responsible for the AmeriCorps VISTA project or any project site employee who holds supervisory authority over him/her.
LIMITATION ON AmeriCorps VISTA FRATERNIZATION
Relationships between AmeriCorps VISTA members and staff members (including volunteer and contracted personnel) of the Corporation, sponsoring organization, and project site that are exploitive or that have the appearance of partiality, preferential treatment, or the improper use of position for personal gain, are prejudicial to the morale of AmeriCorps VISTA members and will not be tolerated.
Inappropriate relationships between AmeriCorps VISTA members and the aforementioned staff members are prohibited. Inappropriate relationships are those that compromise, or appear to compromise, supervisory authority or could result in preferential treatment. Relationships are prohibited if they appear to involve the improper use of rank or position for personal gain.
You must avoid nonprofessional relationships with other AmeriCorps VISTA members or staff members that create real or perceived conflicts of interest, discord, or distractions that interfere with other members' productivity, or potentially could result in charges of sexual harassment. These problems are serious in situations in which one person has authority over another.
Nonprofessional relationships between members and the aforementioned staff include, but are not limited to:
- Intimate/sexual relationships
- Borrowing or lending money, automobiles, or other personal property
- Engaging in financial or business dealings, or acting as an agent or sponsor with any commercial services
- Allowing services to be performed (compensated or uncompensated) that have no reasonable connection with AmeriCorps VISTA activities
- Gambling for goods, services, or money
- Any activity and/or relationship that, in the judgment of the Corporation State Director, may be reasonably perceived to undermine discipline, good order, and/or morale
- Socializing that might lead to the perception of a relationship or overtures to activities listed above
Inappropriate relations include, but are not limited to:
- Nonprofessional relationships between a Corporation State Office staff member assigned to monitor or oversee a project, and an AmeriCorps VISTA member or Leader of that project
- Nonprofessional relationships between an AmeriCorps VISTA supervisor and an AmeriCorps VISTA member the supervisor oversees
- Nonprofessional relationships between an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader and an AmeriCorps VISTA member the Leader guides Such relationships are strictly prohibited. Violators may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including removal.
 A VISTA sponsoring organization may operate a VISTA project out of a single project site, or multiple sites. When a “project site” is referenced, the prohibited arrangement is limited to that particular site, rather than a project as a whole.
PROTECTION OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE BENEFITS WHILE SERVING IN AmeriCorps VISTA
AmeriCorps VISTA members who are eligible to receive assistance or services (i.e., benefits) under any governmental program (e.g., Temporary Aid to Needy Families [TANF], Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income) prior to enrollment as a member or who are receiving such assistance or services during AmeriCorps VISTA service shall not be denied such benefits or given a decreased benefit because of the member's failure or refusal to register for, seek, or accept employment or training during the period of service. This protection of benefits, provided at 42 U.S.C. § 5044, applies to any governmental program, including federal, state, and local programs.
INCOME EXCLUSION OF AmeriCorps VISTA ALLOWANCES FROM BENEFIT CALCULATIONS UNDER GOVERNMENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
Payments received by AmeriCorps VISTA members (including living allowances) shall not in any way reduce or eliminate the level of, or eligibility for, assistance or services that any AmeriCorps VISTA member may be receiving or is eligible to receive under any federal, state, or local governmental assistance program. This statutory provision is designed to ensure that persons, and families of persons, receiving assistance or services under any federal, state, or local governmental program before entering AmeriCorps VISTA service do not lose benefits, or have benefits reduced, as a result of their service.
For example, persons who were receiving public assistance benefits before entering AmeriCorps VISTA service will not have their allowances considered in determining whether they are still eligible for benefits for their dependents. In addition, the Domestic Volunteer Service Act clearly states that the same treatment be given to any benefits for which AmeriCorps VISTA members were eligible, although not actually receiving, prior to their service (42 U.S.C. § 5044). This provision does not apply to food stamps (see below).
This provision also applies to persons who become eligible for assistance or services while serving as AmeriCorps VISTA members (e.g., a member reaches the age of 65 while serving and becomes eligible for Social Security benefits). AmeriCorps VISTA income shall not be counted in determining eligibility for, or the level of, Social Security retirement benefits.
PUBLIC ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS AND BENEFITS
Food Stamp Program
The Department of Agriculture administers the Food Stamp Program. Department of Agriculture regulations state that AmeriCorps VISTA members who were receiving foods stamps before joining AmeriCorps VISTA will not have their food stamp allotment reduced or eliminated as a result of their allowances. Members not receiving food stamps before joining AmeriCorps VISTA will have their allowances counted as income for purposes of determining their level of food stamp eligibility. Members may be held responsible for food stamp overpayments. Carefully check your allotments to ensure that you are not given food stamps for which you are not eligible. If you apply for food stamps after you become an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you will have a decreased food stamp allotment. Department of Agriculture Food Stamp Regulations pertaining to AmeriCorps VISTA income exclusion are contained in the 7 CFR § 273.9.
Women, Infants, and Children Program
The Department of Agriculture also administers the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program. Department of Agriculture regulations on the WIC program that pertain to AmeriCorps VISTA income exclusion are contained in the 7 CFR § 246.7.
Social Security Disability Payments
Under regulations and rulings issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration, neither payments made to, nor the activities performed by, AmeriCorps VISTA members are to be considered in determining the member's continued eligibility for Social Security disability benefits. This policy means that persons receiving disability payments before joining AmeriCorps VISTA may continue to receive benefits during their service regardless of the level of allowances received or the nature of the duties performed.
In regulations dealing with Supplemental Security Income for the aged, blind, and disabled, payments to AmeriCorps VISTA members are specifically excluded in determining the resources of an individual (20 CFR § 416.1236(a)(9)).
Social Security Administration instructions pertaining to Supplemental Security Income, as well as to the Federal Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program, stipulate that none of the "substantial gainful activity" tests (e.g., earnings, comparability of work activity, or worth of work activity) is to be applied to AmeriCorps VISTA activity performed under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act (POMS DI 10505.025B2). Similar language is also contained in Social Security Ruling 84-24, Titles II and XVI: "Determination of Substantial Gainful Activity for Persons Working in Special Circumstances-Work Therapy Programs in Military Service-Work Activity in Certain Government-Sponsored Programs."
Under regulations issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 38, sections 3.261 and 3.262, compensation or reimbursement received by AmeriCorps VISTA members will be excluded from income in claims for compensation, pension, dependency, and indemnity compensation.
Housing Assistance Programs
In accordance with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Notice of Federally Mandated Exclusions from Income, payments to AmeriCorps VISTA members cannot be considered as income for the purpose of determining income eligibility for Section 8 housing programs and other federally subsidized housing.
WELFARE REFORM LAW
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, Public Law 104-193 is a federal welfare reform law. This law affects, in a number of ways, AmeriCorps VISTA members who are eligible for or receive welfare even though the income disregard provisions of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act, discussed above, are in effect. AmeriCorps VISTA members receiving cash assistance from states should discuss any issues directly with their state (or county) agency worker to discuss whether their AmeriCorps VISTA service will adversely affect their eligibility for cash assistance.
The welfare reform law prohibits states from using federal money to keep a family on welfare beyond a five-year cumulative lifetime limit. In each state, however, 20 percent of welfare recipients can be exempted.
The Domestic Volunteer Service Act does not affect a state's ability to impose time limits on AmeriCorps VISTA members who currently receive cash assistance. In many states, any cash assistance that members receive from the state while in AmeriCorps VISTA will be counted against the state's time limits.
Within the framework of the welfare reform law, states can impose unique requirements regarding registration for employment or training programs. The federal law allows for a two-year time limit on cash assistance payments before welfare recipients must be working or enrolled in job training or vocational education programs. States, however, can impose even shorter time limits than the two years allowed by federal law.
AmeriCorps VISTA members should contact their state (or county) agency welfare workers and inform them that persons who serve in AmeriCorps VISTA are not available for employment or job training programs. In some cases, welfare workers may determine that AmeriCorps VISTA service satisfies the state's requirement for participation in an employment or training program. Welfare workers may determine that AmeriCorps VISTA service is an exemption from any employment or training program.
When you are dealing with state or county officials, you should remember to identify yourself as an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act, because the income disregard provisions of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act do not apply to other AmeriCorps programs. Inform your Corporation State Office immediately if you are having difficulties explaining these provisions. Your Corporation State Office can supply you with a letter that explains the income disregard provisions, which can be given to your case worker. Depending on the situation, you may need to seek the assistance of a legal aid attorney to represent you if your payments will be decreased or denied. The Corporation is unable to pay for legal assistance, but staff will assist in providing documentation to assist your legal representative.
AmeriCorps VISTA MEMBERS CONSIDERED FEDERAL EMPLOYEES ONLY FOR LIMITED PURPOSES
AmeriCorps VISTA members are regarded as federal employees only for certain purposes under 42 U.S.C. § 5055, including the Hatch Act, the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (worker's compensation), the Federal Tort Claims Act, the IRS Code, and Title II of the Social Security Act. They are not regarded as federal employees for purposes of unemployment compensation, and allowances received from the Corporation are not regarded as wages, except for income tax and Social Security purposes.
AmeriCorps VISTA members are not employees of sponsoring organizations. Because members serve under the authority of federal statute, their limited employment relationship is with the federal government (discussed above), not the sponsoring organization, and is governed by federal law, not state law. The AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organization is not authorized to make contributions to any state unemployment compensation fund on behalf of AmeriCorps VISTA members assigned to the organization.
LIABILITY COVERAGE (FEDERAL TORT CLAIMS ACT)
AmeriCorps VISTA members are considered federal employees for the purpose of coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The federal government assumes liability for any damage to property or injury to persons caused by a member that arises only out of his/her official duties and for which the member would be liable under local law. If any claim is made against a member with respect to an automobile accident or other damage allegedly caused during the course of the member's service activities, the member should immediately report such claim to the project supervisor or sponsoring organization, who in turn will contact the Corporation State Office. Refer to Chapter 7 for procedures to be followed in the event of an accident involving a member.
In cases of potential liability on the part of the AmeriCorps VISTA member for damage to property or injury to persons, other than motor vehicle accidents, the sponsoring organization or supervisor must immediately inform the Corporation State Office, which after consultation with the Corporation's Office of General Counsel will advise the sponsoring organization on what steps to take.
Members and sponsoring organizations are prohibited from making any statements to other parties to accidents concerning the ultimate liability of the government on a particular claim. Statements concerning responsibility for an accident should only be made to government investigating officers. The Corporation's Office of General Counsel or the Department of Justice, if appropriate, will make the final determination as to whether an accident occurred within the scope of the member's project-related activities and the extent of the federal government's liability.
Members and sponsoring organizations are expected to give full cooperation to the Corporation's Office of General Counsel in obtaining necessary evidence and materials, and to the Department of Justice or United States Attorney in the event any legal action is begun in connection with an accident.
During off-duty hours, or in any situation in which members are not engaged in project-related activities, members are as personally liable as any other citizen for any damage or injury they cause.
FEDERAL EMPLOYEES' COMPENSATION ACT
AmeriCorps VISTA members are also considered employees for the purpose of coverage under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA), also known as the Federal Worker's Compensation Act.
Under section 415(b) of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, (42 U.S.C. § 5055), AmeriCorps VISTA members who are injured or suffer occupational disease in the course of their AmeriCorps VISTA service may claim and be eligible to receive benefits to cover medical expenses under FECA. FECA is administered not by the Corporation, but rather by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Worker's Compensation Programs (OWCP). OWCP, not the Corporation, decides whether an AmeriCorps VISTA member should be granted or denied a worker's compensation claim.
Despite being employees for the limited purposes as noted above, AmeriCorps VISTA members assigned to local sponsoring organizations are not eligible to receive unemployment compensation for their service. AmeriCorps VISTA members are not in an employment relationship with either the federal government or the project sponsoring organization for employment compensation purposes. They are, therefore, not covered by federal or state unemployment compensation for their periods of AmeriCorps VISTA service. AmeriCorps VISTA members elect a stipend or an Education Award in lieu of unemployment compensation.
While they serve in the AmeriCorps VISTA program, some AmeriCorps VISTA members may receive unemployment compensation earned during previous employment. That compensation is unrelated to their AmeriCorps VISTA service and is limited to unemployment compensation previously owed to the member. Such compensation cannot be based on continued compensation during service. The authority to continue such unemployment compensation while in the AmeriCorps VISTA program remains with the state unemployment compensation official and not with the Corporation. Accepting unemployment compensation that has not been authorized by the governor, or his designee, may result in overpayments, which can be collected by the state.
CIVIL SERVICE BENEFITS
AmeriCorps VISTA members enrolled for a period of service of at least one year are entitled to the following federal civil service benefits, see 42 U.S.C. § 5055 for additional information.
NON-COMPETITIVE ELIGIBILITY IN FEDERAL CIVIL SERVICE
AmeriCorps VISTA members may be hired as a non-competitive eligible appointee after successfully completing at least one full year of VISTA service. A non-competitive eligibility appointment means that a federal agency may hire a former member by establishing that the individual meets the minimum qualifications for a job, including any written test requirement. If the former member meets the qualification standards, they do not have to compete with the general public to be hired.
AmeriCorps VISTA service, however, is not creditable toward the service requirements for career tenure or toward completion of a probationary period. The probationary period begins with the appointment to federal civil service.
Non-competitive hiring privileges extend for one year after completion of AmeriCorps VISTA service, except that the employing agency may extend the period for an additional two years for a former member who enters military service, studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in activities that, in the view of the appointing authority, warrant an extension of the one-year limit.
As a former AmeriCorps VISTA member, you are not guaranteed a federal civil service job.
Civil service openings are limited; obtaining employment will depend on such factors as your ability to locate an agency with a vacancy, your qualifications and suitability for the position, and the agency's interest in hiring you. You must comply with the position announcement instructions and provide the requested applicant information. Information on available federal positions may be obtained from Federal Job Information Centers across the country. These centers are listed in metropolitan area phone directories under "U.S. Government." You can also find federal positions listed at: http://www.usajobs.gov/.
To establish non-competitive status, you will need proof of eligibility for job consideration under the special hiring procedures described. You may print a letter that states your non-competitive eligibility from the My AmeriCorps portal after you successfully complete your year of VISTA service.
FEDERAL CIVIL SERVICE CREDIT
One of the benefits you receive as a member hired into the federal civil service is that your time as an AmeriCorps VISTA member will be credited toward a pension in the Federal Employees Retirement System, provided you pay a portion of your retirement contribution to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The payment is based upon a statutorily mandated percentage of the stipend payment. The education award, like the stipend, is considered a form of payment. Therefore, AmeriCorps VISTA members who elect the education award also will be required to make the same percentage cash payment to their retirement account as if they had actually received the stipend.
The service credit deposit payment should be made within two years of the individual becoming a federal employee. If the payment is delayed for a period greater than two years, interest will be payable. VISTA alumni who become federal employees must contact the Human Resources/Benefits personnel at their current federal agency to initiate the deposit process.
AmeriCorps VISTA service may be credited in connection with subsequent federal employment in the same manner as a like period of regular civilian employment by the federal government. AmeriCorps VISTA service will apply toward purposes of determining seniority, reduction in force and layoff rights, leave entitlement, and other rights and privileges based on length of service under laws administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and other laws establishing terms and conditions of service of federal civilian employees.
AmeriCorps VISTA service, however, is not credited toward completion of any probationary or trial period, or completion of any service requirement for a career appointment.
LEGAL SUPPORT AND REQUEST FOR INFORMATION
The Corporation has the discretion to pay expenses incurred in the legal defense of AmeriCorps VISTA members in judicial and administrative proceedings that relate to AmeriCorps VISTA service. These expenses include counsel fees, court costs, bail, and other incidental costs. There is, however, no provision for the payment of attorney fees when members are involved in disputes addressing the denial or decrease of government benefits (see, for example, income disregard disputes under 42 U.S.C. § 5044), AmeriCorps VISTA termination (45 CFR Part 2556), or grievance (45 CFR Part 2556) procedures. The Corporation's regulations on payment of member legal expenses are in 45 CFR Part 2556 (see Appendix C).
THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT (FOIA) AND THE PRIVACY ACT
The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552) gives citizens the right, with certain basic exceptions, to inspect federal records or have access to information maintained by the federal government. Corporation regulations on implementation of the Freedom of Information Act are contained in 45 CFR Part 2507.
The Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. § 552a) gives citizens a proprietary right to their records and to control access to information maintained about them, with a few exceptions, by the federal government. This right applies to systems of records that contain personal data and where an individual record can be located by name or an assigned personal identifier. Corporation regulations on implementation of the Privacy Act are contained in 45 CFR Part 2508.
AmeriCorps VISTA members may access information regarding the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act through the Corporation's Internet site at: http://www.nationalservice.gov.