TERMS & CONDITIONS OF SERVICE
The chapter introduces you to other important terms and conditions of VISTA service, such as limitation on activities, expressing views and concerns regarding VISTA service, property loss, responsibility for financial debt, intellectual property created during service, the evacuation policy for VISTA members, and more.
A fundamental assumption of AmeriCorps VISTA service is that members serve in a low-income community at the sponsor’s location and project site. Under limited circumstances, the CNCS State Office may approve a VISTA member’s request to perform service with a project under a teleservice agreement where they can perform project-related duties from home. Members who request to serve under a teleservice arrangement under the auspices of a reasonable accommodation request are excluded from this policy, as those requests are covered under other laws and policies.
Requests for episodic teleservice, not to exceed two days per pay period (a pay period is 14 continuous days), may be considered after a member has been serving satisfactorily at the project site at least three months. Both the supervisor and the CNCS State Office must agree that the following VISTA service requirements are fully satisfied:
- The member knows the organization and the people within it well enough to effectively build capacity within the organization
- The member lives near and serves the people in the community and knows the community and people sufficiently to serve them well
- The member has proven to the sponsor/supervisor to be a reliable team member (punctual, motivated, professional, thorough, etc.)
- The member understands that VISTA service is not a 9-5 assignment; that it demands flexibility and availability in one’s schedule
- The supervisor acts as a coach and mentor and goes beyond the responsibilities of a supervisor to an employee
- The member has access to reliable internet and phone to be able to teleserve and be contacted as needed.
In addition to the prerequisites above, the member’s VISTA Assignment Description (VAD) must lend itself to teleservice by including tasks that can be completed from home.
To apply for an episodic teleservice arrangement, a member must (1) request a Teleservice Checklist form from the State Office; (2) complete the form and obtain the VISTA supervisor’s approval and signature; and (3) submit the form to the State Office. The State Office must also approve the requested teleservice arrangement. A member cannot engage in teleservice unless the member gets the written approval of both the VISTA supervisor and the CNCS State Office. At the discretion of the CNCS State Office, a teleservice arrangement for a member can be revoked at any time, without prior notice.
RULES AND RESTRICTIONS
As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you are expected to honor your commitment to serve on a full-time basis for one year (in addition to time spent in Pre-Service Orientation). While members are allowed to seek and secure outside part-time employment, it must not conflict with the VISTA member’s service or service hours as assigned by the sponsor.
Members must remain available for service at all times during the member's term of service, except for periods of approved leave. As a result, you may not be absent from the project without approval from the sponsoring organization or supervisor.
If you take outside employment while serving as a VISTA member, you are not permitted to be an employee of or contractor for the sponsor or sub-site to which you are assigned to serve. While in VISTA service, you may only accept outside employment for positions that are:
- Do not conflict with your service or service hours;
- Do not violate any applicable Federal, state, or local laws and regulations; and
- Do not conflict with any AmeriCorps VISTA program requirements or policies.
Before accepting such outside employment, you must obtain the approval of your supervisor. If you are already working in a part-time position, you must immediately obtain the approval of your supervisor to continue to do so. To approve your outside employment, your supervisor must ensure there is no conflict between the employment and your service or service hours.
For more details, please see the Outside Employment Policy Page on the VISTA Campus. This page includes FAQs and the Outside Employment Request Form.
Additionally, individuals may not enroll in another AmeriCorps program while serving with AmeriCorps VISTA. Concurrent enrollment in another program (AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State/National, etc.) is not permitted.
ADDITIONAL TERMS OF SERVICE
Under certain circumstances, a member may extend or reenroll in service beyond one year, for up to five years. You may pursue additional terms of service with your initial project or in another area of interest as a member or Leader. Extensions and reenrollments are subject to CNCS approval.
VISTA members and Leaders may participate in online or in-person classes, regardless of subject matter, during their service year. However, the AmeriCorps VISTA program is a full immersion experience that requires its members to be able to attend community meetings and dedicate themselves to understanding and serving the community to which they are assigned.
Course work and class scheduling must not interfere with the operations of the VISTA project or your responsibilities. You and your supervisor will need to determine whether or not course requirements detract from your commitment to the VISTA project. If you enrolled in a class(es) before you became a VISTA, discuss your study plan right away with your supervisor and make sure that the class(es) will not interfere with your project. Enrollment in courses without prior authorization from your supervisor is cause for termination.
Service to the sponsoring organization and community takes precedence over course work. If a VISTA member or Leader is unable to complete assigned tasks or responsibilities due to course work, the supervisor will contact the CNCS State Office. If schedules and demands of the sponsoring organization and the course cannot be balanced, the CNCS State Office will direct the VISTA member or Leader to withdraw from the course. Failure to withdraw will be cause for termination from the VISTA program and forfeiture of all benefits.
A member may participate in scholarship and financial aid programs, provided the program requirements do not interfere with the operations of the VISTA project to which they are assigned or the responsibilities of the VISTA. The VISTA project’s needs supersede any such program requirements.
WORK STUDY, FELLOWSHIP, AND INTERNSHIP PROGRAMS
A VISTA may participate in paid work study, fellowships, and/or internship programs provided the fellowship or program is not in conflict with the duties and other relevant policies of VISTA service.
One of the three fundamental assumptions of AmeriCorps VISTA is that the skills and energies of AmeriCorps VISTA members are used most effectively when they live and work with the low-income people they are serving. In keeping with this philosophy, you are expected to secure housing using your living allowance, which is provided to cover the basic costs of food, housing, and utilities. You should look for housing within the community to which you are assigned. Because members' living allowances are limited, you are allowed to accept offers of free or low-cost housing made by community members, local organizations, educational institutions, or sponsoring organizations.
Some examples of housing that you may accept include:
- A community resident offers unused free housing space to you because he or she is proud to have an AmeriCorps VISTA member in the community.
- A local business wants to offer a vacant apartment over the shop area.
- A national housing company offers reduced-rate housing for volunteers who are serving in a given community and you meet the eligibility requirements.
- A local, state, or federal government agency provides free or low-cost housing in areas with limited housing opportunities.
- A sponsoring organization rents housing space on your behalf.
- A sponsoring organization allows you to occupy a portion of existing space the sponsor already owns or rents.
Under no circumstances may you accept money directly from a sponsoring organization to supplement your living allowance or pay for rent or mortgage. All housing support must be paid directly to the landlord, leasing agent, or mortgage holder.
Accepting free or reduced-cost housing may increase the amount of your reportable income for tax purposes. If you receive housing assistance you may receive a 1099 form to aid you in reporting this on your tax return.
You are also fully responsible for any legal or financial issues with your landlord (e.g., the project closes and you owe money on your lease).
EXPRESSING YOUR VIEWS AND CONCERNS REGARDING SERVICE
There are procedures that allow for systematic and open communication of your views, and for effective resolution of your concerns regarding the terms and conditions of your AmeriCorps VISTA service.
CNCS provides for:
- A free and open opportunity for you to communicate your views to appropriate CNCS officials
- An opportunity for you to be heard in connection with the terms and conditions of your service
- Response to and possible resolution of your problems or concerns by appropriate CNCS officials
If you believe your concerns regarding the terms and conditions of service have not been properly addressed, you may communicate those concerns directly to your CNCS State Office which can be found here: https://www.nationalservice.gov/about/contact-us/state-offices.
AMERICORPS VISTA GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE
During your service, a circumstance may arise that directly affects your service situation or that you believe violates regulations governing the terms and conditions of service, resulting in a denial or infringement of a right or benefit to you. In such a circumstance, you may file a grievance.
The member grievance procedure is contained in 45 CFR Part 2556. You should read the procedure in its entirety before initiating any grievance. Under this procedure, you are not permitted to grieve matters for which a separate administrative procedure (e.g., discrimination complaints as discussed in Chapter 15) is provided. Consequently, you may not grieve matters that are processed through the Volunteer Discrimination Complaint Procedure, which is contained in 45 CFR Part 1225 Subpart D.
VISTA members, Leaders, and candidates are responsible for safeguarding their personal property. Neither CNCS nor the VISTA program is an insurer of personal property or cash and does not replace or reimburse for the loss of personal property or cash.
CNCS does not insure personal property; however, it can reimburse AmeriCorps VISTA members for lost, damaged, or stolen property under certain circumstances and for limited amounts. You are strongly urged not to take expensive property to assignments and to maintain your own insurance against property loss and damage during your service.
If essential belongings are lost, you will be reimbursed only with sufficient funds to obtain replacement items adequate to function on your assignment. For example, if you lose expensive items in your wardrobe, reimbursement is based on the cost of replacing the items with clothing suitable for the project assignment. No reimbursement is made for luxury items, such as photographic or electronic equipment, unless they are deemed essential to your assignment.
If you suffer a loss, the CNCS State Office requires a written statement, signed and dated by you, that:
- Describes in detail the circumstances surrounding the loss.
- Itemizes the property or allowance lost.
- Explains why the property or allowance is essential to your ability to serve effectively.
- Indicates whether or not the property or allowance was covered by insurance.
- If the property or allowance was covered by insurance, includes the policy number (if known), whether and when a claim has been presented to the insurer, and the action, if any, the insurer has taken with respect to the claim.
- States that you agree to reimburse CNCS for any such recovery of replaced property or payments received in reimbursement.
- Provides evidence, in the case of theft, that such theft has been reported to the appropriate law enforcement authorities. Such evidence should include a copy of the police report. Lost or stolen allowance checks are not covered by these procedures. Please refer to Chapter 5’s guidance related to payment by paper check for the specific policy dealing with lost checks.
OTHER MATTERS WHILE IN SERVICE
RESPONSIBILITY FOR FINANCIAL DEBTS
CNCS is not responsible for debts incurred by you to commercial creditors, regardless of when you incur a debt. CNCS has no authority to act as an intermediary to collect private debts on behalf of a creditor or claimant, nor does CNCS have the authority to direct you to take specific action concerning your financial affairs.
You are encouraged to pay all legal debts promptly to avoid a situation that would impair your ability to effectively complete your term of service. In cases of continued financial irresponsibility to the extent of embarrassment or adverse reflection upon the sponsoring organization's project or the AmeriCorps VISTA program, CNCS may take administrative or disciplinary action up to and including termination.
Neither you nor the sponsoring organization is authorized to obtain extension of credit by representing yourself as an employee of the federal government. CNCS also assumes no financial responsibility for a nonmember spouse or for dependents.
KEEPING IN TOUCH
Change of Address Notification
If your contact information changes (phone number, email, mailing address), you must update your profile on your Member Homepage in your my.americorps.gov account immediately to ensure timely delivery of correspondence and tax documents.
Change of Name Notification
The CNCS State Office and the VISTA Member Support Unit should be notified in writing via the National Service Hotline of a change in your name or marital status for record keeping. Legal documentation of the name change (marriage certificate, divorce decree, name change form) is required. Documentation should be provided to the National Service Hotline via fax (703-206-7276) and include a cover page with full name, NSPID and contact information.
Disclosure and Use of Member Addresses
CNCS will use members' private addresses for internal administrative purposes only. Your private address (home of record or residence during service) may be disclosed by CNCS with your prior written permission, or to duly authorized representatives of federal investigative agencies, including CNCS's Office of Inspector General, and pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.
The mailing address of AmeriCorps VISTA projects are public knowledge and may be disclosed when requested.
SUPPLIES AND EQUIPEMENT
Because it is the policy of CNCS to encourage self-help and mobilization of resources, CNCS does not provide equipment or supplies required by members in their project assignment. If special equipment or supplies are necessary to successfully implement a project, they must be provided by the sponsoring organization.
DONATED AND OTHER GIFTS TO BENEFIT THE PROJECT
CNCS does not pay shipping costs for gifts or materials that have been donated or obtained by you to benefit the project to which you are assigned. Such costs should be borne by the sponsoring organization.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY CREATED DURING SERVICE
You have the right to copyright work that is subject to copyright, including software designs, training manuals, curricula, videotapes, and other products created by you while serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. You may not sell any work, however, that includes an AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps VISTA, or other CNCS logo without prior written approval of CNCS. By enrolling in AmeriCorps VISTA, with regard to products created by you while serving as a VISTA member, you agree to give CNCS and the sponsoring organization an unlimited, royalty-free, nonexclusive, and irrevocable license to obtain, use, reproduce, publish, or disseminate products, including data produced for the sponsoring organization, and you agree to authorize others to do so. CNCS may distribute such products through a designated clearinghouse.
EVACUATION POLICY FOR AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBERS
If an emergency situation arises in your area of service that poses a potential or actual threat to life or property, such as a natural disaster, you are expected to abide by the evacuation policy for AmeriCorps VISTA members:
- Follow the orders or recommendations of the state and local governments regarding the need to evacuate an area.
- Seek safe haven (evacuation shelters, etc.) and contact the CNCS State Office and your project supervisor to notify them of your whereabouts within 48 hours. If the CNCS State Office cannot be reached, contact the National Service Hotline at 800-942-2677; identify yourself, your project, your current location, and how best to contact you.
- If after five days you cannot return to your project site:
- Contact the CNCS State Office to confirm the state of emergency. If the state office cannot be contacted, return to your home of record, and call the National Service Hotline at 800-942-2677, to inform CNCS of your return home. If your home of record is in the affected community, remain in the safe haven. If the state office foresees the possibility of you returning to your site within a work week, it may request you to remain in safe haven, provided you are secure.
- Unless otherwise directed by the CNCS State Office, you are placed in administrative hold and you continue to receive a living allowance for 30 days. You may seek an assignment at another project in another area through a request to the CNCS State Office. If after 30 days, your original project site remains closed, and no other assignment has been identified, then your service is terminated for compelling reasons.
- An advance for emergency expenses, including return to home of record, up to $500, is available from your sponsoring organization. If funds are not available, contact the CNCS State Office. If the state office cannot be reached and you need to request an advance for travel, call the National Service Hotline at 800-942-2677, for assistance. Remember to keep the receipts to verify your emergency travel expenditures.