The Corporation provides a support or living allowance to you to cover the cost of food, housing, and other basic necessities during service. Amounts are low because you are expected to live at approximately the same economic level as the people you are serving. The Corporation assumes no financial responsibility for a member other than the allowances and benefits provided to a member as discussed in this handbook or as determined by the Corporation. The Corporation assumes no financial responsibility for a member's spouse or dependent children. AmeriCorps VISTA sponsoring organizations may not supplement the living allowance members receive from the Corporation unless specifically authorized by the Corporation.
Upon assignment as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you will begin receiving a living allowance. The Corporation determines the living allowance rate, which varies according to the local cost of living in the area where you serve (see VISTA Living Allowance Rates by County for more information about the living allowance rate in the area where you serve).
Member living allowances are computed on a daily rate and paid every other week. Living allowance payments cover a 14-day period. Direct deposit payments to AmeriCorps VISTA members are made five days after the pay period ends.
Federal income tax deductions and life insurance premiums, if applicable, are withheld from the living allowance. No state, county, or city tax deductions are withheld. You are responsible for paying the appropriate taxes.
AmeriCorps VISTA members are not eligible to receive unemployment compensation for their service. (See Chapter 14 for information on income exclusion of benefits under federal, state, and local assistance programs.)
The end-of-service stipend is a post-service readjustment allowance intended to offset expenses after ending service. Prior to or during Pre-Service Orientation, you elected to receive either the end-of-service stipend or the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. The end-of-service stipend accrues at the rate of $125 per month, for a total of $1,500 per year.
The end-of-service stipend is given to members who successfully complete 12 months of service. Members generally do not receive a stipend if they do not complete 12 months of service. However, if a member's service is ended for compelling personal circumstances, the member will receive a prorated stipend (see the Prorated Stipend section below). Members whose terms of service are extended for additional months will receive an additional stipend at the rate of $125 per month. Federal income tax and FICA (Social Security and Medicare) deductions are withheld from the stipend at the time of payment.
At any time prior to the end of the 10th month of service, members who initially elected the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award can change their decision and elect the end-of-service stipend instead. To effect this change, you will need to click on the ‘Edit End of Service Option’ link on your My AmeriCorps portal member home page and select the stipend as your end-of-service benefit. The Corporation does not automatically send you a reminder. You must switch from the education award to the stipend before the end of the tenth month of service. No further changes may be made by members. (See Chapter 6 for a complete discussion of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.)
Members who initially elect the end-of service stipend cannot switch to the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, but they may be eligible for other education benefits. (See Chapter 6 for information on education benefits.)
Members who reenroll have the option to select either the stipend or education award for their second or third year of service. Members may earn up to the aggregate value of two full education awards.
The stipend is disbursed automatically with the last two living allowance payments, provided that service is completed as scheduled and end-of service documents are properly completed and submitted to the Corporation State Office. Members who continue in AmeriCorps VISTA immediately after completing a year of service will receive their stipend for the first year in the final pay period for that term of service, provided all documentation has been completed and submitted on a timely basis.
PRORATED END-OF-SERVICE STIPEND
In rare circumstances, AmeriCorps VISTA members who leave service early for a compelling personal circumstance and who have elected to receive an stipend for when they successfully complete a term of service, may qualify for a prorated education award. The CNCS State Director has the authority to approve a member’s eligibility for a prorated education award if the member leaves service early because of a compelling personal circumstance. A detailed discussion of situations that constitute a compelling personal circumstance, and other extenuating circumstances that qualify for such a prorated stipend, is presented in Chapter 12: Administrative Policies, under the section, "Early Termination of a VISTA Member for a Compelling Personal Circumstance."
If you elected to receive an end-of-service stipend and you leave AmeriCorps VISTA service for a compelling personal circumstance or for a public policy reasons listed in Chapter 12, and you have completed at least 15 percent (55 days) of your required service, you are eligible for a prorated portion of the end-of-service stipend that corresponds to the portion served. The stipend accrues at a rate of $125 per month for all currently serving VISTAs who chose the end-of service stipend.
Early Departure for Another AmeriCorps Program
If you are accepted into another AmeriCorps program and are required to begin training or service in the other program prior to the conclusion of AmeriCorps VISTA service, you are also eligible for a prorated end-of-service stipend, provided you served at least 335 calendar days as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.
SEGAL AMERICORPS EDUCATION AWARD
The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is a post service benefit that is used to pay for education costs at qualified institutions of higher education, for educational training, or to repay qualified student loans. The education award for a year of full-time service equals the maximum Pell Grant level during the fiscal year in which a member begins service. You can access the education award in full or in part, and can take up to seven years after your term of service has ended to use the award.
Before Pre-Service Orientation, you selected an end-of-service benefit in My AmeriCorps. You were given the option to choose either the end-of service stipend, as discussed above, or the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. You cannot choose both. If you selected the education award and die during service, the Corporation will consider your election of the education award rescinded and your estate will receive a prorated end-of-service stipend.(See Chapter 6 for a complete discussion of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.)
PRORATED SEGAL AMERICORPS EDUCATION AWARD
In rare circumstances, AmeriCorps VISTA members who elected to receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, but left service early (other than those members who were terminated early by the Corporation State Director for cause, such as misconduct) may qualify for a prorated education award. A detailed discussion of the limited bases for members to qualify for a prorated education award is in Chapter 6: Education Benefits, under the section, "If You Elect the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award
Members serving a 12-month term and moving 50 miles or more from their home of record to their project site are eligible to receive a settling-in allowance of $550. Requests for the settling-in allowance should be directed to the Corporation State Office. This allowance is intended to cover initial moving expenses (security deposit, utility deposit, etc.). The settling-in allowance is subject to federal income tax deduction, and it is disbursed in the first living allowance payment.
EMERGENCY EXPENSE ALLOWANCE
The Director of the VISTA Member Support Unit may authorize a onetime expense allowance to cover extraordinary costs, such as reimbursement for theft, fire loss, or special clothing necessitated by severe climate. This allowance is not intended to supplement the living expenses of members. Expense allowances are paid directly to the member by the Corporation. Contact the VISTA Member Support Unit to determine if you qualify for such assistance.
HOW DO AmeriCorps VISTA MEMBERS GET PAID?
As an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you are required to have your biweekly living allowance sent via electronic funds transfer or direct deposit. The U.S. Treasury requires federal payments to be made by direct deposit, except when this form of payment would cause unusual hardship on the payee. (For hardship cases, see Appendix A for the procedure to have payments made by paper check.)
To set up direct deposit, you must complete the direct deposit form under 'My Living allowance' in the My Americorps Portal. You will need your bank account number and your bank's routing number. Contact your banking institution of you have questions. If you currently do not have a bank account, you may open an Electronic Transfer Account for a nominal monthly fee. To learn more, visit www.eta-find.gov.
The Corporation for National and Community Service will process your direct deposit request form. If you change your bank or account number at any time, or close the account, you must inform the Corporation immediately.
All regular biweekly living allowances, as well as any other taxable allowances, are recorded on the member's earnings statement. You can view your earning statement on your My AmeriCorps homepage under 'My Living Allowance'. A VISTA Living Allowance Calendar and Statement Information are available in the Living Allowance section of Life as a VISTA on VISTA Campus.
TAXES: OBLIGATIONS, WITHHOLDINGS, AND CREDITS
AmeriCorps VISTA members pay taxes. All AmeriCorps VISTA allowances, except service related travel payments, baggage allowances (discussed in Chapter 7: Travel and Transportation Support), and emergency expense allowances, are subject to federal and state income taxes.
The Corporation withholds federal income tax deductions from the regular biweekly allowance payment. You must complete a W-4 form in the My AmereCorps portal on your member homepage under 'My Living Allowance' to determine the amount of income tax deductions you want withheld. If you believe you are exempt from having federal income tax deductions withheld from your allowance payment, you must claim exempt status on the W-4 form. The W-4 form explains the eligibility requirements for tax-exempt status. W-4 forms that claim exemption from income tax withholding expire February 15 of the following year. If a new W-4 form for the new year is not updated in the portal before February 15, income tax withholding will be deducted according to the previous years' W-4.
STATE, COUNTY, AND MUNICIPAL TAXES
The Corporation does not withhold any state,county, or city income tax deductions from your allowance payment; however, you are still responsible for all your taxes. Saving a portion of your allowance each month is a wise way to accrue funds needed for your state and local income taxes. You should contact the state and local government tax offices in the state where you are assigned, or where you maintain a permanent residence, to help you determine the amount of funds you will need to save to pay your taxes.
SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE
FICA (Social Security and Medicare) is withheld from the end-of-service stipend and submitted to the Internal Revenue Service at the time the stipend is paid to the member. The total stipend the member receives may be counted under Security regulations toward credits of coverage. The term "coverage" refers to the accumulation of 40 credits (10 years) necessary for an individual to receive Social Security benefits at retirement. The amounts required for credits of coverage are adjusted annually by the Social Security Administration. Members seeking to obtain "coverage" should contact a local Social Security office to determine if the stipend amount is sufficient to be applied.
FICA is not withheld from the living allowance. VISTA members are not responsible for paying FICA.
W-2 FORM-STATEMENT OF EARNINGS AND TAXES WITHHELD
The Corporation will mail a W-2 form to you by January 31 of each year showing the amount of earnings and the amount of federal taxes withheld for the preceding calendar year. You may review a personal copy under 'My Tax Statements' on you My AmeriCorps member homepage after February 1. If the W-2 form has not arrived by February 15, you should notify the VISTA Member Support Unit via the National Service Hotline at 800.942-2677. You should also update any change in your permanent and mailing address in your My AmeriCorps account.
EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT
Under the Tax Reform Act of 1986, certain families with limited income may be eligible for earned income tax credit (EITC). Earned income tax credit is an amount that is subtracted from taxes owed. If your credit is larger than your tax, or if there is no tax, you may be eligible for a refund from the Internal Revenue Service even if you had no tax withheld from your pay. EIC is based on your earned income, including your AmeriCorps VISTA allowances.
The Internal Revenue Service determines an individual's eligibility for EITC. It is not the responsibility of the Corporation to verify eligibility. If you expect to qualify for EITC, or are not sure if you qualify, you should contact the Internal Revenue Service to verify eligibility.
Members who are eligible for EITC can claim the credit on their tax returns. A form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ must be filed to claim EITC even if no taxes were withheld from allowances during the year.
Receipt of EITC may affect your benefit levels under certain public assistance programs. Therefore, it is advisable to check with these programs before filing for EITC.
DEDUCTIONS FROM ALLOWANCES
With your permission, the Corporation will make deductions from your biweekly living allowance payment to cover court-ordered or voluntary child support or alimony payments and court-ordered bankruptcy. IRS tax levy deductions will be made without your permission. Such deductions will be shown under "Tax and Court Levies" on your earnings statement.
DEBTS YOU OWE TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
Effective January 1998, the Treasury Department implemented the Treasury Offset Program to collect debts owed to the United States. The program works automatically to reduce the amount of federal payments to people or companies that have delinquent federal and state debts or are delinquent with child support payments.
Currently, this program covers all payments that the Corporation makes to AmeriCorps VISTA members, except the living allowance payment, end-of-service stipend, and Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. In the near future, as the program is upgraded, it may cover the living allowance payment, end-of-service stipend, and education award. Currently, the Treasury Offset Program includes travel and other miscellaneous reimbursements. The money will be taken from payments made to AmeriCorps VISTA members who are identified by the Treasury as having delinquent federal debt. Any federal debt older than six months can be collected through this program. If you owe a debt of this kind, the Treasury Department will take payments that the Corporation would have made to you to offset the debt. You will receive a letter from the Treasury explaining that the deducted amount is being applied to your outstanding debt. The Treasury Department's letter will include the name of the creditor agency and contact points, including telephone numbers for the creditor organization. The Corporation plays no role in this process.
RECOVERY OF OVERPAYMENT
Overpayments to members, when they occur, include travel allowances payments greater than the amount to which a member is entitled. Overpayments also include living allowance payments that exceed the amount to which a member is entitled because the member terminated early before the Corporation was advised of the termination. To avoid such overpayments, you should give the sponsoring organization and the Corporation a two-week notice if you must terminate early from AmeriCorps VISTA service.
If you are overpaid any time during your service, you are given the opportunity to repay the overpaid amount at the rate of $25 per pay period from your biweekly living allowance depending on time left in your term of service. If your overpayment is excessive, the amount automatically collected from your biweekly living allowance may be greater than $25 increments. Any overpayment still outstanding after you complete service will be collected from the final living allowance and/or stipend payments, if you have not set up a payment plan.
If you do not pay the outstanding balance in full before or shortly after you leave service, you must set up a payment plan with the Corporation. You may also make payments online at www.pay.gov. To recover any overpayment remaining after completion of service, the Corporation will initiate the debt collection process, if you do not have a payment plan in place.
Failure to repay debt owed to the Corporation may delay or totally preclude the receipt of your Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.
AmeriCorps VISTA offers child care benefits to members who qualify. The maximum amount of child care assistance a member can receive is $400 per child per month. To qualify for the VISTA child care benefit, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Your household income does not exceed the limit determined by the state in which the child care is provided. This limit is different for each state and may change annually. In determining household income, the VISTA member’s living allowance is disregarded.
- You do not already receive a child care subsidy from another source for the same child.
- Your child must be under age 13.
GAP Solutions, Inc. administers the child care benefit program for AmeriCorps VISTA. Therefore, you apply directly to GAP Solutions, Inc. for the child care benefit. You may download the VISTA child care application and more detail about the application process from the GAP Solutions, Inc. website at: www.americorpschildcare.com/. You may also contact GAP Solutions, Inc. at 855-886-0687 (toll-free) or via email at AmericorpsChildCare@gapsi.com.
If you are approved to receive the child care benefit, you may apply a portion of the subsidy to cover the cost for child care while you were attending Pre-Service Orientation.
As administrator, GAP Solutions, Inc. pays the child care subsidy directly to your provider. GAP Solutions, Inc. also verifies the following:
- Your eligibility for the VISTA child care subsidy (whether you are serving in VISTA; GAP Solutions, Inc. may verify service through the Corporation program office in the state where you serve.)
- Your household income (Household income must comply with state regulations.)
- Credentials of your child care provider (whether the provider is authorized to provide child care in that state)
- Your child’s attendance in child care during the time for which the provider submitted an invoice (GAP Solutions, Inc. requires verification of attendance before paying the invoice.)
- Age of the child (The VISTA member must produce evidence of the child’s birth date.)
STATE BENEFIT LIMITS
Each state has different benefit limits for child care to eligible households. The VISTA program looks to these state limits for guidance in determining eligibility and the level of benefit. However, the maximum child care subsidy that can be provided to the VISTA is $400 per child per month; in addition, the VISTA subsidy cannot exceed the prevailing rate in the state in which the care is provided. The prevailing rate is determined by each state and may change each year. If the state’s prevailing rate is less than the VISTA subsidy, the lower rate prevails.
In some states, the VISTA child care benefit is less than a benefit that you may qualify to receive from another source. GAP Solutions, Inc. routinely advises you of superior benefits when it is aware of them.
Sponsoring organizations are prohibited from providing direct monetary assistance to AmeriCorps VISTA members for housing, but they may help members with housing in several ways. Some sponsors elect, but are not required, to provide housing subsidies directly to landlords for rent support (see "Member Housing" in Chapter 13).
AmeriCorps VISTA MEMBER ALLOWANCES AT A GLANCE
Type of Allowance
Amount Received and When
One-time payment for settling-in expenses
Federal taxes withheld at time of payment
Amount varies by location
|Housing, food, and utilities|
Federal taxes withheld biweekly
Emergency Expense Allowance
Discretionary allowance varies
|One-time reimbursement for theft, fire loss, special clothing|
Federal taxes are not withheld at time of payment
End-of-Service Stipend (Only for those not choosing the AmeriCorps Education Award)
Readjustment allowance at end of service
|Federal taxes and FICA withheld at time of payment|
AmeriCorps Education Award (Only for those not choosing the end-of-service stipend)
Payment of student loans and expenses to educational institutions
Subject to federal taxes in the year the award is used