Chapter 5: Financial Support

FINANCIAL SUPPORT

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) provides a 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. 
CNCS 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 CNCS. Similarly, CNCS assumes no financial responsibility for a member's spouse or dependent children. 

LIVING ALLOWANCE

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Upon starting service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, you will begin receiving a living allowance. CNCS 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). Each year, AmeriCorps VISTA conducts an analysis of the living allowance rates to ensure compliance with our governing legislation, the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, as amended (DVSA). The review consists of comparing poverty rates with the cost of housing in each county where our members and leaders serve.
 
Member living allowances are computed on a daily rate and paid every 14 days.  Payments to AmeriCorps VISTA members are made via direct deposit. See the Living Allowance Calendar and Statement Information for direct deposit dates. It is essential that you enter your direct deposit information correctly before starting service. Failure to do so will result in at least a two week delay in receiving your living allowance. 
 
Federal income tax deductions are withheld from the living allowance. No state, county, or city tax deductions are withheld.  However, you are responsible for paying those taxes, as appropriate.
 
AmeriCorps VISTA members are not eligible to receive unemployment compensation for their service. (See Chapter 15 for information on income exclusion of benefits under federal, state, and local assistance programs.)

END-OF-SERVICE BENEFIT
 

Prior to Pre-Service Orientation, you will elect to receive either the end-of-service stipend or the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.  Members may only receive one of these benefits.  

END-OF-SERVICE STIPEND
 

The end-of-service cash stipend is awarded 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 ends early for a compelling personal circumstance, the member may receive a prorated stipend (see the Prorated Stipend section below).
 
The end-of-service stipend accrues at the daily rate.  See chart below for rates. 
 
Members$4.11/day (Through July 8, 2017)$4.94/day (Beginning July 9, 2017)
Leaders$8.22/day
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Members who extend their service term receive a stipend at the appropriate daily rate for the extension period.  The end-of-service stipend is the only end-of-service benefit available during an extension period.  Federal income tax and FICA (Social Security and Medicare) deductions are withheld from the stipend at the time of payment.
 
Members electing to receive the end-of-service stipend at the end of their service year receive $400 of their accrued stipend (minus federal income tax and FICA deductions) in the living allowance payment for the next-to-the-last pay period of their service year. The remaining stipend balance is disbursed in the last pay period of their term of service.
 
Members extending service receive the end-of-service stipend for their extension period in the final pay period of the extension period.  If a member reenrolls and elects the stipend as their post-service benefit, a stipend (if elected for the first year) is disbursed as outlined above, and another stipend accrues during the second term.

PRORATED END-OF-SERVICE STIPEND

 
In rare circumstances, AmeriCorps VISTA members who leave service early for a compelling personal circumstance and who elected to receive an end-of-service stipend, may qualify for a prorated stipend. The CNCS State Program Director has the authority to approve eligibility for a prorated end-of-service stipend if you have completed at least 15 percent (55 days) of your required service term and leave 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 end-of-service stipend, is presented in Chapter 13: Administrative Policies, under the section “Early Termination of a VISTA Member for a Compelling Personal Circumstance.” Because the end-of-service stipend accrues at a daily rate, a prorated end-of-service stipend is based on the number of days served.

SEGAL AMERICORPS EDUCATION AWARD

 
The Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (education award) is a post service benefit that is used to pay for education costs at eligible institutions of higher education, for educational training, or to repay eligible 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. Members can use 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, members select an end-of-service benefit in my.americorps.gov. Members have the option to choose either the end-of service stipend, as discussed above, or the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. Members cannot choose both. If a member selects the education award and passes away during service, CNCS will consider the election of the education award rescinded and the member’s designated beneficiary or estate will receive a prorated end-of-service stipend. (See Chapter 6 for a complete discussion of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. Refer to the VISTA Campus at vistacampus.gov for tips on using the award effectively.)  Additional information about the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award is available here: https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/alumni/segal-americorps-education-award/amount-eligibility-and-limitations

PRORATED SEGAL AMERICORPS EDUCATION AWARD

 
In rare circumstances, AmeriCorps VISTA members who leave service early for a compelling personal circumstance and who elected to receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award may qualify for a prorated education award. A detailed discussion of the reasons members may qualify for a prorated education award is in Chapter 6: Education Benefits, under the section, “If You Elect the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.”

CHANGING YOUR END-OF-SERVICE BENEFIT SELECTION

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] At any time prior to the end of the 10th month of service, members who initially elect the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award can change their decision and elect the end-of-service stipend. To do so, you must click on the ‘Edit End-of-service Option’ link on your my.americorps.gov member home page and select the stipend as the end-of-service benefit. You must make this change before the end of your 10th month of service. CNCS does not send a reminder to do this. After making this change, you cannot make any further changes. (See Chapter 6 for a complete discussion of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.)
 
However, members who elect the end-of service stipend cannot, at any time, switch to the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. (See Chapter 6 for information on education benefits.) 
 
Members who reenroll have the option to select either the end-of-service stipend or education award for their additional year of service. Members may earn up to the aggregate value of two full education awards. 

SETTLING-IN ALLOWANCE

 
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. 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 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 members. The sponsoring organization can assist members 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 member by CNCS. 
 
 

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HOW DO AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBERS GET PAID?

DIRECT DEPOSIT
 

AmeriCorps VISTA members are required to have the 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. 
 
To set up direct deposit, members must complete the direct deposit form under ‘My Living Allowance’ in my.americorps.gov. Members need their bank account number and their bank’s routing number. Members should contact their banking institution with questions. 
 
Members must be certain to enter direct deposit information correctly before beginning service.  Failure to do so will result in at least a two week delay in receiving the living allowance payment. 
 
Please note that direct deposit information is not located on ATM or credit cards.  Members that do not currently have a bank account may open an Electronic Transfer Account for a nominal monthly fee. To learn more, visit www.eta-find.gov.
 
Members are responsible for updating direct deposit information under ‘My Living Allowance’ in my.americorps.gov any time a bank or account number is changed or closed.  Review this short video about VISTA member direct deposit. 
 
All regular biweekly living allowances, as well as any other taxable allowances, are recorded on the member’s earnings statement. Earnings statements can be viewed on my.americorps.gov 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. Members assigned to AmeriCorps VISTA sponsors supported by program grants receive the living allowance payment directly from the sponsoring organization (not CNCS) and may obtain earnings statements directly from the sponsoring organization. 

PAPER CHECK PAYMENT (EXCEPTION ONLY)

If a member believes that receiving living allowance payments electronically will cause undue hardship, the member may waive direct deposit through my.americorps.gov homepage under 'my Living Allowance'. The member must click 'Waive direct deposit' and provide a justification.
 
If a member chooses to receive a paper check for hardship reasons, CNCS mails the checks directly to the sponsoring organization.
 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] The sponsoring organization's address is listed in the 'My Living Allowance' section on each member’s my.americorps.gov homepage. If the project address is incorrect, the member should contact the appropriate CNCS State Office. Members can view earnings statements on the my.americorps.gov homepage under 'My Living Allowance'.
 
Checks mistakenly sent to the sponsoring organization for members who have terminated early or who are no longer on the project must be returned immediately to the U.S. Treasury, and the CNCS State Office should be notified right away. CNCS regards the sponsoring organization as the responsible agent for distributing members' checks. Members' check envelopes must not be opened by any sponsoring organization personnel.
 
Allowances not subject to federal income or Social Security taxes are paid directly by CNCS and are not reflected in the earnings statement. The member receives an explanation of any payment along with the check. Such checks usually cover travel and per diem expenses.

LOST CHECK

 
If an AmeriCorps VISTA member does not receive a check, the member should confer with the supervisor and wait at least five days to make sure the check has not been misplaced or is a few days late. If the supervisor determines the check is lost or stolen after a five-day wait, the member should notify the VISTA Member Support Unit by calling the National Service Hotline at 1-800-942-2677. The use of electronic funds transfer (direct deposit) eliminates this problem.
 
The VISTA Member Support Unit will notify CNCS Headquarters Payroll Office of the loss and arrange for another check to be sent. This process can take up to six weeks. If the member eventually receives the lost check, the member should not cash it. The member should instead immediately return the check to the U.S. Treasury. Failure to return a lost check results in an overpayment. See "Recovery of Overpayment" in Chapter 5 for the procedure used to collect these funds.
 
 

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TAXES: OBLIGATIONS, WITHHOLDINGS, AND CREDITS

 
AmeriCorps VISTA members pay taxes. All AmeriCorps VISTA allowances, except service related travel payments (discussed in Chapter 7: Travel and Transportation Support) and emergency expense allowances, are subject to federal and state income taxes.

FEDERAL TAXES

 
CNCS withholds federal income tax from the regular biweekly allowance payment.  While the biweekly allowance payment does not constitute wages for work, it does constitute federally taxable income. Members must complete a W-4 form in my.americorps.gov on the member homepage under ‘My Living Allowance’ to determine the amount of income tax that should be withheld. A member may claim exempt status on the W-4 form if the member believes they are exempt from having federal income tax withheld. The W-4 form explains the eligibility requirements for tax-exempt status. Exemption from income tax withholding expires February 15 of the following year. Members wishing to renew this status for the new year must complete a new W-4.  If a member does not re-file for this exemption, Federal taxes will be withheld beginning in the next pay period. See IRS Publication 505 for more information about W-4s and withholdings. 

STATE, COUNTY, AND MUNICIPAL TAXES

 
CNCS does not withhold any state, county, or city income tax from the living allowance; however, members are still responsible for all taxes. Saving a portion of the living allowance each month is a wise way to accrue funds needed for state and local income taxes. Members should contact the state and local government tax offices in the state in which they serve and/or where they maintain a permanent residence to help determine the amount of funds needed to pay 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 Social Security regulations toward credits of coverage. The term “coverage” refers to the accumulation of 40 credits (ten 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. 

 

W-2 FORM-STATEMENT OF EARNINGS AND TAXES WITHHELD

 
CNCS will mail a W-2 form to each member by January 31 of each year showing the amount of earnings and the amount of federal taxes withheld for the preceding calendar year. CNCS will also post an electronic copy of the W-2 form under ‘My Tax Statements’ on my.americorps.gov. If the W-2 form has not arrived by February 15, members should notify the VISTA Member Support Unit via the National Service Hotline at 800-942-2677. Members should also update any changes to permanent and mailing addresses in my.americorps.gov as soon as possible to ensure the W-2 is sent to the correct address.
 
Members receiving the living allowance directly from the sponsoring organization will also receive the W-2 form directly from the sponsoring organization. An electronic version of the W-2 form will not be available in my.americorps.gov for these members. These members should follow up directly with the sponsoring organization if they have any questions about the W-2 form.  

EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] 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 a member’s credit is larger than the tax owed or if there is no tax, the member may be eligible for a refund from the Internal Revenue Service even if income tax is not withheld from pay. EITC is based on earned income, including AmeriCorps VISTA allowances.
 
The Internal Revenue Service determines an individual’s eligibility for EITC. It is not the responsibility of CNCS to verify eligibility. Members that expect to qualify for EITC or are unsure 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 are withheld from allowances during the year.
 
Receipt of EITC may affect benefit levels under certain public assistance programs. Therefore, it is advisable to check with these programs before filing for EITC.

 

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DEDUCTIONS FROM ALLOWANCES

With a member’s written permission, CNCS will make deductions from the 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 a member’s permission. Such deductions will be shown under “Tax and Court Levies” on the earnings statement.

RECOVERY OF OVERPAYMENT

 
Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name][comment:title] Overpayments to members, when they occur, are debts to the federal government and may include travel allowance payments greater than the amount to which a member is entitled or living allowance payments that exceed the amount to which a member is entitled. To avoid such overpayments, members should give the sponsoring organization and CNCS a two-week notice in writing if leaving early from AmeriCorps VISTA service.
 
A member that is overpaid during the service term will be notified in writing and given the opportunity to repay the overpaid amount. 
 
If a member does not pay the outstanding balance in full before or shortly after leaving service, the member must set up a payment plan with CNCS. Members may also make payments online at www.pay.gov. To recover any overpayment remaining after completion of service CNCS initiates the debt collection process if a payment plan is not in place.
 
Failure to repay debt owed to CNCS may delay or totally preclude the receipt of the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

 

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CHILD CARE

AmeriCorps VISTA offers child care benefits to members who qualify. 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 (75% of the state's median income for a family of the same size). This limit is different for each state and may change annually. The total household income is used to determine your income eligibility. Your VISTA living allowance is disregarded in determining household income.
  • You do not already receive a child care subsidy from another source for the same child which would continue to be provided while you serve in the program.
  • You must be the parent or legal guardian of a child under age 13.
  • Your child must reside with you.
GAP Solutions, Inc. (GAPSI) currently administers the child care benefit program for AmeriCorps VISTA, and you must apply directly to GAPSI for the child care benefit. You can apply online at www.americorpschildcare.com (recommended). All downloadable forms are found under “Forms/Resources.” GAPSI can be reached at 855-886-0687 (toll-free) or via email at AmericorpsChildCare@gapsi.com if you need assistance.
 
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 attended Pre-Service Orientation.
 
As administrator, GAPSI pays the child care subsidy directly to your provider. GAPSI also verifies the following:
  • Your current enrollment in AmeriCorps VISTA
  • Your household income, which must comply with state regulations
  • Eligibility of your child care provider to provide child care in your state
  • Your child’s attendance in child care during the time for which the provider submitted an 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. 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 amount charged by your provider, the lower rate will be paid.
 
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 aware of them.

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HOUSING ASSISTANCE

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 14).
 
For more information and links related to your benefits, please visit the benefits of service section of the VISTA Campus.  

 

AMERICORPS VISTA MEMBER ALLOWANCES AT A GLANCE

Type of Allowance
Amount Received and When
Purpose
Federal Taxes

Settling-In Allowance

  • $550
  • For members serving a 12-month term and relocating 50 miles or more
  • First living allowance payment

One-time payment for settling-in expenses

Federal taxes withheld at time of payment

Living Allowance

Amount varies by county

  • Rate based on poverty income for a single individual in the area
  • Paid biweekly
Housing, food, and utilities

Federal taxes withheld biweekly

  • State and local taxes not withheld—member is responsible for paying them
  • FICA (Social Security) not withheld—member is not responsible for paying FICA
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)

  • Accrues at the rate of $4.94 per day
  • Disbursed with the last two living allowance payments upon successful completion of service
  • Only end-of-service option available for VISTA members who are not US citizens, US nationals, or lawful permanent resident aliens

Cash 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)
  • Award for a year of full-time service equal to the maximum Federal Pell Grant level during the fiscal year a member begins service
  • Disbursed electronically for educational expenses
  • Must be a US citizen, US national, or lawful permanent resident alien to be eligible

Payment of student loans and expenses to educational institutions

Subject to federal taxes in the year the award is used

 
 

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