Strong support requires a basic understanding of the benefits available to VISTA members. Building this knowledge equips supervisors to understand the overall member experience as well as support VISTAs in accessing benefits.
Supervisors are expected to access VISTA member benefits information in the same way members do, via the VISTA Benefits page as well as in the VISTA Member Handbook. This section highlights particular points to be aware of when supervising VISTA members.
The VISTA program provides a living allowance that enables each VISTA member to live very frugally, like members of the communities they are serving. The allowance is based on poverty rates for a single individual in that county. Current living allowance rates by county are listed here.
The living allowance is paid biweekly and deposited directly into each VISTA member’s bank account. Sponsors should encourage new VISTAs to double-check the account number and routing number they submitted for direct deposit since incorrect information can lead to significant delays in receipt of a living allowance payment.
Federal income tax deductions, if applicable, are withheld from the living allowance. No state, county, or city tax deductions are withheld. VISTA members are responsible for paying the appropriate taxes.
For individuals who are receiving public assistance before starting service, the VISTA living allowance is normally not counted toward their income. See Other Public Benefits for more information.
All VISTA members are entitled to up to 10 days of personal leave and up to 10 days of medical leave during the course of their yearlong term of service. Supervisors should ensure that VISTAs understand the site and sponsor’s policies and processes for requesting leave and providing notice for unplanned absences. The VISTA must request and receive approval in advance from the sponsor/supervisor for all personal leave, specifying dates of leave requested in accordance with sponsor policy. Leave should not interfere with a VISTA settling-in and becoming oriented to the site, or with closing service and transitioning from the sponsor. In some circumstances, VISTA members are eligible for additional leave. See Emergencies for more information.
VISTAs enjoy the national holidays that are recognized by the sponsor and are given as time off to the sponsor’s personnel. A VISTA must serve on holidays that are not recognized by the VISTA’s sponsoring organization. For example, if the sponsor denotes Veterans Day as a workday for its staff, a VISTA is expected to serve on that day unless the VISTA has requested and received approval to use one day of personal or medical leave.
If a VISTA member’s assigned site is closed due to a weather event, or if the site provides its staff with additional “floating holidays,” “spring breaks,” “summer recesses,” etc., the VISTA member is expected to continue to serve unless authorized to take the time off as part of personal leave or medical leave. In cases where a VISTA member prefers to not use personal leave and instead continue to serve while their assigned site is closed, VISTAs may serve from an alternative service site for a limited duration. The supervisor should seek approval from the CNCS State Office if the VISTA supervisor recommends approval of the VISTA member’s request to serve at an alternative service site.
Details regarding all leave types—i.e., medical, personal, national holiday, benefits during an extension of service, extended medical leave benefits, emergency, military reserve, jury duty, parental—are reviewed in Chapter 9: Leave Benefits of the VISTA Member Handbook.
Individuals who are moving more than 50 miles from their home of record to their service sites are eligible for relocation assistance, including a relocation travel allowance and a settling-in allowance.
The relocation travel allowance is based on the direct mileage between the home of records and the site, up to $1,000, regardless of the mode of transportation used. This allowance should, but may not, cover all expenses incurred. Candidates are notified of the amount in advance by the VMSU and should not book any travel until they get that notice by email. The relocation travel allowance is paid by direct deposit six to eight weeks after the VISTA member begins service and submits their relocation voucher. VISTAs receive the relocation travel allowance a second time when they complete service, for travel back to their home of record.
The settling-in allowance is a one-time payment of $550 intended to cover initial costs such as utility deposits and rental application fees. It is automatically included in the first living allowance payment. Federal taxes are withheld but state and local taxes are not.
When talking with potential candidates, supervisors should ensure they understand that while relocation assistance is provided, the funds will not be deposited until after a new VISTA member has traveled to the site and moved into their new community.
The AmeriCorps VISTA program offers two healthcare benefits options to members, one for VISTA members who already have health coverage and the other for those who do not. VISTA members are eligible for special enrollment periods of 60 days from their service start and end dates to sign up for health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
VISTA members who maintain health coverage during their service term may enroll in the AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Allowance. This allowance is a reimbursement program that covers out-of-pocket costs associated with healthcare up to a maximum amount. Out-of-pocket expenses may include the annual deductible, coinsurance, copayments, and other charges for qualified medical expenses and limited dental and vision services. The Healthcare Allowance does not cover costs associated with purchasing insurance, costs for non-essential health expenses, or charges associated with dependents or other individuals covered under the health insurance.
VISTA members who do not have healthcare coverage during their term of service are eligible to enroll in the VISTA Health Benefit Plan. The Plan is available to eligible VISTA members at no cost and covers eligible expenses for medical office visits, most lab and x-ray services, limited preventive care (e.g., an annual ob-gyn visit for women), limited dental and vision, medical emergencies, surgical and hospitalization expenses, and certain prescription drug costs. It does not cover pre-existing conditions or care for dependents, including spouses.
In addition to enrolling in one of the health benefit options described above, many VISTA members can access telehealth, sometimes referred to as virtual care, at no cost. Telehealth allows VISTAs to consult with board certified physicians, psychologists, social workers, and professional counselors via phone or video chat, at no cost to the member. Telehealth coverage and availability may vary by state.
Each new VISTA member receives an email inviting them to complete a Member Enrollment Form to select a benefit option. The enrollment deadline is 60 days from the start of VISTA service.
Sponsor may provide supplemental health benefits to VISTAs, but there are some conditions and limits. See Supplemental Benefits for more information.
VISTA members who have children under the age of 13 may qualify for the VISTA program’s childcare benefit. Eligibility is based on total household income and the state income limit. The approved benefit rates will be the child care provider’s rates or the maximum allowable rate in the state in which the child care is being provided (whichever is lesser).
Anyone receiving VISTA child care subsidies cannot receive child care benefits from any other source. Candidates should compare the available state child care benefits to the VISTA child care benefits to determine which program best supports their family before making a decision about child care.
The Benefits Hub on the VISTA Campus contains information about this benefit.
In some circumstances, VISTA members are eligible for additional financial support, including emergency travel and emergency expense allowance. Please see Managing Member Emergencies for specific guidance.
OTHER LEGAL COVERAGES
Sponsors should also be aware that VISTAs have liability coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act and the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act, also known as the Federal Worker’s Compensation Act. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the federal government assumes liability for any damage to property or injury to persons caused by a member that arises only out of their official duties and for which the member would be liable under local law. Under the Federal Employee’s Compensation Act, members who are injured or suffer occupational disease in the course of their VISTA service may claim and be eligible to receive benefits to cover medical expenses. Forms and processing requirements are covered in Chapter 7 of the VISTA Member Handbook.
See Managing Member Emergencies for more information.
Upon successful completion of a year of service, a VISTA member is eligible to receive either the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (education award) or the VISTA end-of-service cash stipend. Each candidate must make a selection in My AmeriCorps before beginning service. (Persons legally residing in a state, but who are not US citizens, US nationals, or lawful permanent resident aliens, are only eligible to receive an end-of-service stipend.) They can switch from the education award to the cash stipend before the end of the tenth month of service, but they cannot switch from the cash stipend to the education award.
The Benefits Hub on the VISTA Campus contains information about these benefits.
Upon successfully completing service, alums receive one year of non-competitive eligibility for employment in the federal government. This special hiring status enables them to apply for federal jobs with the advantage of not having to go through the standard public competitive selection process. That means that they can be appointed to federal positions that may or may not be available to the general public, and their applications could be processed faster than others.
If a VISTA alum is hired into the federal civil service, their time as a VISTA member will be credited toward a pension in the Federal Employees Retirement System as long as they pay a portion of their retirement contribution. AmeriCorps VISTA service will apply toward purposes of determining seniority, reduction in force and layoff rights, leave entitlement, and other rights and privileges based on length of service under laws establishing terms and conditions of service of federal civilian employees.
For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Basic Laws & Federal Regulations.