Beyond VISTA terms and conditions, there are several other VISTA member policies that sponsors must be familiar with. Supervisors play active roles in approving and overseeing activities in these areas.
To make VISTA service accessible to the widest possible range of candidates regardless of economic status, the VISTA program allows outside employment that is unrelated to a VISTA member’s assigned project and VAD. (Prior restrictions were lifted with a 2015 policy change.)
Commitment to one’s assigned project is the paramount focus of all VISTA members, regardless of whether a VISTA member is working outside of their VISTA service assignment. Any outside employment must not conflict with the VISTA member’s training, service, or service hours as assigned by CNCS or the sponsor. To the maximum extent practicable, VISTA members must remain available for service without regard to regular working hours. The VISTA project’s needs supersede any requirements of outside employment.
While in VISTA service, the VISTA may only accept outside employment for positions that are:
- Do not conflict at all with the VISTA’s service or service hours
- Do not violate any applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations and
- Do not conflict with any AmeriCorps VISTA program requirements or policies
Before accepting such outside employment, the VISTA must speak with and obtain the written approval of their supervisor to do so. To approve outside employment, their supervisor must ensure there is no conflict between the employment and the VISTA’s service or service hours.
Sponsors must document their approval or disapproval, as appropriate, of all requests for VISTAs to accept or continue outside employment by maintaining each completed Outside Employment Request on file and sending a copy to both their CNCS State Office and to firstname.lastname@example.org.
See the VISTA Campus for the full Outside Employment Policy and the Outside Employment Request Form.
A fundamental assumption of VISTA service is that VISTA 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, on an episodic basis, perform project-related duties from home. Teleservice, which is not to exceed two days per pay period, may be considered after a VISTA member has been serving satisfactorily at the project site at least three months.
The VISTA member’s supervisor must approve a VISTA member’s completed Teleservice Checklist (obtained from the CNCS State Office) before it is submitted to the CNCS State Office for final approval. These checklists must be maintained by the sponsor.
For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook –Terms & Conditions of Service.
VISTA members and Leaders may participate in online or in-person classes, regardless of subject matter, during their service year. However, the VISTA program is a full immersion experience that requires its VISTA members to be able to attend community meetings and dedicate themselves to understanding and serving the community to which they are assigned.
Service to the sponsoring organization and community takes precedence over coursework. Enrollment in courses requires the approval of the supervisor. If a VISTA member or Leader is unable to complete assigned tasks or responsibilities due to coursework, the sponsor should contact the CNCS State Office.
For more information, see the VISTA Member Handbook –Terms & Conditions of Service.
Financial support for VISTA members may be provided by the sponsor and/or site under the following conditions:
- Support is offered and available equally to all VISTA members at a site
- Cash or checks (unless for reimbursable expenses) are not given directly to the VISTA member
- Support offered does not violate VISTA’s legislation that mandates VISTAs must, to the maximum extent practicable, make a commitment to live among and at the economic level of the people they are serving
Below is a list of support that a sponsor may provide to VISTA members. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor is a sponsor required to provide any such support.
A sponsor may, at its discretion, provide support for housing for VISTA members. While there is no maximum threshold set for the amount of assistance, it should be consistent with the VISTA member’s commitment to live among and at the economic level of the people served.
A sponsor’s support for housing must be offered equally to all VISTA members serving at the site. Sponsors, at their discretion, can offer housing support to Leaders without offering the same benefit to VISTA members at the site, provided the housing support is offered to all Leaders serving with the sponsor.
Support for housing can be provided in the form of a one-time security deposit or as monthly rent, mortgage payments, or help with utility bills. All housing support must be paid directly to the landlord, leasing agent, or mortgage holder. A sponsor or others may not offer money directly to a VISTA to supplement the VISTA's living allowance, or to pay rent, utilities, or other costs. Nor may VISTAs accept third-party payments for utilities or other housing costs other than for rent.
Please be aware that CNCS has no involvement in, or legal responsibilities related to, any housing-related arrangements that are entered into between a VISTA or Leader and a sponsor. CNCS is not a party to any such matters if any issues arise.
Accepting free or reduced-cost housing could possibly increase the VISTA's reportable income for tax purposes. For more information see the Member Housing section in VISTA Member Handbook – Terms & Conditions of Service.
- Additional relocation travel assistance – Sponsors may arrange and pay for or reimburse VISTA members for the travel and/or shipping costs that exceed the support provided by CNCS without regard to the number of miles the VISTA member moved. Sponsors must purchase the travel or reimburse the VISTA member for such costs based on receipts provided by the VISTA.
- Match settling-in allowance – Sponsors may provide an additional settling-in allowance up to the settling-in allowance set by CNCS without regard to the number of miles the VISTA member moved. This support can help cover costs associated with settling into a new city that often exceed CNCS’s settling-in allowance (i.e., rental or lease application fees, credit check fees, security deposit, first and last month’s rent, deposits to turn on gas and utilities, etc.). Sponsors must pay the funds directly to the landlord or leasing agent, utility company, etc., or reimburse the VISTA member for such costs based on receipts provided by the VISTA.
- Donated furniture, appliances, equipment – Sponsors may give donated or used items to VISTAs in order to furnish their homes.
In addition to reimbursing VISTA members for all service-related transportation, VISTAs are eligible to receive the following benefits:
- Parking permits/passes – Sponsors may pay parking permit or pass fees associated with a service site without regard to whether the same support is provided to all staff.
- Public transit pass – Sponsors may provide VISTAs with transit passes to offset the costs of commuting. If public transit is required for service-related transportation or travel, sponsors may provide a monthly or annual public transit pass in lieu of reimbursing the VISTA member for actual transit costs.
- Mileage and gas gift cards for use of privately owned vehicle – Sponsors may provide VISTAs with gas gift cards to offset the costs of commuting.
- Meal plans associated with housing or free access to the sponsor’s cafeteria – Sponsors may provide meal plans associated with housing or free access to their cafeteria.
- Grocery card – Sponsors may provide gift cards to grocery stores to VISTA members without regard to whether they are provided to all staff.
- Client support services – Sponsors may allow VISTA members access to support programs that their organization administers and that are available to the public. VISTA members must follow the same objective criteria, qualification guidelines, and other processes that members of the public follow, without exception. VISTAs must not be involved in the administration or processing of any of these programs. In reviewing a VISTA’s application for such assistance or services, the sponsoring organization must adhere to its policies and processes for awarding such services. The VISTA member’s involvement must not present concerns where a reasonable person would perceive favoritism or a conflict of interest on behalf of the parties involved. For example, if a VISTA wants to apply to receive food from the food bank where they serve, they are subject to the same eligibility criteria and processes (application review, wait times, level of food distribution) as the public. CNCS is never involved in a VISTA’s receipt or denial of such assistance or services.
- Employee benefit programs (health, dental, employee assistance program) – Sponsors may provide VISTA members access to employee benefit programs and/or provide VISTAs with a healthcare subsidy to offset the costs of purchasing a qualifying health plan, but certain restrictions apply:
- The sponsor must not define the VISTA member as an employee for the purpose of enrolling the VISTA member in such benefit programs.
- The sponsor must offer the benefit equally to all VISTA members serving at a site.
- The sponsor must manage, respond to, and resolve any issues raised by VISTA members or others related to any subsidy the organization chooses to provide. CNCS will not be involved in any such issues that may arise.
- The subsidy must be in the form of a reimbursement. VISTA members must provide proof of coverage and cost in order to receive the reimbursement.
- The sponsor must inform the VISTA members that the subsidy the organization provides is considered taxable income and they must report it as such.
- The sponsor is required to develop and document the organization’s policy and process for implementation.
- The sponsor may not reimburse a VISTA member for a penalty associated with not having ACA-compliant coverage. All Americans are subject to the provisions of the ACA. It is the responsibility of each VISTA member to review their individual circumstances and determine if the ACA requires them to have compliant coverage and to pay a penalty, if assessed one.
- Emergency Assistance – Sponsors may assist VISTAs members who experience emergency situations that fall outside the VISTA program’s Emergency Expense Allowance (see the section on Managing Member Emergencies). This assistance is allowable when it does not present concerns that a reasonable person would perceive favoritism or a conflict of interest on behalf of the parties involved.
- Access to sponsor managed facilities – Sponsors may allow VISTA members to access their gymnasium, recreational facilities, library, or computer labs without regard to whether all staff is granted the same privileges. Sponsors may also assist VISTAs with accessing local centers that provide similar services.
- Birthday, holiday, and other special occasion gifts – Sponsors may provide gifts provided they do not exceed existing employee or community volunteer appreciation gifts.
- Career and education support – In keeping with the VISTA program’s commitment to provide educational and professional development, sponsors may provide support with regard to attending professional conferences and classes, such as the payment of conference fees, travel, lodging and meals, or per diem that applies to standard employees. A VISTA’s participation in such conferences and classes must not interfere with VISTA service hours or performing of VISTA service. Discounting or paying educational costs are also allowable when a mechanism is in place to pay the cost directly to schools or lenders, or receipts exist to ensure that such payments are made on behalf of the VISTA. For full details regarding VISTAs taking educational courses during their service year, see the VISTA Member Handbook – Terms & Conditions of Service.
- Fingerprinting costs – Sponsors may reimburse VISTA members for fingerprinting costs incurred beyond the $25 subsidy. See the section on Preparing for New VISTA Members for more information on member fingerprinting.