If you have children under the age of 13, you may qualify for the AmeriCorps childcare benefit offered to members serving with the VISTA program. Your approved benefit rates will be your childcare provider’s rates or the maximum allowable rate in the state in which the childcare is being provided (whichever is the lesser of the two). Eligibility is determined by three factors:
- Age of children: Children must be under 13 years of age.
- Total household income: All income of all family members living in the household is factored into your eligibility. This includes any wages, Social Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), public assistance, unemployment, child support, or alimony. Your AmeriCorps living allowance, however, is not factored into determining eligibility.
- Your state income limit: Each state sets a maximum income limit for eligibility for childcare subsidies. If your family income is above this limit, you cannot receive childcare benefits. Contact the program provider for more information.
State childcare benefits may also be available, and you should explore them before making a decision about childcare. Compare the state childcare benefits to the childcare benefits available to AmeriCorps members in the VISTA program, to determine which program best supports your family.
If you decide to apply for the AmeriCorps childcare benefit, plan to spend time gathering documents to show that you meet requirements. Also, work closely with your childcare provider so they submit the required documentation.
Note that you cannot receive childcare benefits from any other source if you are receiving AmeriCorps childcare subsidies.
For more information on the childcare benefit and the application process for AmeriCorps members serving with the VISTA program, explore the following resources:
- AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook, Chapter 5
End of Service Benefit
When you successfully complete your year of service in the VISTA program, you will be eligible to receive the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (education award) or the end of service cash stipend. You must make your selection in My AmeriCorps before you are sworn in as an AmeriCorps member. Please note that should circumstances change in your life plans, you can switch from the education award to the cash stipend before the end of your 10th month of service; but you cannot switch from the cash stipend to the education award. Summer Associates do not have the option to change from the education award to the cash stipend.
Only AmeriCorps members serving with the VISTA program who are either U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or lawful permanent resident aliens are eligible to receive an education award.
AmeriCorps members who complete their service with the VISTA program cannot transfer the education award to another individual; it can only be used by the person who earned it.
The education award is equal to the maximum Pell Grant of the fiscal year in which you started your service. For members starting service on or after October 1, 2020, the value of the education award is $6,345.00 for full year members and $1,342.86 for summer associates. The award is in the form of a voucher (not cash) and can be used to pay for future educational training and related expenses at Title IV schools or to repay existing eligible federal student loans.
Be sure to visit the Education Award site to learn which student loans are qualified.
You have seven years after completing service to use the education award by submitting and tracking Education Award Payment Requests in My AmeriCorps. When you use any portion of the award, it is considered taxable income in the year the payment is made.
You can only receive up to the aggregate value of two full-time education awards in your lifetime.
End of Service Cash Stipend
The cash stipend is paid in your last two living allowance payments, and you can use it however you like. Federal income tax and Social Security (FICA) deductions are withheld from the cash stipend at the time of payment.
If you select the cash stipend, you cannot switch to the education award. Members accrue the end-of-service cash stipend at a rate of $4.94 per day (approximately $1,800 for a full year of service).
AmeriCorps leaders serving with the VISTA program accrue the end-of-service cash stipend at a rate of $8.22 per day (approximately $3,000 for a full year of service).
Make a Selection
Consider the following questions before making your decision:
- Do you plan to attend college, a technical or trade school, or any other credit or non-credit training program after finishing service?
- Remember that you cannot transfer your education award to another individual; only you can use it.
- Do you have qualified federal student loans? If yes, you should review the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award site and check with your lender to validate that your loan qualifies.
- If you have federal student loans, you may be able to put your loans into forbearance or deferment, depending on which end-of-service option you choose. See the Reduction of Education Costs benefits section for more detail.
Once you have decided which end-of-service benefit you will select, and prior to starting service, log into your My AmeriCorps account and make your selection under My End-of-Service Option.
For more information on the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award for AmeriCorps members serving with the VISTA program, explore the following resources:
- AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook
- Chapter 6 (Full year members)
- Chapter 11 (Summer Associate education award)
- Segal AmeriCorps Education Award
AmeriCorps members serving with the VISTA program have two healthcare benefit options, one for members who already have health insurance coverage at the start of service and the other for those who do not.
AmeriCorps VISTA Healthcare Allowance
Members who have health insurance or other 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. Out-of-pocket expenses may include: your annual deductible, coinsurance, copayments, and other charges for qualified medical expenses and limited dental and vision services. The Healthcare Allowance will help offset these expenses up to $8,550 in 2021. 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 your healthcare plan.
Examples of qualifying healthcare coverage:
- Family health insurance: If you are 26 or younger and on a parent’s plan, or married and covered by a spouse's plan;
- Health insurance purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace;
- Medicaid, Medicare, or military healthcare benefits; or
- Coverage available to individuals in the U.S. territories or who belong to a federally recognized tribe.
AmeriCorps VISTA Health Benefit Plan
Members who do not have health insurance or other health coverage during their term of service are eligible to enroll in the AmeriCorps VISTA Health Benefit Plan. The plan is available to eligible 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 your spouse.
In addition, AmeriCorps members in the VISTA program can access telehealth, sometimes referred to as virtual care, at no cost. Telehealth [https://americorpsvista.imglobal.com/my-benefits/connect-with-a-telehealth-provider] allows members to consult with board-certified physicians, psychologists, social workers, and professional counselors via phone or video chat, at no cost. Telehealth coverage and availability may vary by state.
International Medical Group (IMG) is the administrator of both the Healthcare Allowance and the Health Benefit Plan. For details about either benefit, visit: americorpsvista.imglobal.com.
At the start of your AmeriCorps service, you'll receive an email from IMG inviting you to complete a Member Enrollment Form to indicate which benefit option applies to your healthcare situation. Only after receiving the email from IMG will you be able to create a ”My IMGVISTA” account at americorpsvista.imglobal.com to submit the form online, or you may download the Member Enrollment Form and send it to IMG. Submit the form as soon as possible (we recommend within the first 30 days of VISTA service) to ensure that you have some type of health coverage by the deadline of 60 days from the start of your AmeriCorps service.
Special Enrollment Period
If you'd like to purchase insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you can take advantage of the special enrollment period for all AmeriCorps members. This special enrollment period gives you the opportunity to purchase insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace outside of the public open enrollment period. You have 60 days from your service start and end dates to sign-up for healthcare coverage through the marketplace. To apply for coverage under the Special Enrollment Period, contact the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. Shop for coverage and learn more about enrolling in the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov.
For more information on the health care benefit available to AmeriCorps members serving with the VISTA program, explore the following resources:
- Health Benefits Overview
This document summarizes the health benefit options available to AmeriCorps members serving with the VISTA program and answers frequently asked questions.
- Health Benefits Plan Administrator: International Medical Group (IMG)
- Health Benefits Portal
Explore what's covered by each health benefit and the details in the member guides, view lists of providers and pharmacies, create an account, and determine which option is best for you.
- Special Enrollment Period for AmeriCorps Members
You have 60 days from your service start and end dates to sign up for healthcare benefits through the marketplace.
- If you are not able to find the answer to your questions here, please contact IMG to speak or communicate with a specialist about the health benefit options for AmeriCorps members serving with the VISTA program. Go to healthcare.gov for questions about ACA coverage options and assistance.
- Health Benefits Portal
As an AmeriCorps member serving in the VISTA program, you are entitled to personal leave, medical leave, and leave for holidays recognized by your sponsoring organization. Family leave and emergency leave are also available in certain situations. Military service and jury duty can also necessitate a leave of absence, and both are covered.
- Personal: 10 personal days for vacation, personal days off, or religious observances
- Medical: 10 days of medical leave for illness, injury, or medical appointments
- Parental: For birth or adoption, use personal and medical leave first. The AmeriCorps Regional Office may approve an additional 10 days, for a total of 30 days, if required by your medical professional.
- Emergency: Up to 5 additional leave days may be granted if natural disaster requires leaving the site or an immediate family member becomes critically ill or dies. The sponsor must approve and notify the AmeriCorps Regional Office.
- Extended Medical Leave: Up to 5 additional medical leave days (for up to a total of 15 medical workdays in a full year of service) may be granted by the regional office for situations that require extended recuperation.
- Military: As required by the military
- Jury Duty: As necessary
You must request and receive approval in advance from your sponsoring organization/supervisor for personal leave and provide notice, when possible, of medical and emergency leave requests.
For more information on the leave benefit, explore the following resource:
- AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook, Chapter 9
AmeriCorps provides a modest living allowance while you are serving in the VISTA program. The allowance is based on poverty rates for a single individual in the geographic area where you serve. The living allowance is paid biweekly and deposited directly into your bank account.
The living allowance covers basic necessities such as housing, food, and utilities. Federal income tax deductions, if applicable, are withheld from the living allowance. No state, county, or city taxes are withheld. You are responsible for paying the appropriate taxes.
You can ask your supervisor (at your sponsoring organization) for the most up-to-date information on the amount that you will be receiving for each pay period or you can look up your living allowance rate.
While AmeriCorps does not encourage you to seek outside employment (understanding that commitment to your assigned project is your top priority) you are permitted to work part-time with permission from your supervisor.
For more information on the living allowance and suggestions for living on a limited budget, explore the following resources:
- AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook, Chapter 5
- Living Allowance Calendar and Sample
- Living Allowance Rates by County
- Living Allowance Rates by County - Effective August 15, 2021
AmeriCorps members serving with the VISTA program receive a variety of training and development opportunities before and during service.
- VISTA Member Orientation is a virtual onboarding training provided by AmeriCorps that introduces you to the VISTA program’s mission, history, and policies as well as your roles and responsibilities as a member.
- On-Site Orientation and Training is provided by your sponsoring organization once you arrive at the project site and introduces you to the organization, your new community, and the goals of the project.
- Webinar Series includes monthly webinars developed specifically for AmeriCorps members serving with the VISTA program. The webinars provide a way to enhance your professional development and connection with other AmeriCorps members. They cover a broad range of topics and sessions are recorded and available for later viewing.
- Self-Paced Courses and Tutorials are available to help you build and enhance the skills and talents you need for service. Topics include fundraising, volunteer management, and community development. Access these trainings on the VISTA Campus.
For more information on professional development opportunities, explore the following resources:
- AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook, Chapter 4
- The VISTA Campus
Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE) Status
Once you've successfully completed service in AmeriCorps VISTA, you will receive one year of non-competitive eligibility for employment in the federal government.
This special hiring status enables you to apply for federal jobs with the advantage of not having to go through the standard public competitive selection process. That means that you can be appointed to federal positions that may not be available to the general public. In addition, your application could be processed faster than others.
NCE does not guarantee you a federal job, but it does provide a valuable opportunity!
Being a part of the AmeriCorps alumni network offers other post-service opportunities that can open up career doors for you. There are several avenues for getting involved as alumni. Explore the following:
Counting Service toward Federal Leave and Retirement
If you are hired into the federal civil service, your time as an AmeriCorps member with the VISTA program will be credited toward a pension in the Federal Employees Retirement System as long as you pay a portion of your retirement contribution.
An AmeriCorps service year with the VISTA program is credited in the same manner as a year of traditional federal government employment. Your 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 on career opportunities, explore the following resources:
- AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook
- Chapter 10 (Become a VISTA Leader)
- Chapter 11 (Non-Competitive Eligibility)
- Serve with other AmeriCorps programs such as AmeriCorps NCCC, AmeriCorps State and National, or one of the AmeriCorps Seniors programs to experience additional service opportunities
- Join the Peace Corps and take your AmeriCorps service skills abroad
- Search for local volunteer opportunities
Reduction of Education Costs
As an AmeriCorps member serving in the VISTA program, there are several benefits available that can help you manage, or even reduce, your federal student loans and potentially lower your overall student debt.
Loan Forbearance and Deferment
Federal student loans (also called qualified or federally backed student loans) are loans guaranteed by the federal government under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (except PLUS loans to parents of students), or under Titles VII or VIII of the Public Health Service Act.
If you have federal student loans, you may be able to put your loans into forbearance or deferment; the specific program will depend upon the end-of-service option you select. Neither of these options is automatic as you must submit the request through the appropriate entity.
GRE Fee Reduction
The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), makes available to colleges and universities a limited supply of GRE Fee Reduction Certificates. To apply for a GRE Fee Reduction Certificate, contact the financial aid office of the educational institution you plan to attend to see if you qualify. Be sure to tell them about your experience serving as an AmeriCorps member with the VISTA program. The decision is made by the college or university to which you apply.
- Federal student loans + education award = forbearance
Forbearance is a temporary postponement of principal loan payments available to AmeriCorps members with federal loans who select the education award. Interest on your loan still accrues, but after you complete service you can request the AmeriCorps office of the National Service Trust (the Trust)to pay off the interest that accrued during your year of service. Since these payments are considered income, however, you will have to pay taxes on the amount of interest paid by the Trust. The option of forbearance is available if you select the education award as your end-of-service benefit and you can submit forbearance requests in My AmeriCorps.
- Federal student loans + stipend = deferment
Deferment is a postponement of monthly loan payments available to AmeriCorps members who select the cash stipend. Deferment may be available for private loans, regardless of which end-of-service benefit is selected. For subsidized loans, accrued interest will automatically be paid by the U.S. Department of Education if the loan is deferred. Your lender decides if you can defer your student loans during your year of service. Contact your lender to request deferment. When applying, indicate 'economic hardship' as the reason. You may also be eligible for cancellation of part of your Perkins Loan.
Loan Forgiveness and Income-Based Repayment
The College Cost Reduction and Access Act is federal regulation that includes two programs that can significantly reduce, or even eliminate your student debt, and you may be able to participate in one or both programs.
|Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)
Under PSLF, the U.S. Department of Education forgives any outstanding balance and accrued interest on a borrower's Direct Loan or Direct Consolidation Loan if you work for 10 years full-time at a nonprofit or government agency. You must also make 120 qualifying payments on the loan. Your AmeriCorps service year counts towards those 10 years if you make payments towards your loan during service. Submit your PSLF Form to AmeriCorpsForms@cns.gov for completion. For security reasons, please do not include your Social Security Number on the form.
|Income-Based Loan Repayment Plan (IBR)
Under IBR, your payments will be limited to no more than 15% of your adjusted gross income that exceeds 150% of the poverty guidelines. If you are single and make $11,000 each year in AmeriCorps, your monthly payment could be as low as $0 each month, which still counts towards the required 120 payments for PSLF.
Education award match
Many colleges and universities across the country actively recruit talented AmeriCorps alumni for their reputation of perseverance, drive, and proven active citizenship. Many also offer incentives such as service scholarships or matching tuition funding to the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. Be sure to contact these Schools of National Service or other institutions of interest for up-to-date information.
Schools of National Service
Explore institutions that value your service and provide benefits to make your education more accessible.
For more information on the reduction of education costs and for help in making decisions about which benefits are right for you, explore the following resources:
- AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook, Chapter 6
- The College Cost Reduction and Access Act
- GRE Fee Reduction Program Educational Testing Service Website
If you are moving more than 50 miles from your home to a new community to serve as an AmeriCorps member with the VISTA program, AmeriCorps offers relocation travel assistance and a settling-in allowance.
Relocation Travel Allowance
Your relocation travel allowance will be based on the direct mileage between the ZIP code of your home of record (defined as the Permanent Address listed in your my.americorps.gov account) and the ZIP code of your AmeriCorps project site, regardless of the mode of transportation used. It is important to know that this allowance may not cover all expenses that you incur. The AmeriCorps VISTA Member Support Unit (VMSU) will create a travel request with your relocation details in My AmeriCorps. Once they approve your relocation travel, the VMSU will send you an email with the approved amount of your relocation travel allowance.
The settling-in allowance is intended to help you with initial expenses related to moving, such as security deposits and setting up utilities. The allowance is $750 and will be included automatically with your first living allowance payment; no voucher is needed for the Settling-In Allowance. Federal taxes will be withheld at the time of payment.
Service-Related Transportation and Reimbursement
Transportation expenses that you incur while performing your AmeriCorps service activities—other than your daily commute—can be reimbursed. Your sponsoring organization will reimburse you for approved service-related transportation expenses at the organization's standard rate. Ask your supervisor if you will need to use your personal vehicle for service-related activities, what their standard transportation reimbursement rate is, and what the process is for requesting reimbursement. If the organization has no standard rate, then the federal mileage rate may be utilized.
Close of Service Travel
If you were approved for the relocation travel allowance at the start of your AmeriCorps service with the VISTA program, you will also be provided a travel allowance for travel from your project site back to your home of record when you complete service. The VMSU will also process your close of service allowance.
For more information on travel-related items, explore the following resources:
- AmeriCorps VISTA Member Handbook, Chapter 7
- VISTA Close of Service Allowance Request Form
- VISTA Relocation Allowance Request Form
- VISTA Relocation Fact Sheet
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Close of Service Travel Allowance?
The Close of Service Travel Allowance is financial assistance based on direct mileage between your service site and Home of Record (HOR) at the end of your AmeriCorps service. AmeriCorps members who received relocation assistance at the start of service for relocating 50 miles or more from their HOR (or permanent address) to a new residence at their service site will receive a Close of Service Travel Allowance. The Close of Service mileage is calculated using the same points of travel from the start of service. This allowance, regardless of the mode of transportation used, is calculated at $0.40 cents per mile. Receipts are not required to collect this allowance.
How and when do I receive my Close of Service Travel Allowance?
The AmeriCorps VISTA Member Support Unit (VMSU) will send you instructions on how to download a voucher for your Close of Service Travel Allowance from My AmeriCorps, sign it, and submit it to the VMSU. You should receive these instructions no later than fifteen days prior to your end-of-service date. Your Close of Service Travel Allowance will be paid to your bank account from the US Treasury, usually within eight to 10 weeks of when you submit your close of service voucher.
Please ensure that your direct deposit information is up to date in My AmeriCorps prior to your end-of-service date, as that is the fastest way to receive your allowance. It is advisable that you don’t close or change your bank account for at least two months after you have ended service to avoid processing issues. If you do not have direct deposit information, make sure to update your current and permanent addresses in My AmeriCorps.
If you do not receive your allowance within this timeframe, contact the VMSU.
How do I travel from my service site to my Home of Record (HOR)?
You are responsible for arranging your own travel from your service site to your HOR. The mode of travel is up to you. You may travel on any date after your final day of service.
What if my Home of Record is different from when I started service?
The approved home of record (HOR) is the location approved at the start of service and is automatically used to calculate your Close of Service Travel Allowance from your service site location.
Modification of the HOR can only be authorized prior to the tenth month of service, at the discretion of the VMSU Director, if one of the following conditions exists:
- You designated the official HOR as the legal residence of a parent or legal guardian, and the parent or legal guardian has established a new residence.
- You designated the official HOR as the legal residence of a parent or legal guardian, and the parent or legal guardian has died. AmeriCorps will provide close of service assistance to the legal residence of the surviving parent or legal guardian, or next of kin.
- You have gotten married and request close of service assistance to the HOR of your spouse.
- Mileage to the new HOR is less than the mileage to the original HOR.
Requests to modify the HOR must be submitted in writing to the VMSU Director at firstname.lastname@example.org. Requests received after the end of the tenth month of service will not be considered.
How do I contact the AmeriCorps VISTA Member Support Unit?
- By phone: Call the AmeriCorps Hotline at 800-942-2677 and select the option for the VISTA Member Support Unit.
- Online: Submit your question using a web form at https://questions.americorps.gov/app/ask.