Americorps Program and Their Committment to Inclusion

We would like to take this opportunity to share some information about the Americorps Program and their commitment to inclusion. Americorps can be a huge benefit to Centers looking for qualified individuals with disabilities to lead systems change activities! For an outstanding example of this, see the Idaho SILC's Accessible Network Transportation Project. It can also be a benefit to young workers or people with disabilities returning to the workforce by providing valuable experience.

“AmeriCorps has helped my employment prospects immeasurably; I have more experience under my belt and have made a lot of contacts.”

–AmeriCorps Member

AmeriCorps is committed to providing reasonable accommodations to volunteers with disabilities. Thanks to the Heart Act of 2008, individuals receiving SSI and SSDI payments can accept AmeriCorps stipends without jeopardizing their Social Security benefits. Please read on to learn how AmeriCorps can help your consumers and your Center.

AmeriCorps is committed to the inclusion of qualified individuals without regard to race, color, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation or other non-merit factors. We believe that all individuals who are qualified and want to serve their community should have the opportunity to do so.

What is AmeriCorps?

AmeriCorps is a national service program often referred to as the "Domestic Peace Corps." People who join AmeriCorps commit to do a year of service in exchange for a modest living stipend and a scholarship. AmeriCorps is a real-life education and work experience wrapped into one.

What Do AmeriCorps Members Do?

People who join AmeriCorps (called “members”) provide direct service in the areas of education, human needs, public safety, environment or homeland security. Examples include tutoring children, helping new immigrants find jobs, and building houses. Some members coordinate community programs, recruit community volunteers, or work in an office setting. There are hundreds of different AmeriCorps positions available, including full-time and part-time.

Who Can Join AmeriCorps?

AmeriCorps members must be at least 17 years old (there is no upper age limit) and a U.S. citizen, national, or legal permanent resident alien. People of all backgrounds are welcome to apply; education requirements vary by program.

Benefits of Serving in AmeriCorps

Members receive a modest living allowance, health insurance, a child care subsidy, and a scholarship ($4,725 for full-time service) to pay for higher education or to repay qualified student loans. Members also receive training, career connections, marketable skills, and the chance to make a real difference in people’s lives. AmeriCorps is an awesome adventure and a way to gain the experience of a lifetime!

Time Commitment: Full-time members complete 1700 hours of service in about one year, usually starting in August, September, or October. Part-time positions are also available.

Locations: AmeriCorps opportunities exist in communities across the nation, including small, medium, and large cities.

Training Opportunities: AmeriCorps members receive significant training and personal/professional development opportunities. From 10% - 20% of an AmeriCorps members’ hours are spent in training. Members are trained to perform the specific service tasks of their position, and may be trained in other areas such as leading groups, coordinating volunteers, time management, and preparing for a career after AmeriCorps.

Reasonable Accommodations: The people who manage AmeriCorps programs receive training in how to provide reasonable accommodations to members with disabilities, and a fund exists to pay for reasonable accommodations if needed. SSI and SSDI Benefits – The HEART Act On June 17, 2008, President Bush signed into law H.R. 6081, the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008 (“the HEART Act”), making AmeriCorps more accessible to people with disabilities.

“They didn’t blink when I applied. In fact, they welcomed me with open arms. And looking back, this was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

–AmeriCorps Member

SSI: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program that provides a monthly cash benefit to low-income individuals who are aged, blind, or who have a disability. In the past, receiving an AmeriCorps living allowance could disqualify an individual from eligibility. The new law directs the Social Security Administration to ignore an individual's receipt of AmeriCorps benefits for purposes of SSI eligibility. The AmeriCorps living allowance, health insurance, and child care subsidy are not counted as earned income for SSI.

SSDI: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a Federal program that provides money to individuals with disabilities based on their payments into the insurance program. There are separate laws and regulations for SSI and SSDI eligibility and the HEART Act moved through Congress too quickly to include SSDI. The AmeriCorps living allowance is counted as earned income for SSDI. We hope that Congress will extend the AmeriCorps exclusion to SSDI in the near-future.

AmeriCorps and Other Public Assistance Programs

Medicaid: Even if they have other health coverage, people with disabilities may need Medicaid to cover high prescription drug costs and special health expenses, such as personal care assistance. Persons on SSI can receive Medicaid at no cost. Other people with disabilities may qualify for the Medicaid Buy-In program, which provides MA coverage for a monthly premium, based on income. As long as FICA taxes are withheld, the AmeriCorps living allowance is counted as earned income, thereby allowing AmeriCorps members with disabilities to meet the work requirement for Medicaid Buy-In.

Food Stamps: The AmeriCorps living allowance does not affect eligibility for Food Stamps.

Other Benefit Programs: Involvement in AmeriCorps may affect eligibility for other programs. Some subsidized housing programs do not count the living allowance, but others may count it.

Waiving the Living Allowance: Although AmeriCorps rules allow members to waive their living allowance, people with disabilities should use caution in doing so. 2008 AmeriCorps provisions state: “Even if a member waives his or her right to receive the living allowance, it is possible – depending on the specific public assistance program rules – that the amount of the living allowance that the member is eligible to receive will be deemed available.” Moreover, it may not be necessary to waive the living allowance if a person qualifies for certain work incentives that can be used to reduce the amount of income counted by public programs.