Chapter 6 Public Assistance Programs
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Benefits (SNAP)
A Member’s SNAP benefits are not affected because a Member receives the AmeriCorps living allowance. This means that a Member’s benefits should not be decreased, increased, or terminated because he or she receives the living allowance.
AmeriCorps Members’ benefits do not affect a Member’s eligibility for federal, need-based housing assistance, such as Section 8 housing and other federally subsidized housing. This means that the living stipend cannot be taken into consideration when a Member applies for or if a Member’s eligibility for public housing is being re-examined. This is a federal rule and is the same in all states.
AmeriCorps Members are not entitled to unemployment benefits. The AmeriCorps Agency for National and Community Service has interpreted federal legislation to mean that there is no employer- employee relationship between Members and programs. Illinois has chosen to agree with this interpretation and denies unemployment benefits to Members; hence, programs are not required to pay unemployment taxes.
Public Assistance Programs
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
A Member’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits are affected by the AmeriCorps living allowance. For TANF purposes, the living allowance is considered non- exempt earned income. This means that for every $3.00 a Member earns before taxes and other payroll deductions, the TANF grant is reduced by $1.00. For example, the TANF grant of a Member that makes $600 per month before payroll deductions would be decreased by $200 (one- third of $600).
Serving as an AmeriCorps Member is considered an allowable work activity as long as a Member serves at least 30 hours per week (effective October 1999). This means that the lifetime benefit clock for Members serving at least 30 hours per week will be stopped.
Federal legislation allows each state to determine how AmeriCorps benefits will affect TANF grants and if serving as an AmeriCorps Member is an allowable work activity. The information above is for Illinois only and will vary by state.
Supplemental Security Income
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. Prior to the passage of the Heroes Earnings and Relief Tax Act of 2008 (HEART Act), receiving an AmeriCorps living allowance could disqualify an individual from eligibility. Under the HEART Act, the Social Security Administration will ignore an individual’s receipt of AmeriCorps benefits for purposes of SSI 42 eligibility. The Heart Act excludes “any benefit (whether cash or in-kind)” and so covers the living allowance, health insurance, child care, and the education award (and related interest payments).
Additionally, SSI recipients who serve in AmeriCorps State and National and National Civilian Community Corps automatically qualify for the Student Child Earned Income Exclusion if they meet applicable age and marital status requirements.
SSI recipients who are (1) under the age of 22 and (2) neither married nor the head of a household are eligible for the student earned income exclusion, which excludes from countable earned income $1,290 per month and up to $5,200 per year (amounts as of January 1, 2001). This exclusion may be combined with existing SSI work incentives and other income disregard rules, which should encourage more young people with disabilities to participate in AmeriCorps State and National and NCCC.
Note that the Student Child Earned Income Exclusion policy change does not affect AmeriCorps VISTA Members, whose benefits are already fully excluded from income under section 404 of the Domestic Volunteer Service Act.
Any portion of an education award used by an SSI recipient to pay for tuition, fees, and other necessary education expenses (not including room and board, or repaying student loans) will not count as income. Any portion of the education award that is not used for tuition, fees, or other necessary educational expenses counts as income in the month that it is used. For general questions about SSI or the terms used in this answer, go to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi/index.htm
See About The HEART Act | Military OneSource for information regarding the HEART Act.