AmeriCorps and Members with Disabilities
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 Act of 2008 ("the HEART Act"), making AmeriCorps more accessible to people with disabilities.
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 receipts 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.
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 to quickly to include SSDI. The AmeriCorps living allowance is counted as earned income for SSDI. Hopefully, Congress will extend the AmeriCorps exclusion to SSDI in the near future.
AmeriCorps and Other Public Assistance Programs
Medical Assistance (MA)
Even if they have other health coverage, people with disabilities may need MA to cover high prescription drug costs and special health expenses, such as personal care assistance. Persons on SSI can receive MA at no cost. 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 MA-EPD.
The AmeriCorps living allowance does not affect eligibility for Food Stamps.
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 in a member waives his or her right to receive the living allowance, it is possible - depending on the specific public assistant program rules - that the amount of the living allowance the member is eligible to receive will be deemed available." Moreover, it may not be necessary to waive the living allowance if the person qualifies for certain work incentives that can be used to reduce the amount of income counted by public programs.