How can I get a second job with Americorps?
May 11, 2012 3:25 PM   Subscribe

My Americorps stipend turned out to be much less than I was initially told, by a lot. Is it possible to get a second job?

[asking for a friend]

As it turns out, the figure I was quoted as my AmeriCorps stipend was wrong, and now, having got my first paycheck, I'm realizing that I basically will have about 50$ a month after I pay my rent (I can't get out of my lease). Technically, with my AmeriCorps program you're not supposed to have outside employment or supplemental income (you're terminated if you're caught), can they check? I got an offer to do some freelance writing, but it has to be on the books. Is there a way they can find out through my tax information, or is that private? I like this job and don't want to be fired (or have to quit), but I also need to make ends meet somehow and don't have any immediate option for something off the books.
posted by frankdrebin to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Americorps cadets are eligible for public assistance benefits.
posted by Nomyte at 3:46 PM on May 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I suggest you get a roommate - this sounds a heck of a lot like fraud to me (since you know you're not supposed to work outside the assignment) and based on this thread, it seems unlikely that you're going to be able to have enough free time to actually work enough to pay these bills.

It doesn't sound like (again, from the thread) they actually check your tax info (the IRS only shares information with a handful of other agencies:)
IRC 6103 and the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. § 552a) generally protect taxpayer returns and return information from disclosure, subject to statutory exceptions. See IRM 9.3.1, Criminal Investigation, Disclosure and Publicity, Disclosure, and IRM 11.3.14, Communications and Liaison, Disclosure of Official Information, Privacy Act General Provisions. (source)
But it also seems like trying to work a second job in this situation is a bad idea.
posted by SMPA at 3:50 PM on May 11, 2012

Some Americorps programs allow you to seek additional employment. Double check for yours.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 4:12 PM on May 11, 2012

Almost everyone I know who did Americorps had some sort of small side job. I don't think you'll get caught. And yeah, apply for any public assistance you can get.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:12 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

What's the worst that could happen here - you lose the job that isn't actually paying you anything? Seems like an ok thing.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:33 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a colleague in a similar situation (though not employed by Americorps); he got our company to write a letter saying that he was being transferred. The LL let him out of his lease. (If that's a direction you want to pursue).
posted by vignettist at 4:36 PM on May 11, 2012

AmeriCorps VISTA is the AmeriCorps program that does not allow outside employment. (Most AmeriCorps State and National programs allow outside employment. NCCC is a residential program so I doubt that's what OP is asking about.) Ideally this should all be made clear by your sponsoring site at or before the interview, but not all sponsoring sites are great at communicating terms, conditions and benefits. Of course, you're required to sign off on taking the terms, conditions and benefits course and sign the terms before Pre-Service Orientation. In the rare cases where you start service before PSO, you still were made aware of the terms. There are plenty of chances to discuss the terms with staff at PSO. PSO is also really, really heavy in "are you sure you want to make this commitment? This is your last chance to change your mind. It's going to be a tough haul..." discussions.

This all seems really harsh, but it's spelled out in the 1964 law that created VISTA. Namely, the Domestic Volunteer Service Act says that volunteers will make a full-time commitment towards alleviating poverty. The heady ideals back then also meant that volunteers are asked to live with and at the level of the people they're serving, to their best ability.

You can be caught either by your supervisor finding out, your state office finding out, through a site visit, or through a visit by the Office of the Inspector General. The OIG is a law enforcement agency that is independent from AmeriCorps and that's another reason to take the terms seriously because your supervisor, your site, and AmeriCorps itself may have to answer to the OIG for problems. Individuals can also call the OIG's hotline and give tips about possible fraud.

In the event that you were audited by the IRS and they were particularly fastidious, that might also lead to trouble. Dunno if that's ever happened, though.

In the event that your extracurricular work is discovered, you will likely be asked to either end the work or resign and you may be required to repay your AmeriCorps living allowance and you will be disqualified from the Education Award.

I was a VISTA and VISTA Leader for three years, so I certainly understand how hard it can be to get by on the living allowance. I certainly knew people who had to make a tough decision about whether this commitment was right for them after all. There are a lot of ideas about how to get by on ...
posted by Skwirl at 7:27 PM on May 11, 2012

Response by poster: [update from the asker]

Thanks for the responses! I did qualify for (and do receive) food stamps, but I would have to report the freelance income to human services. It wouldn't DQ me from food stamps (either way, my income is going to be extremely low this year), but is there some kind of state-federal communication that they'd find out this way? 

And, it's a VISTA program. I'm working 40 or so hours a week, but the writing gig is freelance so it would eat up a few hours every weekend, not any work time.
posted by frankdrebin at 9:12 PM on May 11, 2012

I know a VISTA who does a little but under the table - babysitting and such - to make ends meet.
posted by radioamy at 10:17 PM on May 11, 2012

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