What is Pre-Service Orientation (PSO)?
PSO is an orientation to AmeriCorps and VISTA. The goals of PSO are:
- Identify with AmeriCorps VISTA program and establish a relationship with VISTA, the Corporation State office, and the PRC.
- Develop a sense of pride and inspiration about AmeriCorps VISTA, an appreciation for the VISTA legacy of service, and a dedication and commitment to a year of immersion, sacrifice and service.
- Understand their role as a member regarding their assignment and community, and their relationship to their project and supervisor.
- Develop understanding of the unique capacity-building nature of their assignments, set clear and realistic expectations about the challenges they will confront, and determine strategies for getting started.
- Understand the AmeriCorps VISTA terms, benefits and conditions of service.
What is CNCS?
CNCS is the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is the federal agency that administers National Service programs, such as AmeriCorps VISTA.
How does VISTA differ from AmeriCorps?
VISTA was started in the mid-60s by President Lyndon B. Johnson, while AmeriCorps was founded by President Bill Clinton in 1993. VISTA is now under the AmeriCorps umbrella. VISTA has an anti-poverty focus, is about capacity building, and requires a full time commitment, with no outside obligations.
AmeriCorps programs tend to lean towards direct service, allow outside employment, and generally don't require a four-year degree for their members. There are also part time AmeriCorps positions, as opposed to the full year obligation of VISTA. Both programs allow for the Education Award or cash stipend upon completion.
What kind of health coverage will I have?
AmeriCorps VISTA members receive a health coverage benefit that mainly covers emergency services, though the prescription coverage is wonderful. The health coverage provided does not cover pre-existing conditions, therefore, does not meet the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. More details, including the Member Health Care Guide, can be found on International Medical Group's website.
Beginning January 1, 2015, VISTA members will have the choice between the existing health benefit provided by Seven Corners or the option to be reimbursed for healthcare expenses up to $6,600 from CNCS. If you choose that latter, you are required to maintain or purchase your own insurance policy and pay associated premiums out of your own pocket. The reimbursement covers expenses like co-pays, lab work, prescriptions, etc.
As a VISTA, the living allowance of $973/month (as of October 2014) may qualify you for assistance in purchasing health insurance. Visit HealthCare.gov for more information.
Education Award vs. Cash Stipend
The Education Award is $5,730 and the Cash Stipend is $1,500. Both are taxable income and the Education Award has to be used within seven years of completion of service. The Education Award can be used to pay for qualified educational expenses, for more information visit the AmeriCorps website.
What kind of childcare assistance is available?
Details on the childcare subsidy are located at: http://www.americorpschildcare.com/.
I've heard I get relocation assistance. What does this mean?
If you're serving a full year VISTA term and moving more than 50 miles from your Home of Record for service, you are eligible for relocation benefits. There are two components to relocation benefits:
- Relocation Travel Allowance: This allowance is based on the direct mileage between your site and HOR. This allowance, up to $1,000, regardless of the mode of transportation used, includes:
- A relocation mileage rate set by the VISTA program and tied to U.S. General Services Relocation Rate. The rate, as of January 1, 2014, is $0.235/mile.
- A shipping rate for shipment of personal belongings set by the VISTA program ($0.10/mile)
- Settling-In Allowance: This one-time payment of up to $550 is intended to help cover initial relocation costs, such as utility deposits, rental application fees, etc. Your state office determines the allowance amount, which is automatically included in your first living allowance payment.
More information about the mileage and shipping reimbursements can be found on the Relocation Fact Sheet. While the relocation package generally covers most of your costs, the unfortunate part is that you need to pay your relocation costs upfront, and then be reimbursed.
Do I need to set up a new bank account?
Your paychecks will be issued bi-weekly through electronic deposit. When you arrive at PSO, you'll need to complete paperwork for this, so please bring a voided check. If you're relocating to Montana, Wells Fargo and US Bank are both here, so you may be able to open accounts in your hometown before you move. You can check their websites for specific locations to see what's available in the community you're relocating to.
Do you have any advice about housing in Montana?
Your best resource for finding housing will be the local paper. Most papers have their classified ads online. If you can't find a local newspaper online, ask the site supervisor for advice/hints/tips, as they should be more than willing to help.
A one bedroom apartment will probably run you around $400/month or more, while a two bedroom will probably be around $650/month or more, depending on the community.
Do I really need a car?
While we have had VISTAs without personal vehicles serve on our project, it makes things very difficult. Public transportation generally doesn't exist in Montana, so even simple tasks, such as getting to work or going grocery shopping can become major ordeals. Also, to truly enjoy all that Montana has to offer (hiking, camping, ghost towns, skiing, etc), a vehicle is a necessity.
Will my cell phone work in Montana?
Verizon and AT&T are the only national carriers that officially support Montana. Past VISTAs have had varying degrees of success with Sprint and T-Mobile.
What will my workspace be like?
While each work space is different, our site application requires they provide with you access to a phone, computer, and workspace, but this doesn't mean you'll have your own phone, computer, and workspace. Working conditions can vary considerably from cubicles, small closet-like offices, to nice window offices with modular furniture.