Under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973, beneficiaries of the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) and other selected Social Security programs are eligible to receive stipends and additional benefits for participation in specified volunteer programs without impact on their Social Security payments or eligibility status. The Small Business Act contains similar provisions. VISTA, which was renamed AmeriCorps VISTA following passage of the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, qualifies for this type of Social Security employment support or work incentive known as “income exclusion.” In 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Act (the HEART Act) to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide benefits for military personnel. The HEART Act also made national service more accessible to people with disabilities by directing the Social Security Administration (SSA) to exclude the AmeriCorps stipend and other benefits for determination of eligibility and calculation of monthly payment amounts for beneficiaries of the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI).
This report examines AmeriCorps as a model that includes an income exemption that allows youth with disabilities who are Social Security beneficiaries to participate in work-based learning experiences and receive a living allowance or stipend without it impacting their benefits. An overview is initially provided about the importance of work-based learning experiences, including service learning, particularly for youth with disabilities and the current state of policy and practice regarding the use of the AmeriCorps income exclusion. Recommendations are then provided for increasing the scope and utilization of the existing AmeriCorps exemption and for the expansion of similar incentives to other youth employment and training programs serving transition-age youth with disabilities such as those funded under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).