MANAGING THE VISTA BUDGET
Living off of the VISTA living allowance is difficult, but not impossible if you manage your budget right. In fact, some VISTAs have even been able to save throughout their service year! The AmeriCorps VISTA program determines the rate of your pay based on the local poverty rate in the country in which you live. Although difficult, living on a low salary helps to better understand the community in which you serve and allows you to become more aware of the resources available for low-income community members. In addition to the resources offered through the AmeriCorps VISTA program at Siena such as free meals and access to free public transportation, we will provide you with information about local resources and tips to maintain the VISTA budget.
How to Apply for Food Stamps
All VISTA members are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps, which we strongly encourage our members to apply for. We want all of our members to stay happy and healthy during their year of service, and do not want individuals to feel restricted when it comes to eating healthy while shopping at the grocery store. After completing the application, you will receive what is called an EBT card in the mail, which can be used at any grocery store for food products only.
If you have never applied for government assistance before, the process may seem confusing and overwhelming, but we want to try our best to make the process as easy as possible. An overview of how to apply can be found below.
To begin the application, visit www.mybenefits.ny.gov, and create an account to apply online.
Need to knows before you begin:
- Your stipend does not count as income
- All VISTA members should qualify for food stamps unless you are living with your parents or have other income
- You must file your application through the county where you currently live
When filling out your application you will need:
- Proof of Identity (Driver's license, social security card, passport, birth certificate)
- Proof of Residence (Utility bill, lease agreement, rent receipts, mail, etc.)
- Proof of Income (Paycheck stubs for the previous 4 weeks. These can be found in the My AmeriCorps account under "Living Allowance.")
- VISTA Service and Benefits Eligibility Letters (These letters can be downloaded off of My AmeriCorps and should be submitted in the application's supplemental materials.)
The Application Process:
- After completing your online application, you will receive a letter in the mail regarding a follow-up call to review your application.
- Following the call, you may receive an additional letter in the mail requiring you to provide further information. If this occurs, just follow the instructions and provide the necessary information.
- By law, all applicants must receive Food Stamps within 30 days of filing their applications (or be notified that they are not eligible).
- During that time when they process your application, you accrue benefits commensurate with the time passed.
How to Check Your Balance:
- Go to www.connectebt.com
- Check your last receipt
Q: Do my roommates count as members of my household?
A: No, "household" is a relative term here referring to who you claim as dependents. For the purposes of the application, you do not share food with your roommates.
Q: Do I need to go to DSS to turn in my application?
A: No, you can pretty much do everything online. To be safe though, it is suggested that submit documents electronically and fax them.
Q: How long do my benefits last?
A: You must recertify for food stamps every six months, although this can vary by county. An application will be sent to you about four months into your current certification period. After AmeriCorps, you can continue using your EBT card and reapply for benefits, as long as you meet the income requirements.