Monday, April 12, 2010

Sustaining VISTA.

There are two cool proposals floating around Washington, D.C. right now that could have a great impact on AmeriCorps. One is a bill that would (finally!) eliminate taxation of the education awards AmeriCorps members receive when they complete their service. The other proposal would allow VISTA alumni aged 55 and older to transfer their education awards to their kids, grandkids or foster children. Both of these would be a huge boost to AmeriCorps and to national service in general - to learn more, visit Sustaining VISTA and find out how you can contact your representatives and the Corporation for National & Community Service to express your support.


Dear Congressman Obey:

I'm writing in support of H.R. 1596 - the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Tax Relief Act of 2009. I think passing this bill would be a huge boost to AmeriCorps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), and to national service in general.

I grew up here in northern Wisconsin and after graduating from college in Duluth, Minnesota, I felt inspired to join AmeriCorps. I moved halfway across the country and served as a VISTA in Helena, Montana for two years. They were truly two of the best years of my life; I learned more from my involvement in VISTA than I did in four years of college, hands-down. The spirit and energy of the dozens of VISTAs I worked with across the state was astounding; we truly came from all walks of life, but one thing we all had in common was that spark that made us want to give something back.

When I completed my second year of VISTA service, I decided to use the two education awards I'd received to pay off the last of my student loans. It felt great to get those loans paid off; however, when tax time rolled around, the taxes I had to pay on my education awards were a huge financial burden. I knew the education awards would be counted as taxable income, as did all the VISTAs I worked with, since the Corporation for National and Community Service includes information about that in its training programs; but when you're coming off a year (or more) of living at the poverty line, it's really difficult to put aside money for much of anything, let alone to pay taxes on your (fiscal) reward for your volunteer service.

Ending taxation of the education awards would be such a great gesture to AmeriCorps members finishing their service. It seems like if we can offer tax breaks to multi-million dollar corporations for their efforts at being good public stewards, we should be able to offer that same benefit to regular citizens who devote a year or more of their lives to volunteering for the public good, too. I urge you to support this bill, and I thank you for your time.

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